On a Learning Curve

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


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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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Summer Plans

Tomorrow is July 1. That means that we have officially used up four weeks of our summer vacation. And so far, this summer has not gone according to plan.

It started with my right knee. I felt a little slower than normal on a couple of runs, and I had to stop twice to rest on a long run with friends one Saturday in May. I took three days off, tried again, took a full week off, and finally called for an appointment at the runner’s clinic. I was hoping I had strained my hamstring where it connects to the knee. After all, the pain was at the back of the knee, and that was a new source of knee pain for me. Instead, an x-ray and MRI confirmed that my hamstring was just fine.

I go all out when I injure something, and I even had a CT scan to add to confirm the exceptional state of my knee. I have a complex tear to my medial meniscus and an ACL that is so lax it makes the ligament more of a decorative accessory than a functional part of my knee. Additionally my right femur has a tunnel that is 14 mm in diameter because of the titanium screws holding my useless ACL in place.

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ACL = anterior cruciate ligament

I’m going to need two rounds of surgery this year. Neither of those was on my radar this spring. No, I had plans to take the girls to Washington state to visit their grandparents, beat last year’s time at a local women’s 4-miler in September, and nail a PR at the Richmond Half Marathon in November.

The good news is that my meniscus is going to look and feel a whole lot better in a couple of months. Also I’m getting a bone graft to fill in that huge tunnel. Once my femur is less hole-y, I’ll be having a third ACL reconstruction. The bad news? I’ve already had three knee surgeries and two rounds of extensive physical therapy. Oh, and I don’t really have time want to do all this.

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See my shiny new AC unit? It’s the one on the left!

While I’m waiting for my next appointment, Ryan has been busy flying, flying, and flying some more. He’s been pulling double duty for the reserves as well as his regular gig so that we can make the second payment on G’s tuition in August and put some money back into savings. We had a nice chunk of money in savings; in fact, we were planning to look for a new car to replace our 11-year-old kidmobile that prefers not to drive in snow or ice. Now we have a new air conditioning system upstairs. To be fair, Ryan did ask me if I was okay with not replacing the upstairs unit until next summer, but I selfishly insisted that the girls and I couldn’t continue to camp out in the living room and that we might want some heat in the winter.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
             but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”
                                                                             ∼Proverbs 19:21

Sigh. That’s life, isn’t  it? We make our plans, and then the air conditioning breaks, or my knee falls apart. If I were more optimistic, I’d say that’s what makes every day so exciting: you just never know what’s really going to happen. Some days are disappointing and some seasons are hard, and sometimes life is just full of inconveniences.

Did I mention that I had two biopsies last week at my regular dermatology check-up? The spot next to my nose turned out to be  a funny looking mole, and I don’t really mind that it’s gone, thank you. That other spot on my left thigh turned out to be skin cancer–a squamous cell carcinoma that won’t require additional cutting, just six weeks of topical ointment and more frequent dermatology visits.

Life goes on though. Wednesday night swim meets still last a billion hours, G still has all sorts of testing and tutoring to get to the bottom of her math woes, H still refuses to read novels on any kind, and S is still in love with rodents. Better yet, we still have the love, support, and childcare services of our local family. But best of all, none of my summer’s woes are a surprise to the God who formed my knees many years ago. His strength has always been sufficient to me in times of weakness, and this summer is no different.

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S and Suki enjoying a lunch of mac and cheese last week.


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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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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.

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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.