On a Learning Curve

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


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Car magnets, ADHD, and a horse named Eddie

Have you ever seen one of those ribbon magnets that says, I love somebody with autism? They’re popular on the backs of minivans, and the ribbon is composed of multi-colored puzzle pieces.

What I’ve never seen is a ribbon/bumper sticker/magnet advertising that the harried mother driving the minivan loves somebody with ADHD. Do you want to know why? Because the child with ADHD would have noticed the ribbon magnet, pulled it off the car, retrieved a pair of scissors and/or the hot glue gun, and then turned it into something even more spectacular. Until he–or she–remembered something else more interesting. The aforementioned mother would eventually disover the artwork-in-progress–let’s say as she innocently enters the bathroom to pick up wet towels. She will involuntarily shriek as she notices that “someone” has strewn scissors, Sharpies, glitter, and bits of refrigerator magnets next to a hot glue gun that is oozing glue onto the tile floor. She’ll catch her breath and decide against a second shriek as she silently thanks her child for not selecting a room with carpet.

If you don’t love somebody with ADHD, you probably think I’ve gone a bit overboard already. But that’s only because you have no idea what it’s like to live with someone whose brain is wired completely differently than yours.

In our house, we call the ADHD brain a “super brain” because that’s exactly what it is. My daughter’s super brain fires far more rapidly than mine does; it notices far more things than mine does; it tries to accomplish far more tasks than mine can; and it does all of these things all at the same time. All of the time. Unless she is asleep.

My child is funny and fun to be around. She is creative like you wouldn’t believe; in fact, I may have created the glue gun example based on her shenanigans.

Last night she brought me her gerbil, a 3-year-old morbidly obese rodent named Mocha Bob. Mocha Bob was pink because someone thought he needed a layer of blush all over his fur. G thought this new hair color was hysterically funny but did admit that she wasn’t sure how to remove it. I suggested a nice dust bath.

Last week I was cleaning up the kitchen counters when I heard a familiar voice: “Mom, do you know where I am?” I looked over the counter into the family room but saw no one.

“Mom, I’m down here. With Perry.” Perry is my sister’s standard poodle who visits us whenever her family vacations. G loves Perry, and the feeling is mutual. Since I couldn’t see Perry or G, I gave up.

“Where exactly are you and Perry?” I innocently asked. This is where I found the two of them.

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Why yes, a standard poodle and a 15 y.o. girl fit comfortably in a dog kennel.

I have a million of these stories from the last 15 years. They’re funny–really, really funny. When she was two, she calmly covered her legs in Sharpie while I was nursing S. When she was five, she turned her little sisters into bunny rabbits on Easter Sunday; she accurately drew noses, whiskers, and paws onto both of them. At ten, she taped S’s toothbrush to the bathroom ceiling.

I also have a million stories that aren’t very funny to me because of the amount of cleanup they required. At three, she covered her bedroom walls in Bag Balm during nap time. At 12, she splattered blue food dye up the bathroom wall and across the ceiling but still has no explanation as to how/why she did that. That was the same summer that two ink pens–the permanent type–mysteriously exploded in her swim bag and bed. At 13, she dyed her hair in the bathtub with ballpoint pen ink. When she was 14, entering her bathroom could induce panic attacks; I retrieved corn starch, olive oil, thumb tacks, Sharpies, highlighters, ballpoint pens, crayons, glitter, scissors, dishes, utensils, and bits of discarded fabric more times than I care to count.

What’s my point exactly?

It’s exhausting to raise a child who has ADHD. And it’s frustrating to be the child who has ADHD. It affects every aspect of her life and mine: her schoolwork and my relationship with her teachers and administrators; her friendships and my relationships with her friends’ parents; her feelings that no one likes/understands/loves her; and my marriage to her father.

It’s easy for her to lose hope, and it’s a struggle for me to not worry about her future.

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I’d rather have this sign than a ribbon magnet.

Today I dropped my super creative, exceptionally funny child with a super brain at her first official day of work at a local horse farm. She has her first summer job, and I am ridiculously proud of her. She will be doing hard labor taking care of horses three days a week in exchange for a lease on a horse named Eddie.

I love this girl. She makes me crazy, mad, and anxious at times. Every day with her is unpredictable, but today is full of promise.

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Writing is hard, but parenting is harder

I haven’t written anything for almost a year. On this blog, that is.

I’ve started countless pieces but never finished anything, much less published a piece. I skipped our annual Christmas letter, too. I just couldn’t find the words to express what’s going on in my head, in my heart, and in our family.  I make it a practice not to sugarcoat my life, and I just can’t decide if sharing the messiness of my life would add value to someone else’s or just be TMI.

In short, I’ve been busy trying to parent our three girls. And it’s been an exceptionally hard season of parenting.

Last August, H developed an anxiety disorder in the aftermath of last summer’s C-130 crash. Her daddy is a pilot, and those crew members were his friends and colleagues.

Last October, G made a bad decision; the administration made a bad decision; and then we scrambled to place her in a new school. Three grading periods later, she still doesn’t know where she fits in, and she still doesn’t know who she wants to be.

S is hanging in there. She is the proverbial middle child who knows how to slip under the radar while her sisters draw fire.

Somewhere in the midst of counseling appointments, teacher conferences, and doctors’ visits, I reached my breaking point. I made the decision to stop teaching S and H after we finish this school year. I need to be my girls’ mother first and foremost; they desperately need other people to teach them.

While that decision was monumentally freeing, it hasn’t made anything easier for now; however, we have almost finished jumping through the required hoops of registering for public middle school.

Last Monday I submitted the girls’ standardized test scores and requested that our homeschooling file be closed. Yay, me!

Ten days ago I took the girls for MAP testing at the middle school after the counselors did not want to accept their Stanford Achievement scores. I goofed and scheduled the MAP and Stanford the same week. They completely embraced 3 full days of testing. (In my dreams, that is.) Coincidentally, the girls’ MAP test results aligned perfectly with their Stanford results. I rolled my eyes, but not in front of the guidance counselors.

Both girls chose their classes last Wednesday; S is pinning all of her hopes on advanced art and French I despite my guidance. H spoke a total of 10 words to her guidance counselor. He’s a man though, and she makes it a point not to talk to strange men.

Today I am writing on Memorial Day. We are home and unpacked from a very hot, humid soccer tournament. This morning Ryan switched out the front porch flag to fly the USMC colors. I can’t help but remember family and friends who selflessly sacrificed themselves for this nation. Today in particular, I am thinking of the 16 men who gave their lives aboard Yanky 72 last July.

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There’s more to write–much, much more–and I promise to return. After all, I’ve left you, my readers, hanging in the middle of what seems to be my belated Christmas letter.

 


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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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15 Years: A Brief History

Ryan and I have reached another milestone together. On September 12, we will celebrate 15 years of marriage. I didn’t say wedded bliss because that just doesn’t cover the past 15 years. Perhaps roller coaster or soap opera would be a better description, but I am also reminded of the classic children’s line from Ludwig Bemelmans: “They smiled at the good and frowned at the bad and sometimes they were very sad.” (That’s from Madeline.) Here are the highlights of our 15 years together.

September 12, 1998

September 12, 1998

Year 1: Honeymoon on the road as we drove from Norfolk, Virginia, to Pensacola, Florida. Somebody had to start intermediate flight classes on Tuesday. Two months later we headed farther south to Corpus Christi, Texas. Ryan earned his wings of gold in July 1999; then we moved to North Carolina where Ryan joined VMGR-253 and I started a new teaching/coaching job.

Outside our 2nd apartment with our 2 puppies

Outside our 2nd apartment with our 2 puppies

Year 2: Life revolved around Ryan, me, and our 2 dogs. We had no idea how easy things were!

Posing for family photos in my father-in-law's courtroom

Posing for family photos in my father-in-law’s courtroom

Year 3: Excitement over our first pregnancy was followed by heartache after Seth and Owen arrived too early at 23 weeks on February 24, 2001.

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Year 4: A hard year for both of us as we put our lives back together. Ryan deployed to Afghanistan, and I changed high schools. Here we are enjoying a rare vacation in Charleston, SC.

Charleston, SC, with Ryan's family

Charleston, SC, with Ryan’s family

Year 5 began with great joy: Grace arrived on October 12, 2002. Ryan deployed for 6 months on the USS Iwo Jima, and I navigated single-parenthood.

The sweetest moment for a mom

The sweetest moment for a new mother

In Year 6, we decided to buy our first house. That made our third move just in Havelock, NC!

Ryan lays sod on a (rare) snowy day in Havelock.

Ryan lays sod on a (rare) snowy day in Havelock.

Sarah arrived on December 1, 2004, as we began Year 7, and Ryan left for Iraq. That was a long 7 months for everyone.

picking berries

The girls go berry picking.

Ryan returned home, Year 8 began, and I was pregnant again. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?) As we prepared for a move to Corpus Christi, Lucy arrived stillborn on April 12, 2006. A month later, Ryan contracted viral encephalitis and was helicoptered to an ICU unit. We un-rented our home and stayed in NC so that Ryan could recover. Here we are during a much-needed beach week on Topsail Island.

topsail beach 008

Year 9 eventually brought us to Corpus Christi again, and we rented a house within walking distance to the beach on Padre Island. Ryan pinned on major–despite his wedding promise to me that he wouldn’t stay in the Corps long enough to need $1000 worth of new dress uniforms. And Hannah arrived a little early but in perfect health on May 3, 2007. Our family was complete.

I have no idea how to caption this shot.

Our 3 girls. I have no idea how to caption this photo.

Year 10 was a struggle for us in so many ways. I had postpartum depression, we had 3 small children, and I decided to homeschool Grace for the remainder of our time in TX. Ryan learned what it was like to go through ground school with a newborn, but life got even harder over Easter weekend. Sarah was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

My favorite Marine Corps Birthday Ball picture of us, November 2008

My favorite Marine Corps Birthday Ball picture of us, November 2008

We celebrated our tenth anniversary in separate states due to a mandatory hurricane evacuation. Ryan enjoyed golf in New Mexico while I drove the girls and dog to a crowded ranch-house outside San Antonio. During Year 11, however, we found our new normal. Normal meant finger pricks, insulin injections, and carb counting,

The only ballerina with an insulin pump!

The only ballerina with an insulin pump!

As Year 12 began, we committed to homeschooling indefinitely. Ryan did some soul-searching and resigned from active duty. In a great leap of faith, he accepted a job offer from a government contractor in Maryland. We put our NC house on the market and left Texas–first to stay with my family in Virginia and then on to California, Maryland.

Ryan's last active duty flight

Ryan’s last active duty flight

During Year 13, I was thrilled to be back on the East Coast, even if our address is California. Ryan stayed busy commuting between his day job and a reserve job flying for VMGR-452 in New York. The girls and I visited family and friends and took advantage of our proximity to the Smithsonian.

Team Sarah at the 2011 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

Team Sarah at the 2011 JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes

During Year 14, we settled into the routine that comes with three growing girls, a homeschooling mom, and a dad who works two jobs. Busy best described our days as Ryan racked up flight hours and I somehow kept my sanity in between school subjects, soccer practice, doctors’ appointments, and co-op classes.

A windy hike in Shenandoah National Park.

A windy hike in Shenandoah National Park.

And that brings us to Year 15. Ryan comes and goes and wishes he had more free time to devote to his golf game. I’ve returned to coaching, but running is my true passion now. All three girls are thriving in their schoolwork and daily delight/test us in innumerable ways.

Celebrating my first 39th birthday.

Celebrating my first 39th birthday this year

That is the abbreviated version of our marriage. We’ve lived in 3 apartments and 4 houses; and we’ve owned 2 dogs, 2 hermit crabs, and 3 hamsters. We’ve celebrated our 20th high school reunions, and one of us has turned 40. We’ve been a part of 3 churches and 4 squadrons. We’ve had 6 children together and have the gray hair to prove it. We bicker with each other, but we laugh together, too. We know each other’s faults, but we love each other anyway.

Many of you reading this already know our story. Some of you just know parts of our life, but I want all of you to know that if we can stay faithful to each other for 15 years, anyone can. We like to joke that it doesn’t seem like 15 years; it seems much longer. Our days are full, and we sometimes spend weeks apart due to Ryan’s work. But our marriage works. It’s by no means perfect, but it is solid because we are committed to each other and rooted by the vows that we made before God, our friends, and our family.  I am reminded of the verse that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). And so we will continue to smile at the good, frown at the bad, and sometimes be very sad. And we will do it together.