Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Special Bunch of Heroes

Today I remember a select bunch of heroes. 

Thirteen years ago, I loaded my precious cargo into the car, turned on the radio, and heard the words, "Smoke is pouring out of one of the World Trade Center towers." I ran into the house, told my husband to turn on the tv, and got back into the car. As I drove, I listened to an NPR reporter who was on the streets of New York City. I listened as the second airplane hit. As I pulled into a parking space in front of the fire station, the first tower fell. Upon entering the fire station, I wasn't sure what to say first - to wish my sister a happy birthday or to break the news in case she hadn't heard. That's when I noticed the tv in the office and the firefighters gathered around it. Approaching the fire fighters, I was assured that our fire station field trip would continue as scheduled. 

As our group of adults, toddlers and preschoolers explored the fire station, learned about the different types of fire trucks, the firefighter's gear, and watched the firefighters slide down the fire pole, the parents were kept abreast of the tragic situation calmly and quietly by the firefighters who had gathered, on duty or off. We were thanked profusely for continuing with our field trip. We thanked the firefighters for their hospitality - for allowing our visit amidst tragedy and chaos. 

One firefighter took me aside that day and put things in perspective. Hundreds of emergency workers had responded to the towers. Many had surely died. That morning the firefighters at the fire station in downtown Naugatuck, CT were provided with a greatly needed reminder - of laughter, excitement, amazement, joy - of LIFE itself. A dozen or so little smiling faces, oblivious to violence, terrorism, and the horrors of the world. Innocence - the very thing they needed to witness to help counteract the horrific images embedded so quickly and permanently in their memories.

In the weeks to come, many people were declared heroes, and rightfully so - the emergency workers who went into the towers and never came out; the people on the airplane that took action to try to help save lives; the many that searched through the rubble for survivors. For me that day, there were more heroes. Heroes who sheltered the innocent and showed them a wonderful time while keeping their parents quietly informed. Heroes who scampered about a fire station, asking questions, climbing on trucks, and delighting in ringing the bell - bringing smiles to faces that would spend the following days, weeks, perhaps months in tears. 

Today I celebrate this special bunch of heroes. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Prince of Cures

It's the antidote to anger, sadness, to what ails us. As unexpected as it seems, it really works! This revolutionary cure was discovered quite by accident. My life will never be the same. 

It all started one day when I had a chocolate craving. I decided gluten-free brownies were in order, so I baked a batch. Well, it might be more accurate to say I attempted to whip up a batch. One would think that I would learn, after numerous failed attempts, that brownie baking just isn't my forte. Too crisp around the edges, the brownies were more than a little gooey in the middle. There was no saving them. 

As the "brownies" were baking, one of my children, who was having an exceptionally bad day, all but locked himself in his room. Even the prospect of brownies wasn't enough to alter his mood. Good thing, too, because what a disappointment it would have been to have his mind set on a rich, crumbly brownie only to be let down. 

Darn prednisone. Now all I can think about it brownies. I just handed the kids a box of mix and they're baking. 

But I digress.

Entering the child's room, he was unresponsive to anything I said or did. Extending my arm, I offered him a plate of brownie goo and two words, "brownie poop?" 

His face immediately, yet subtly changed. I caught a hint of a grin before his shoulders started to every-so-slightly bounce up and down. No longer able to help himself, the plate of steaming brownie poop just inches from his nose, he burst out in glorious laughter. After consuming this healing confection, good mood restored, he rejoined the land of the living. 

Fast forward a month or so and we sat in the Fellowship Hall of church before worship began. Some slight by a brother or sister combined with poor sleep the night before and an early morning concocted a sour mood in this same child. Yet again facing an unresponsive child, I spoke gently and calmly even though time was of the essence, as he was supposed to be helping with worship that morning. I started getting frustrated that he would not talk, refused eye contact, and could not seem to get enough control over his emotions to either get through them or let them go. 

Then it came to me. I placed my face directly in front of his face, took a deep breath, and with an extremely serious look on my face said those two miraculous words, "brownie poop."

He was in an acolyte robe and upstairs within minutes, just slightly peeved and equally amused that his blustery mood was squelched once again by the prince of cures, brownie poop. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Back to Life

It's that glorious time called Back To School. It's the time when all the schoolchildren are off to school, leaving homeschoolers to run free. Nothing against schooled children, mind you - we have lots of friends who go to school, it's just when kids are in school, it's a bit different in the world.

To us, it's more like Back to Life. Our busy Summer is over, and we can move at a more leisurely pace. It's nice having much-less-crowded museums and science centers to explore; parks basically to ourselves, especially during little kid naptimes. We love movie matinees in nearly-empty theaters and walking beaches without tripping through a maze of beach chairs and blankets. 

It's back to homeschool co-op on Fridays and Tuesday Night Sunday School. It's back to sermon notes and daily journal writing. It's back to the library to explore new topics and then out in the world to expand our horizons. 

It's staying in our pajamas all day if we want to, remembering to add in school bus delays when we need to get somewhere in the morning ... or early afternoon, and wondering why our homeschooled kids don't often sleep past 7AM. 

This is also the time when my OCD goes full tilt and the giant dry erase board is filled to capacity. There's a calendar with activities, appointments, birthdays, meetings, and the like; a daily to do list, upcoming events, household duties, writing assignments, and various countdowns all crammed organized in one central space so that everyone knows what's going on at a glance or three.

I love What School Looks Like to us, and what learning is to my children. Sights, sounds, conversations, experiences, meditation, playing, arguing, cooking, cleaning, tinkering, creating, thinking, sharing, planning, shopping, worshiping, traveling, exploring, and even sleeping are learning experiences. Life is school, and learning never ends. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Dose of Angry

I took my dose of angry not too long ago. The kids are starting to get super annoying, even though they aren't doing anything out of the ordinary. Random electronic noises are really grating my nerves and there's nothing good to read, to listen to, or to watch. Suddenly there's something wrong with everything and everyone. 

It doesn't help that my pain levels are through the roof, even though the angry is supposed to be helping get rid of what's supposedly causing the pain. It's frustrating that the angry makes me want to do ALL THE THINGS, but my body does not want me to do any of the things thankyouverymuch. 

My children have been warned, and my husband knows the drill. Once I'm on mass doses of angry, I'm a ticking time bomb if I don't keep myself in check. The littlest thing can set me off. And yet I willingly subject myself to angry just so I can function - and this time, in addition, for diagnostic purposes. 

The angry is supposed to be helping, so why isn't it? Because inflammation isn't the thing that's causing the pain and the numbness and the tingling and the pain. Yes, I realize I said pain twice. It's a lot of pain. Which is bad news. But good in that once it's determined that the angry was all for nothing, I can move forward with testing and hopefully some sort of treatment or solution for the pain. 

Prednisone is a necessary evil, but I'm sure my family would be much happier if it caused bouts of extreme joy rather than angry. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hoping for the Worst

It's strange. I brought my child in for a medical test, and part of me hopes, prays that what we suspect is wrong is wrong. Even though it will require surgery and an unpleasant recuperation, I pray it's the answer. The poor kid needs to sleep!

Last week I took Zachary, age fourteen, for a sleep study. He arrived in pajamas, movie and books in hand, and got hooked up to all sorts of monitors as he settled in for the night. I got to stay the night, too, in a recliner in the same room. My prayer for the evening: "God, please let the boy sleep. Please let him sleep poorly. Please let them find the cause of his frequent waking at night and the exhaustion he feels even after what he thinks is a good night's rest. And please let it be his tonsils."
Zachary before. I'm not allowed to post Zachary after. :)
This child has huge tonsils. He snores nearly every night. Of all the possibilities for his sleep disturbances, big tonsils is on the not-too-bad end of the spectrum, so I guess it's not really hoping for the worst, but it hoping for the unpleasant. His huge tonsils are what his doctor suspects is the culprit. If they're obstructing his breathing while he sleeps, we'll schedule surgery. If removing his tonsils fixes his sleep issues, we'll all celebrate. With ice cream, as it would just be mean to have a pizza party for a kid with a painful throat. 

Arriving at the sleep study center, I just have to laugh. I had been up since 2:30AM, so was exhausted before we got there. I'm sure I snored. I'm sure I was restless. I'm wondering why they didn't invite me back for a sleep study of my own!

Now we wait for the phone call with the results. Zachary votes tonsils over apnea. Both of us can't believe we hope there's something wrong rather than nothing wrong. The boy needs to sleep.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Terrorist at Six Flags

I stood, feet in the cool water, attempting to keep track of my five children and two of their friends as they climbed cargo nets to water slides galore. My husband, after retrieving a couple items from our tiny theme park locker, was off scouting rides and attractions to experience next.

Not far away from me stood a man, also keeping an eye on children. He looked in my direction and I smiled. I could have sworn I received a scowl in response, but couldn't figure out why so assumed it wasn't directed at me. His wife arrived at his side, and he started spitting hateful words not so quietly to her. "They are everywhere! You can't go out for a day of fun with your family without running into f***ing terrorists!"

Looking around to figure out about whom he was talking, I quickly came to realize it was me. Incredibly sensitive to the sun due to medications I'm on, I had draped a large light scarf over my head and around my shoulders and upper body, very much in the manner of my Muslim friends. I was taken aback. One scarf somehow transformed me into a terrorist, despite the fact that I didn't have a single gun. bomb, or even a mean thought aimed at anyone. All it took was a scarf to induce hate and fear.

I couldn't let the comment go. I couldn't let the man walk away without saying something. Words tumbled from my mouth as I tried to maintain my composure. "Excuse me, sir. I'm a person with a sensitivity to the sun. And I'm a Christian, not that that matters. I'm not a terrorist. Holding certain religious beliefs doesn't make one a terrorist, and neither does a head covering. If you think that a woman covering her head makes her a terrorist, you might want to be wary of nuns."

He stammered some sort of apology in response and said something about Muslim extremists and fear and you don't see people like Buddhists going around killing people which is why he is studying Buddhism and you never know nowadays. I asked him to please not judge anyone by their outer appearance nor their beliefs, but by their actions. And to google Buddhist extremism cause there are extremes in all belief systems. Then I walked away, gathered the children, and we moved on to more amusement park fun. 

The entire interaction took maybe a minute, but I have carried it with me for weeks. One scarf worn a certain way and false assumptions were made. I somehow became, in at least one person's mind a symbol of fear; someone to hate. It's the instant hate that gets me. I can't wrap my mind around that type of hate. I don't want to be able to.

I feel blessed that I was able to respond with calm, kind words. And sort of sad he didn't seem to get my joke about being wary of nuns. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Our family is weird. I know this is common knowledge by now, but I honestly think our weirdness may have reached a new level.

My husband and I have a slight ... ok, more accurately a huge obsession with the tv show How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM). When he introduced me to the show, my husband wasn't sure how I'd feel about it, as one of the characters in particular is quite the womanizer. Somehow I managed to absolutely love the show and still laugh at it as we watch seasons 1-8 over and over while waiting for the final season to be released on dvd next month.

HIMYM could very well be a guidebook for how we don't want our children to pursue romantic and/or sexual relationships when they feel they're ready for such a thing. Perhaps Lily and Marshall's relationship might be appropriate - falling in love, being respectful and encouraging of each other's goals, and maintaining a monogamous relationship - but Barney Stinson's 200+ sexual conquests and Ted's sleeping with most of his girlfriends within the first couple dates are not our idea of healthy relationship models. Therefore, our children haven't seen HIMYM. They have, however, been subjected to HIMYM inspired humor, the ducky tie (a Christmas gift from me to my husband), endless HIMYM references, and general daily conversation about HIMYM (Genereal Daily Conversation!). 

This has caused our fourteen year old to question when he'll be allowed to watch this epic program. He points out its TV-14 rating and his own age, so why not now?

Why not? Because there are way too many references that will go too far over his head for him to watch it now. He has work to do! He needs to get studying! We, in our glorious weirdness, have made up a list of prerequisites he must complete before being allowed to watch How I Met Your Mother. It includes, but is not limited to, such things as Doogie Howser, MD, Lethal Weapon, Terminator, Field of Dreams, Stand and Deliver, Happy Days, Die Hard, Stand By Me, Dirty Dancing, Top Gun, The Price Is Right, Dead Poet's Society, and much to my chagrin, the Weekend at Bernie's movies. He has already seen Star Wars, The Karate Kid, Crocodile Dundee III (it really does hold up!), Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Jurassic Park, and The Breakfast Club. 

Now, in addition to his normal homeschool studies, Zachary has undertaken Pre-HIMYM, hoping to complete it as soon as Netflix allows so he can move on to HIMYM 101. If all goes well, my husband and I will finish HIMYM 109 beforehand, just in case the prerequisite list needs to be expanded due to season nine content. 

So there you have it. True story.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust

All the world is made of faith, trust, and pixie dust. J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Sometimes I forget. A lot of the time lately, in fact.

It seems the more pain I experience, the more ill I feel, the less money we have, the more things are breaking down, the more I tend to forget to pay attention to faith, trust, and pixie dust.

I forget to take a moment or twenty to thank God for all the blessings in my life and ask for guidance and patience along life's path. I get too wrapped up in thinking about how much I have lost physically; in the feeling of once again falling behind in life; and in the realization that things can get very much worse for me, for us, quickly. 

I forget to trust that things will work out one way or another. Worry about the future clouds my ability to enjoy the moment. The what-ifs corrode my happiness, eating away at hope until I feel I'm more struggling to survive than living. 

I forget to let my children be children. Noisy children. Rambunctious children. Creative, awesome, adventurous children. Children who believe that life is all about faith, trust, and pixie dust.

All because I want peace and quiet. And to not think or feel or deal with anyone else or anything else for a while. Perhaps also because I want to solve life's problems now, instead of waiting for things to fall into place, and that just might happen if I could just get a moment of peace.

It's easy to lose track of the whimsy of life when you live with chronic pain or chronic illness. Too easy. Slipping into anger and despair seems so much easier. It certainly must take much less energy.

We forget it's just as easy and better for our health to laugh. Laughter, fun, hope, confidence that things will work out for the best, even though they may look bleak now - these are essential not just for survival, but for prospering despite life's obstacles. 

And so I step out in faith that good things will come from all this; in trust that I am strong enough and weak enough and together enough and broken enough to get through this - all with the help of a little a lot of pixie dust to bring laughter and love to my days and to help my spirits soar. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Adventure Camp

Our two teenagers signed up for Adventure Camp at Camp Calumet Lutheran in Freedom, New Hampshire once again this year. They spent the week canoeing, rock climbing and rappelling, hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and doing all sorts of crazy things. They signed up for wilderness and lots of rowing and tons of walking, climbing, et cetera. 

I did not.

I signed up for dropping three kids off at Resident Camp on Sunday through Saturday and two children off at Day Camp from 8:30AM - 4:30PM Monday through Friday. I signed up for relaxing on the beach, reading a few good books, going on a hike or two, taking a kayak out for a leisurely row, and a two hour pontoon boat excursion to see loons and explore Lake Ossipee. 

Nine days at Camp Calumet provided more laughter, more love, more joy, more beauty, and certainly more adventure than I could have ever anticipated. 

For the first time in forever, my husband and I had hours to ourselves every day. It took a little while for us to figure out what to do with ourselves, but we managed to use our time well. Monday we hiked Jackman Ridge. The hike reminded me how far downhill I've come since last Summer, at the same time encouraging me to enjoy every step all the more greatly. 

Tuesday we kayaked to the mouth of the Bear Camp River and a little way beyond - far beyond what I was expecting, a surprising distance once we turned around to head back to Camp. Fighting winds and currents to get back to shore, I arrived worn out, yet elated. I'd forgotten how good I feel when kayaking.

Wednesday we contemplated the story of Noah while riding out a severe thunderstorm on an airbed in our tent, lightning striking the ground just feet away. This, after our pontoon boat ride was cut short in order to beat the storm to shore, collect our Day Campers' belongings, and get our clothing off the line before the downpour began.

Thursday found us hiking up Rattlesnake Mountain to what felt at the time to be the top of the world - both physically and emotionally. On the way down I was already plotting to hike that again in the Fall, when the views of Squam Lake and surrounding areas will be ablaze with autumn leaves. 

Rainy Friday provided an amazing, if wet, second hike up Jackman Ridge, down another path through the pines, as well as an opportunity to experience the Princess and the Pea in a whole new way courtesy of the Drama Camp production in which three of our children performed marvelously. 
Haley is the Lady in Waiting in the middle

Coren is the sleeping wizard on the right
Alia is in the center of the photo
After picking up our Resident Campers on Saturday, we nearly lost one of them while on a family canoe / kayak excursion. High winds and strong currents conspired to drag our eldest in the opposite direction of Camp, but Alia and I went to the rescue in our double kayak and verbally guided him toward shore, albeit the shore of another camp, and then along shore back to Calumet. We arrived to cheers and congratulations and exclamations on how close they'd come to sending a boat to the rescue. 

Epic storms, fighting currents, hiking to new heights, and rushing to my son's aid were quite a lot more adventure than I'd set out to have during our Camp Calumet vacation, but I wouldn't trade any of it for a week of relaxing on a beach.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Too Much Like Me

I love him dearly, this child who is too much like me. 

I love the full-bodied laugh that tumbles form his being, often accompanying a sly look in my direction. We have the same sense of humor, and crack up at things that make others look at us oddly. My heart melts at the sight of his smiles, the kind that light up his eyes and radiate to those around him. 

That he is so much like me pains me intensely at times. He feels too deeply, hurts so easily. The storms sometimes raging behind his eyes tighten my chest with grief. Consumed with helplessness, I long to lift this dark legacy from him.

He has turned fourteen, and later this year I turn forty. Neither seem possible; both feel unexpectedly old. It's nearly too much for me to wrap my brain around. It seems like just yesterday he was four years old, golden curls and impish face lighting up my life, and I, not yet thirty, two of my children just a prayer waiting to be answered. 

He is too much like me, but so incredibly different from me. He makes friends easily. His adventurous spirit leads him to do things I wouldn't have considered at his age. Much more athletic, he is well versed in hiking, kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, rappelling, and more. He has performed Shakespeare on stage - King Lear, from memory. I was thirty-something before I could get up in front of a church congregation as lector, the readings laid out before me, albeit very nervously at first. 

Alike or different, Zachary is growing into a wonderful young man with a quick wit and caring heart. For better or for worse, the words, "He's so much like you, " or "He's definitely your child," will forever be a compliment to me - although I'm not sure he'll return the sentiment. 

Happy Fourteen, Zachary!