On a Learning Curve

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


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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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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.

Easter bunny 001

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.


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7 Things

February can be a tough month for me. I became a mother in February 2001. My twin sons Seth and Owen were born on February 24, more than three months before their due date. Seth Michael lived less than one day, and Owen Patrick lived almost two days. As soon as I turn the calendar page to February, I think of my boys.

In the 13 years that have passed, we’ve added three thriving girls to our family, but we’ve also buried another daughter whose life ended before it began. My heart has healed, but I am forever changed—in ways too numerous to describe in this post.

Today I thought I would share 7 things not to do or say after someone you know loses a child. All of these suggestions are from personal experience, and my purpose is not to chastise or shame. I just want others to think before they say or do something that may further wound someone who is already broken.

  1. Show up unannounced with pictures of your baby who died. I was speechless when this happened to me, especially since I only casually knew this woman and didn’t know she recently had lost a child. I literally walked out of the room and refused to return until my husband and mother escorted her from the house.
  2. Monopolize the conversation with details about your loss. This isn’t about you, even if you’ve had a similar experience. Be quiet. Listen. Let your friend grieve. It is okay if you don’t know what to say. It is even better if you just say, “I am so very sorry.”
  3. Use phrases like, “My womb became a tomb.” Do not use conversation with a grieving mother as your own personal therapy session. Make an appointment with a licensed counselor or psychologist. Do not attempt to transfer your guilt, grief, or irrational beliefs to anyone else.
  4. Ignore what happened. Pretend that everything is normal. Because if you wait long enough, your friend will get over her loss and you won’t feel so uncomfortable. Right? Wrong.
  5. Say, “If there’s anything you need, just call me.” People who say this have the best of intentions but often don’t realize that it may just be too hard for a grieving parent to do this. Also, who calls someone to say, “Would you please bring my family a meal tomorrow night? We eat low-carb; my husband hates mushrooms and nuts; and I despise mayonnaise”? Really?
  6. Ask questions about insurance coverage. Especially if you’re pregnant and trying to figure what Tricare (or your insurance company) covers.  This happened to me at a spouses’ get-together not long after my first loss. I was trying so hard to get through the day without crying, and I just wanted to have a normal outing. Some gracious friends redirected the conversation; however, this is why insurance companies have customer service representatives, Web sites, and 800-phone numbers! Show some sensitivity!
  7. Fill in awkward gaps in conversation.  Don’t say, “Well, at least your baby is in a better place and isn’t suffering anymore.” While that may be true, that baby’s mother and father are suffering, and your attempt to make sense of the unthinkable isn’t necessary. And please don’t say, “At least you have other children.” Yes, that may be true, but one child isn’t a substitute for another.

 

So what should you do when a friend or acquaintance is in this situation? It’s simple, really. Here are 7 suggestions.

  1. Call before you visit. Do not bring your personal memento box. Do not bring books about infertility or others’ experiences. Save those for later. When she asks.
  2. Listen when your friend wants to talk. Keep her company. Pray for her. Give her a hug. You don’t always need to use words.
  3. Don’t share your own experiences until later. Spare the gory or graphic details.
  4. Continue to invite and include your friend. Don’t give up if she doesn’t accept the first or second invitation.
  5. Don’t wait for your friend to call you. Insist on bringing a meal. Ask if there are food allergies or preferences. Ask which day is best. Even better, bring something that can be frozen or consumed at a later date; use disposable containers.
  6. Show some sensitivity, even if you have to put a piece of tape over your mouth. If you are pregnant or have a newborn, realize that she doesn’t hate you or your baby; however, she may feel awkward around you. Don’t take it personally.
  7. Sit and listen if she wants to talk. If she doesn’t or can’t, make her a cup of tea. Buy her a fancy $5 latte from Starbucks. Suggest that you take a walk together.

 

Readers, what about you? What are your dos and don’ts after the loss of a child or loved one? Leave a comment if you can improve on my suggestions!


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You Just Have to Know Where to Look

Or at least that’s what my wise mother says. I phoned her yesterday after pulling a butternut squash out of the microwave, cutting it in half, and finding this:

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Those are butternut squash sprouts attached to the seeds inside my cooked squash. Weird! Not dangerous or poisonous though. I snapped a quick picture–since my children love to examine all things weird and abnormal–and scooped out the mess. I will admit that it is somewhat creepy to pull out the sprouts; they are rather worm-like.

My mom’s advice came after I told her about the girls’ latest finds this week: a ginormous, horned beetle and a dead hummingbird. G has a particular fascination with insects so we stopped to examine this prehistoric-looking creature outside of the dermatologist’s office. S spotted the hummingbird in the mulch outside a Starbucks just a few minutes later. “Mom, it’s a female, and I’m fairly sure she died of natural causes,” S pronounced. No arguing there. What is fast enough to snag a hummer? “How do they always find such interesting things,” I asked my mom. (Seriously. It’s like we’re on a never-ending field trip. I never know what we’ll find when we leave the house.) “Oh, Laura, it’s because your girls are always looking down and digging around for things, and you’re looking straight ahead,” was her pithy reply. Then she added that some day they’d probably find a $20 bill. (They’ve already found a $5 bill.)

She’s right though. Aren’t moms good at that quality?! My girls don’t worry about looking ahead–and they have the scars to prove it–or thinking through the consequences of their actions. My job is to look ahead for them and steer them onto the correct paths. In time, they’ll learn to pick up their heads, too, but I hope they never stop looking down for the hidden and unexpected.


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Mother of the Year?

Some days I think mothering is a win-lose occupation. I’m having more of these days lately. G tells me at least once a week that I’m ruining her life and that I’m selfish for insisting on doing things my way. I know it’s totally selfish of me to insist she not eat food in her bed and then scatter the packaging in her dresser drawers and pillow cases, so yes, that’s why I’m attempting to ruin her life. Then I picked her up from horse camp yesterday. Apparently I’m back in her good graces for the week.

On Saturday when H and I were packing her suitcase for a week of day camp and time with the grandparents, she informed me she no longer wanted to go to camp–especially if I was going to force her to wear socks AND sneakers. I replied that she owed me $90 for camp tuition. She’s smart at the young age of 6 and decided that she would gain some leverage by acquiescing if I agreed to accompany her to day camp. (Sure, a 39-year-old mom would not look out of place at a camp for elementary students.) Instead, I agreed to buying her lunch on Sunday, and she agreed to go to camp and be spoiled by Grammy and Granddad. Guess who won this battle! (Hint: it wasn’t me.)

Yesterday I spent the day with my middle child, which is something that hasn’t happened since last December when we took explored DC for her eighth birthday. Apparently I’m not as fun as her sisters. Apparently she doesn’t whine to her sisters about how bored she is. And apparently I struck out at 3 attempts to make her less miserable. In the morning, we visited Miss Debby, one of our favorite people. She’s a grandmother from our church who has adopted our family as her own. She also has a kid-friendly house and yard and never insists that the girls pick up after themselves. S whined at Miss Debby’s house until we left for home. So I made a playdate for the neighborhood pool. After less than an hour, S actually curled up under a towel and asked to go home. After dinner, G and I took S to play Street Soccer, which is an evening of pick-up soccer games arranged by our local soccer club. I was excited: DC United sent 2 players to play with the kids and sign autographs, and much of S’s soccer team showed up to play. S was not remotely interested in the soccer pros; she actually left the field and told me she didn’t want to play at all and that this wasn’t her idea of fun. “Seriously? I just committed to a year of coaching your soccer team, and you no longer want to play?!” was my reply.

Fast-forward to this morning. S spent another miserable night coughing. She agreed to a doctor’s visit this morning, and our doctor suggested viral bronchitis as the cause of her misery. I simply asked if she could have cough syrup with codeine, please. Yes, I am Mother of the Year.

If I’ve learned anything, the rest of the week will be unpredictable. S and H will eventually conquer their coughs and sleep peacefully through the night. One of my kids will decide I am the world’s worst mother, another will defend my honor as world’s greatest mom, and the third will be wise enough to stay out of the discussion.