On a Learning Curve

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


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In Memory of a Good Neighbor

I opened my email earlier this week and discovered some unexpected news. Our former neighbor, fondly known to my girls as Mr. Ted, passed away last month. No one outside his family knew he was ill, but he was never one to draw attention to himself.

We lived next door to Ted for five years during our Maryland stint. Ted introduced himself to me while the movers were still unloading our boxes and furniture. “If you ever need to borrow a tool, I have a workshop,” were his words of welcome.

He told me that his wife was no longer able to live in their home and that he would be gone from 10 to 12 every morning to visit her. I informed him that our girls were 3, 5, and 7, and that I hoped that our noise wouldn’t bother him too much.

A few months after we had unpacked, I noticed Ted climbing a ladder to clean out his front gutters. Later that day I walked over to his yard to ask him if he wanted some help from Ryan. Instead I found him on his back porch with a welding torch. He seemed puzzled that I thought he needed help. Touché.

Ted was a devoted husband who actively demonstrated his love for his wife Kay by joining her for a meal every day. After her death, he became even more devoted to his Scottish terrier Piper; he and Piper were regular fixtures in our Sycamore Hollow neighborhood.

Over the years we became friends with Ted. We borrowed tools from his impressive workshop, and he joined us for holiday dinners and Hollow gatherings. He told me how much he enjoyed seeing my children run around outside, and I baked him low-sugar treats. We shoveled his driveway when it snowed, and he tried to pay us. We never even considered taking his money because good neighbors are priceless.

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The only picture I have of Ted–at my 4oth birthday

Ted was more than a good neighbor. He was kind to my children when other neighbors weren’t. He complimented our parenting by remarking how he appreciated the amount of time the girls spent outside, and he asked thoughtful questions about our educational choices. He forgave me when I confessed that I lost Piper for an hour one morning when I was supposed to be watching him. He wasn’t bothered by the girls’ constant activity–even when they ignored property lines. And he never minded their inexplicable love for sidewalk chalk–even when they used his driveway. In return, my girls shared his fondness for squirrels–even when no one else in the neighborhood did.

We left Maryland two years ago for a new adventure in Virginia. Ted moved to Florida earlier this year to live with his son and daughter-in-law. In February he emailed to update his address and let everyone know he had successfully unpacked his computer. He also wrote a lengthy thank-you note to the neighborhood for their many acts of kindness over the years.

That email was the last that we heard from Ted. According to his daughter-in-law Carol, Ted was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two months after he left Maryland. In her words: “It was his choice not to tell anyone–he never wanted anyone to ‘make a fuss over him.’ And as usual he did it his way. Which is what made him so Dad/Ted.”

Ted’s 88 years encompassed so much more than the time we lived next door; he was an electrical engineer, he served in the U.S. Navy, he helped raise three children, and he ran a successful tutoring center with his wife. My tribute to him is an incomplete and imperfect piece of writing, but it’s the least I can do to honor the memory of my neighbor and friend.

 

 

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Two Heartfelt Words

When we lived in North Carolina, we were blessed to be a part of an amazing church. The building itself wasn’t anything special, but the people were. They rallied around us during the biggest crises of our lives and were literally the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re talking meals, childcare, gifts of time and friendship, and even lawn care.

We first started attending Faith Evangelical Bible Church in Newport because a friend had gotten married there and insisted there was a wonderful pastor who had recently been hired. And she was correct. Pastor Norm, his wife Laura, and their young family arrived in the fall of 1999 and were a great fit. Norm is an engaging pastor who has the gift of teaching, and he knows how to preach the Word of God. Laura ministers to the women, and I always looked forward to Tuesday morning Bible studies with her.

Norm is the minister who presided over the two memorial services that we held for our children. He has a tender place in my heart for other reasons, too. He came to the hospital while I was laboring with Lucy just to pray with us and keep us company. A month later when Ryan was in and out of various hospitals, we never had to ask him to visit. He simply showed up.

I know that Laura was a big part of his ministry to us. After all, someone had to keep an eye on their children! Being a pastor’s wife means that other people’s emergencies sometimes take precedence over your own plans. Thank you, Laura, for giving up time with your husband for our benefit.

After we left North Carolina for Texas, and then Maryland for Virginia, we continued to exchange Christmas cards with Norm and Laura. We’ve watched their family grow up and expand on Facebook, too. When I first started blogging, Laura sent me a real, hand-written letter that was so sweet that I saved it–until the great clean-out before last year’s move.

But last Saturday Laura blew me away with her thoughtfulness. There was a box marked Sonlight on the front porch. We don’t use Sonlight’s curriculum and I hadn’t ordered any books recently, so I was intrigued. Inside many layers of bubble wrap I found this hand-painted plate:

Read the bottom rim!

Read the bottom rim!

There was another hand-written note inside the box, too. Like the first one, it contained tender words of encouragement to persevere through our current woes. Apparently we aren’t the only parents who struggle and grow weary.

Today I mailed my thank-you note to Laura, but it didn’t seem quite adequate to me. I know that Laura didn’t reach out to me so that others would notice, and perhaps she won’t like any of this attention. But her painted words are true for others, too. Dear friends who have also let go of your children before you were ready, your babies are also alive in Christ, and you will see them again, too.

And Laura, thank you.

 


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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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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.

 


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The Numbers Game

I haven’t been posting lately. As soon as Ryan arrived home, he left again. School, lessons, and soccer fill our days, and we were blessed–but exhausted–to take part in our neighborhood’s version of Extreme Home Makeover. Instead of a lengthy post, I thought I’d share a few numbers.

40-44: My new racing age group. I’m at the low end of the spectrum.

5: How many seconds I missed beating my half marathon PR yesterday.

5.5: How many hours I slept the night before my half marathon yesterday.

62: The number of minutes that the start of yesterday’s Iron Girl Half was delayed.

26: S’s new all-time lowest blood glucose reading.

39: The amount of carbohydrates in grams that it took to raise S’s blood glucose to a safe level.

40: The number of $1 bills my mother-in-law sent me as a birthday gift.

35: The number of $1 bills I paid a massage therapist to work out my post-race kinks today.

23: The number of school days we have left in this school year.

19: The number of math lessons left in this school year.

5: The number of times I sent naughty children to their rooms today.

30: The number of days that Ryan just announced he would be gone this summer.

38: The number of days until I leave for Ragnar Chicago.

18.1: The number of miles I will run during Ragnar Chicago.

1000: The number of words this picture is worth. This selfie is of me and my favorite running friend Tracy, who selflessly paced me through yesterday’s run. Even the 2 hills that I could not climb without walking. And over the finish line as I tried to tell her that my legs could not move any faster. Here we are in our post-race, no make-up, sweaty glory.

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Important Things

Yesterday we discovered condensation inside the battery compartment and under the screen of S’s insulin pump. Uh oh. For an insulin pump that promises to be waterproof up to 12 feet for 24 hours, condensation means something is wrong. In about an hour’s time, however, I had ordered a loaner pump and replacement pump. Crisis averted, I thought. Not according to S. “Did you order me a pink insulin pump? I’m not wearing another pink pump.” No, I had not. I had completely forgotten to ask about the color. Had I thought to remember, I would have selected green, her favorite color.

Silver seems so grown-up, but I dutifully called Animas today to make sure they were not sending another pink pump. Both customer service reps laughed when I explained that my daughter happily wears her pump with little complaint but is now threatening a boycott if she has to wear something pink any longer. You see, she chose pink when she was 4 years old; in fact, the only reason she agreed to wear a pump at that age was because there was a pink option. Now at the ripe age of 8.5 years, pink is her least favorite color.

But the color is important to S. She knows how a pancreas is supposed to work, and she knows vocabulary words like glucagon, cannula, bolus, and basal. She loves the freedom that wearing an insulin pump brings, but she also longs for some sense of control in her life. Diabetes has taken away much of her independence: she cannot eat whatever she wants, she has to carry a glucometer and juice with her when she visits anyone’s home, and her mom insists on knowing where she is at. all. times. So yes, it is important that she be able to  select a silver pump, and I am happy to oblige her request.

The other day I was chatting with a longtime friend about how we were spending the summer. Ten years ago, we were both Marine wives who taught high school English, coached girls’ soccer, and went home to our husbands and dogs. Life was easier and simpler. Now we have followed our husbands to separate coasts. Neither of us is teaching or coaching at the high school level, and only one of us has canine companionship. Both of us have the privilege of raising a daughter or three, and both of us have known extraordinary hardships and disappointments in the past decade. My friend (Look, J, you’re in print! Thanks for subscribing!) told me that she was impressed that I was still living my life the way I wanted to live it. I can’t remember what I replied because I was shocked by her words.

Had you asked 22-year-old me what I would be doing in the years following college, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be homeschooling three children or that I would have dropped out of grad school. I couldn’t imagine at that point how children would completely change my heart, or that I’d be content to stay at home with small people for the past decade. But these are the values and choices that are important to 39-year-old me. Having loved and lost three children, I don’t want to miss any of the big moments in these girls’ lives. Yes, I let my teaching licenses lapse. No, I did not finish a master’s degree in library science. No, homeschooling was not something I always wanted to do. Yes, it is stressful to manage S’s diabetes and G’s attention problems. And yes, that’s why I have taken up running with a vengeance lately.

These are the things that are important to me: family, friendships, striving to find balance in all areas, recognizing that I cannot control all aspects of life, and surrendering to a God who has my best interests in mind. Having a career and earning all sorts of accolades pale in comparison to understanding that silver is the perfect choice for a new insulin pump.