On a Learning Curve

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


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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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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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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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It’s my birthday today. I’m now in my early 40s. And to celebrate this new year, my thoughtful children gave me a few gifts. Sort of.

S and I were up around the clock last night. Her Dexcom alarmed at hourly intervals to let us know that her blood glucose (BG) was climbing higher and higher. When it reached 348 at 4:40 AM, I decided it was time to change her insulin and cannula site. The alarms stopped, and her BG plummeted to 50 about three hours later. I made coffee to celebrate.

H was a bit more traditional. She presented me with a very fancy shoe box that she wrapped in ribbon and tape. I opened her gift to discover a diorama of me dancing–or throwing my arms out in great happiness–in front of our new house. I look pretty good in green Sharpie! She also made me this card:

It's a taxi delivering a birthday cake at a bird crossing. Best card ever!

It’s a taxi delivering a birthday cake at a bird crossing. Best card ever!

G informed me that she would have my gift ready after school today. Of course this promise makes me suspicious since she had a very busy weekend of mixing up crayon makeup in the upstairs bathroom, opening spilling a glow stick after I sent her to bed on Saturday, and cutting up another article of clothing. Her creativity knows no bounds. Instead G called me from school at 8:30 this morning to ask me to drive over her uniform skirt and shirt. It’s another long story, but I doubt she forgot to wear her school uniform because she was working on a birthday card.

I’m old enough not to need birthday presents. Okay, I do enjoy opening a few. A church friend hand-crafted a card and included one of my favorite Bible verses.

But now, this is what the Lord says–
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:”Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1

And I have other thoughtful friends and family who know me well enough to surprise me with much-appreciated presents: new running socks, a copy of All the Light We Cannot See, some cash to go shopping and highlight my graying hair, a Starbucks card, and this lovely birthday cake that I found inside my front door as I was getting ready to drive someone’s uniform to school.

My neighbor Sam's famous Victorian sponge cake!

My neighbor Sam’s famous Victorian sponge cake!

It’s enough to know simply that I am loved. Ryan is buying me a house this week, and a friend offered to watch the girls so that I can eat lunch in adult company. And I just opened an email from our real estate attorney in which he informed me that we having a negative balance due. We’ll be buying a house and getting some spending money in return! That’s a win-win situation.

I’m heading out the door for a celebratory run. I am more than loved: I know I am blessed. Today I can barely keep my eyes open from this morning’s early festivities, and I don’t know what antics G will create tonight, but life is pretty good at 41.

 


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75 Years

6 siblings,

1 birthday boy,

1 Nunu.

062

8 granddaughters.

084

3 spouses,

1 girlfriend,

2 boyfriends.

1 long-haired Banjo.

028

Not enough beds,

Not enough forks,

Too much hummus.

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75 years celebrated by 22 people

with 7 different surnames.

0485 days together in 2 houses.

Too much laughter to count,

Too much love to measure,

Too many dishes to wash.

???????????????????????????????2 play performances,

Endless bike rides,

Marathon rounds of Phase 10.

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28 miles in 6 runs,

0% humidity.

070

12 hours by car and plane,

4 suitcases in tow,

3 time zones to cross.

052

From Maryland to Oregon and back,

One person is worth all this fuss.

Happy birthday, Michael.

049

 


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For These Things…

I’m in a pensive mood these days. My birthday celebration lasted a full week, and I’ve decided that being 40 feels absolutely no different from 39. (Of course, that was my opinion when I moved from 29 to 30, and somehow I no longer feel 29.) As Mother’s Day approaches, I’ve also been thinking about all the things for which I am truly grateful. For these things I give thanks:

1. I kicked off my actual birthday with a half marathon. Though the organization and start of the race was a mess, the time I spent with my BAMR friends from last year’s Ragnar DC was sweet. Running with my friend Tracy, who paced me the entire race, was a bonus. Realizing that I ran the course 5 seconds off my half PR was disappointing; however, my PR was on a super-flat course and this course was hilly with a capital H.

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The 4 of us made up 1/3 of Team Dimity in last year’s Ragnar Relay DC. Zoom in on Joan’s shirt (1102) if you need help decoding BAMR.

2. My amazing husband threw me a 40th birthday party that blew me away. Ryan stepped way out of his comfort zone and organized a surprise party at a local winery last Saturday afternoon. All of my family came, and I spent a gorgeous afternoon with dear friends and family. We enjoyed the delicious wine from Running Hare Vineyard and–this is something I have been asking for several years–ate birthday cake that someone else baked for me.

DSCN1000 (2)3. Friendship. The word in itself is a complete sentence. Three of the above women–and one more who missed my bash to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary–above have known me since we were 18 years old; that’s more than half our lives! We’ve walked with each other through two decades of life–first through our grueling academic years and later through careers, marriages, children. We’ve cried during times of loss, comforted in times of hardship and struggle, and celebrated each other’s victories. I love these women.

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Silly, I know, but I love this group of people.

4. My family is awesome. H shared her actual birthday with me last Saturday; my sister took care of the catering; my parents brought flowers and rented a nearby cabin so that our house wasn’t overrun with small children; and my brother and sister-in-law flew in from Chicago just for the weekend.

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Best parents in the world plus the newest 7-year-old in our family.

5. The decision to homeschool continues to be a blessing to our family. What began as a two-year experiment for one child seven years ago has morphed into something far bigger than we ever envisioned. This week we were able to spend time with our sweet neighbor Sofie on two mornings when her mom needed to be elsewhere. I love that we can pick up our math books and language arts, walk next door, and help a neighbor. I love, too, that we scheduled an impromptu field trip to a nearby berry farm yesterday. We met some friends who are new to the area, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and brought home 11 pounds of berries.  Did I mention that we only have 14 more school days this year?!

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H with Sofie and her family on a warm afternoon last week.

And while I began this post by giving thanks, I also recognize that these are the very same things by which I am blessed.

P.S. Happy Mother’s Day to 3 of the most important mothers in my life: my own mother Jane, my mother-in-law Donna, and my substitute mother Sharon.