Friday, May 9, 2014

The Creak in the Door

Nostalgia.  I’m definitely feeling it this week.  Today, my parents are officially moving on from the house my sister and I grew up in.  I feel like I should be a little sad.  But the only thing I find upsetting is the cold reality of how much time has passed since I actually lived there (and, really, what is more upsetting than feeling old?)  When I think back to the magic years of my childhood with my sister, I think about our treehouse.  Catching turtles and frogs in the yard.  And lots of Barbies (some who had the misfortune of getting “haircuts” by two young girls in the late 80’s).  But one of the things I remember most about the house itself is the loud, squeaky sound our front door used to make, every time it opened and closed.  It sounds so  . . . inconsequential.  But that’s one of the things I so clearly remember about living in our house growing up, though the door was replaced years ago.  Even as I sit at home with what sounds like 1,000 shouting voices (in case you need a n imaginary sound effect for three arguing boys) I can still hear that creaky door.  

I wonder, in 25 years when my boys look back on their boyhood in our house now, what will they remember?  The truth is, there are plenty of things I hope they don't remember.  For a moment, let’s have a real, honest conversation about motherhood:  I never knew what unconditional, selfless love I was capable of until I met my firstborn son . . . and if I didn’t love him so deeply, I would have jumped off of a cliff by the third week.   I’m only half kidding, because being a mother is so damn hard.  The exhaustion.  The worry.  The isolating feeling of being with preschoolers all day.  The late nights and early mornings.  The standing up eating at the kitchen counter.  The strain it takes on your marriage and friendships . . . and your back.  Hardest.  Job.  Ever.  Someone recently made the comment to me, you always seem so calm.  And my first thought was, umm, yeah, that’s because we’re in public and no fewer than 30 people here are equipped with smart phones and I’d rather spare myself the public humiliation of a good old-fashioned mommy freak out with ugly tears and all . . .  I do my very best to keep cool under pressure, but I have 3 sons who love to test my limits.  There are times when I just lose my patience.  Or raise my voice louder than I should or say something I don’t mean.  Or have a day where I just can’t handle the chaos and the noise (did I mention that Jackson just got a drum set?????  And it’s currently set up in our family room?????  yeah….)  There are days I just feel like I can’t keep going.  Like I’m just empty and have nothing left to give.  And then something happens, a little whisper at the crack of dawn saying, “mommy, can we snuggle?” and I’m immediately refilled with the energy and love I need to navigate through this arduous journey called motherhood.  It’s this weird cycle of emptying out and filling up.  The love between a mother and child is the just about the most amazing renewable resource on planet earth.  And even when you give it all out, beyond even what you have, somehow, you get it all back in giggles, kisses, and smiles.

It’s hard for me to remember that no one expects me to be perfect.  I, probably like most moms, am my own worst critic.  What will my boys remember?  My (occasional) yelling?  A meltdown over the socks, cleats, and athletic cups I keep finding all over the floor after baseball?  More likely, they will remember pirates, legos, and dress up.  The way the sunlight hits the walls in their bedrooms in the early morning.  And maybe the sound of the step that always creaks  and seems especially loud when sleepy boys are being carried to their beds.  To all the moms out there, whether you have one child or twelve, give yourself a break.  We’re not perfect.  We’re going to mess up . . . all the time.  But even on our darkest day, a mother’s love never runs out.  Happy Mother’s Day.  And just remember, even though it’s our day, most of us will be wiping someone’s butt at 6:30 am.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Perfect Boy: One Year Later

One year ago today, I published my most popular post ever, a story about a little boy who lives life a little more dangerously than most.  Carter.  Every day, he tackles the world with daring creativity, challenging the ebb and flow in the tides of life, patterns with which most of us just roll along . . . he furiously defies the norm, making his own way through this crazy world.  While I sit here typing, he is pacing around the kitchen, breathing in a rhythm that tells me he is daydreaming.  And in 20 minutes when he has to change his clothes and get ready for karate, he will not hide his displeasure from having his imagination so rudely interrupted.  That has not changed.  But in 12 months, we all look a little different.  We grow.  We experience.  We learn.  He is my boy and I am his mom.  So although this journey has always been one we’ve taken together, side by side, we’ve both experienced and learned very different things, both with the purpose of growing this amazing little human being into an amazing big human being.  Here are a few of the most important things we’ve learned in the last year:

Concrete information can be elusive.  In a perfect, black and white world, we’d figure out how his brain works and how to make things better, less frustrating, for him.  Throughout the year, in conjunction with a developmental pediatrician at one of the country’s best children’s hospitals, we’ve completed a lot of testing and evaluations, all yielding a great amount of information.  I quickly learned that sometimes, one answer leads to a thousand more questions.  But we keep on moving, onward and forward, and every step is one toward building skills to help him adapt, learn, and thrive.  

You are what you eat.  It was suggested by our developmental pediatrician that we try the Feingold diet, which is a controversial diet for children with trouble focusing (ADHD) that eliminates food dyes, preservatives, flavors, and some fruits and vegetables.  My first reaction: this is quackery (which is what some critics have said and why it is controversial).  But after I gave the idea a bit of time to sink in, the sense of inconvenience was overruled by any chance that this would be beneficial to my child.  And there would be no adverse risks to modifying our diets.  So we tried it.  And it has definitely helped with focus, more so in school than at home (his behavior has never been hyperactive).  Is it a placebo effect?  I don’t know.  If it is, I hope it just keeps on . . . placebo-ing.  I’m totally okay with that.  I wish that I could tell you that the transition was easy.  But it has required sacrifice, substitution, and eliminating things we like (because we are doing this as a family), but man, this has been an eye opening experience in terms of what is actually in our food.  Fortunately, there is a health food store nearby where I can find organic versions of just about anything when we need a little treat (oreos, jellybeans, popcorn), I make most of our bread (with an easy peasy bread maker), and I have easily learned to substitute brands and just shop smarter (not spending more money).  The biggest challenges have been in school, with class party substitutions (his teacher is armed with an arsenal of safe treats) and well intentioned teachers/students offering food that he shouldn’t be eating.  But over time (we’ve been following this diet since December), he has learned to say “no thank you” even when it’s something he would reeaallyyy like to eat.  Like a Cheeto.  I’m super proud of him for making good decisions and resisting temptation, knowing that it’s the healthiest decision for him.  He understands that this life-altering (sometimes sucky) change is helping him learn.  And slowly but surely, it’s becoming an easier part of our life.  I’m sure every child with focus/attention issues is different, but I would recommend any parent whose child is suffering as a result of these issues to do some research and give the Feingold diet some consideration.

Teachers rule.  People who have a passion for teaching and loving children amaze me.  This year in first grade, he doesn’t have just one teacher, he has a lot of teachers who have been instrumental in helping him grow over the past year.  He has special teachers who make building certain skills fun.  He takes a drawing class at our community center with a teacher who gives him creative freedom to explore wherever it is his imagination takes him.  But his first grade teacher is super special.  She has high expectations from him and he has risen to the occasion.  She has allowed him freedom to be creative and expressive, but she gives him boundaries that he must respect.  And even with these expectations, he has risen to the occasion and been motivated to work hard.  I’m sure there are days where she wished she was on a deserted island, with no first graders, but I am so grateful for all she has done, and she deserves a lot of credit for his growth over the past year.  

Faith is our true north.  When I have been unsure of what to think or where to go, I have relied on my faith.  I believe in a God who creates each life with a perfect purpose, far beyond what my simple mind can comprehend.  I am so grateful for each teacher, therapist, and pediatrician who has participated in Carter’s care.  But I also realize that they are seeing just a small glimpse of who he is, so I have learned not to hang on their every word but instead have chosen to use every piece of information to make the best decisions I can.  My faith has helped me sort through feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and find the place where I can find peace with the unexpected turns.  

Bottom line: I love everything about Carter.  All the good.  All the quirks.  All the hard stuff.  And some of it has been hard.  But I will never complain.  Everyday, I know that he will surprise me.  And to be honest, there have been times where I’ve been surprised by some of his successes and talents (who knew he was such a good actor?).  I can’t think of a better way to be surprised.  Ours has been a year made of lots of important moments and a few unexpected twists, but mostly, it’s been a little boy and his mom, determined to make the most of everything we’ve been given.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Heart of Gratitude

By now, most people have heard some of the insanely ignorant comments by Gwyneth Paltrow as she gets skewered by the media this week.  Things like, “I can’t pretend to be a person who makes $25,000 a year” and “Movie stars have it sooooo much harder than office workers.”  She’s ruffled a few feathers, to say the least.  But what I find most appalling about her statements is the lack of humility and gratitude, because she’s a person that just got lucky, born with beauty to famous parents.  She could just as easily be the single mom working two jobs to support her kids.  I give no excuses for a person who is less than humble and grateful, especially when coming from a person who has been handed so much.  But honestly, I think we are all a bit guilty of a Gwyneth attitude.  According to Global Rich List, an annual income of $25,000 USD puts you in the top 2% of earners across the world.  It’s a shocking statistic.  The United States is plagued by a multitude of problems, too complicated to describe in one blog post.  But being born in the US affords opportunity that does not exist in most of the world.  
Recently, while sorting through photos, I found the above image sandwiched between ones of me holding a bouquet of flowers at my wedding rehearsal and chubby, healthy, smiling baby.  The striking paradox was unsettling.  Before kids, I had the opportunity to travel to one of the most remote places in Honduras for a medical mission trip.  I struggle finding the words to describe my experience there.  But even now, there is a huge part of me that feels so guilty for having so much.  I want to be able to tell you that people are happy and live in peace in the third world, but that’s not the truth.  Yes, the people we met on our journey were beautiful, generous, amazing people who were proud and grateful for whatever they had.  But in the third world, resources are limited.  Children are orphaned by AIDS.  There is no NICU.  People die of syphilis.  Food can be scarce.  There is limited warning for hurricanes bearing down on the coast, and even if there is, where would people go? 

While we were there, a mother gave birth to a baby who was about 6 weeks premature.  Her baby boy only survived a few hours as he struggled to breath.  It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever witnessed, because there had been plenty of times in my nursing practice that I’d seen premature babies receive respiratory support for their tiny lungs, while surrounded by doctors and nurses in sterile gowns.  And I don’t believe that a mother losing her child is ever less painful simply because it occurs so often around her.

I don’t want to be a Gwyneth.  And when I complain about unimportant things like my disdain for laundry, I’m completely guilty of being one.  Because I understand that a washing machine is a luxury since most women of the world wash their clothes in a river.  I can’t solve the world’s problems.  But I believe the antithesis of ignorance, greed, and entitlement comes from an attitude of humility and gratitude for whatever you’ve been given.  Food.  Clothes.  Health.  A place to call home.  Everyday, there is a reason to be grateful.

Some of these images may have been taken by my travel partners, so I’d like to give them credit and my thanks.  Sara, Jenn, and Alan, if you read this, I think of you often and all of the ways that our time in this tiny village changed us forever.  xoxo
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