Excuse Me While I Rant! My Perspective on Haitian Adoption

A friend of mine posed the question; “I’m thinking… why are people so anxious to “help” the children of Haiti by adopting them, removing them from their culture, their country, their language and their homes? Wouldn’t it be better to help rebuild and invest in the children there, so they can develop into the country’s future leaders?”

The comment got me to thinking about the current crisis in Haiti.  While I’m sure that my friend has the best of intentions when asking this question, I found myself having a pretty strong reaction to it.  It’s a busy morning for me here, so pardon my unedited and hardly proof-read response.  I just couldn’t not write anything about it!

Perhaps it was a slight leaning toward the vilification of adoptive parents.  Or maybe because it conjured in me the idea that Haiti, even before this crisis, was a delightful place to raise a child.  I am going to attempt give words to these strong feelings, for my self, but so that I can be a voice in some very small way for the orphans of Haiti (and all over the world for that matter.)

By now it should be obvious to all of us that Haiti is in a crisis beyond any of our imaginations.  Before the earthquake, Haiti was already the #1 most impoverished country in the western hemisphere.  Number 1.  So lets not kid our selves here, with an 80% poverty rate, and an abject poverty rate at over 50% (pre-quake) there are a lot of very practical needs of Haitian children that are not being met.

People all over the world have opened their wallets and given money to the people of Haiti.  That is a wonderful gesture of good will and very generous, but in the end some problems need more than our collective paycheck, and they need it now.  While my children all went to sleep in their own beds last night with full tummies and a hug from their parents, it is heartbreaking to me to think that there are children in Haiti, and around the world, that don’t have that.  I think prospective adoptive parents are looking at the situation in Haiti and from a really practical, tangible standpoint have stepped up.  Not only have they opened their wallets, they have opened their homes and hearts.  That takes guts.

It will be years before any of the money being funneled to Haiti becomes anything tangible for these kids, and while it’s a great story, “Earthquake Victim Child Rises From Rubble Of Haiti To Become New Charismatic Leader!” it is not going to be the case for most of those children.  Sadly, the odds are not in their favor.   It is likely that without parental support from people who are emotionally and financially dedicated to them, they will become the next even more impoverished generation, and on top of that they will be parentless.  I find that extremely sad.

Most people willing to raise an orphan are not able to uproot and move to the child’s home country in order to provide them a home.  And to back up a little bit, we are talking about adoptive parents who are not looking for healthy, white, newborn, “perfect in every way” babies, and we are talking about kids who have been through horrific trauma, are sick (HIV is rampant in Haiti), and poverty stricken.  I’m wondering which is worse, living in abject poverty without parents, or learning a new culture and language?  I know many adoptive parents, in fact, embrace their child’s native culture and earnestly try to teach them about it.  I think about how I have grown to love my husband’s family and traditions because they are a part of him, whom I love and adore, and can’t imagine an adoptive parent not embracing the culture of a child they love and adore as well.   Adoption isn’t a neat and tidy solution.  These parents have signed up to get down and dirty and they have their work cut out for them.   They certainly are doing more than many of us rubberneckers!  Many of us gawk at our televisions and send $10 text donations, while they have signed on to a lifetime of support for one person, possibly even a group of siblings, and have agreed to be forever changed by the events in Haiti.  I hate to say it, but it is likely that I will be as changed by the events in Haiti as I was by the events in Indonesia in 2005…

In the 10-20 years that Haiti is rebuilding the buildings, those adoptive parents will be building people, and hopefully they will be instilling in them a pride of where they have come from.  Hopefully because theses Haitian children raised with the love and support of parents, raised with stability and security that comes from parents committed to them, hopefully they will naturally have a compassion and heart for their native country and people, and they will become citizens of either country that are positive influences for us all.

Around the time my first daughter was born I heard a quote from a man named Ed Cogar that has stuck with me and I have thought a lot about it in regard to the orphans in Haiti, “It is easier to raise a child than to repair an adult.”   I applaud the parents who are stepping up in the most tangible way for the orphans of Haiti and around the world.  I believe they are most heroic.

Advertisements

Saying Goodbye

As I made my way past the crowded waiting room, I hoped that I was first to catch the door when the privacy curtain receded.  I had enlisted my husband in my plan.  He would guard the door while I was inside, so that I could steal time alone with her.  Getting time alone with everybody’s favorite patient was challenging, there were always people visiting!  As much as I was thankful for their tangible support, I was growing weary of their constant presence.  I wanted some of those precious and few moments for myself and I didn’t want to have to shoo someone away so that I could get it.

Precious and few.  Those words rang in my head with the urgency of the obnoxious beep a 4 am alarm clock, all too early, and imploring my immediate attention, even in my disoriented state.  There was no way of knowing how long we had with her, but we all must have sensed the critical timing because the visitors were always there.  They came to her bedside in steady stream, like the flow unconscious thought, one blending seamlessly into the next.  Unaware of when they arrived, where they would be on their way to, how long they planned to stay, many with the stunned blank faces of grief.   Friends from church and from her neighborhood, friends who shared her hobbies, friends from work, friends who were like family and friends who were also family.  On the way home from work, after church, before heading to the store, just because they were in the neighborhood… each one stopping for “just a minute.”

I understood why they came.  They were drawn to her light.  They were drawn to her strength and peace.  They were drawn to her hopeful anticipation of heaven.

So many visitors came to see her while she was sick that she was rarely alone.  I was happy that so many people were expressing their love and support of her and the rest of our family, but I would be lying if said I loved having them around all the time.  The truth is, I needed some time alone with her, some time to say our goodbyes, because when all of this was over, all of the visitors would go home to their mother, daughter, son, husband or wife and I would not.  Even though I had my own family, as a daughter, I would be going it alone.  As the clock marched on at merciless pace, I grew anxious. These were my precious and few.

The door opened and as I stepped into her room my husband assumed his post on the other side.  I drew a deep breath.  My mind was full of questions that I had come to attempt to answer.  How do I tell my mother I love her in a way that will satisfy my soul when she is gone?  How do I thank her “from the bottom of my heart?”  How do I say goodbye?

Inside her room it was finally quiet, nothing to distract us, nothing to intrude.

“Hi Mama,” I said, “Hope you don’t mind, I’m stealin’ some alone time.”  She smiled at me with tired eyes, and looking so small and fragile in her hospital bed, as she raised it to a sitting position.  It somehow seemed inappropriate when she spoke with such care for me.

“Sure, honey.  How are you getting along with all of this?” she asked.  “Are you doing all right?  Randy? The kids?  I know this has got to be such a hard time for you…”  Her voice softened with emotion.

With a plan, I pulled a chair away from the side of the bed.

I asked, “Mama, do you think you’d be able to sit up for a little bit, or if you need to you can lie down?”

“I’m fine sitting just like this,” she replied.  “What are we doin’?”

As she patiently waited for my reply, I took the pink basin from her bedside table and walked to the sink in silence.  Standing at the sink, I filled the little pink basin with warm water and I looked at her reflection in the mirror as she lay in the bed behind me.  The woman in the bed, though battle damaged with IV’s, catheters, and bags, was still my beautiful mother.  Her head on the pillow, still capped with wonderfully thick short brown hair, her eyes still blue as sapphires.  A smile was wide on her face and brimming with hope, and I wondered how she sustained it.  Even in her weary body, she sat with poise, straight, with the same beautiful broad shoulders of a swimmer and her hands folded in her lap.   A plush pale blue robe draped over her shoulders and one delicately shaped ankle and stockinged foot extended from under the crisp hospital bed sheet providing her famous “vent” to keep her from getting “bed hot.”  A trait I have also inherited.  With my now full basin of water and a towel, I rejoined her sitting next to her on the bed.  The spicy sweet fragrance that came from her, the mother of my childhood, was the smell of her perfume Youth Dew.  All the essential elements of “her” were still there.

“Vicki,” she said, “are you going to wash my feet?”  How did she know?  It seemed the only fitting way to express the love and gratitude I felt for her presence in my life.

“Yes, if that’s all right with you.” I said in a near whisper, and she bowed her head to say yes.  She moved both of her feet from under the sheet and I slid off her socks.

On my knees before her I began.   The litany of praise for her as my mother, mentor and friend poured from my heart and out my mouth.

The litany of thankfulness for the sacrifices she made to be a stay at home mom instead of putting a career first, to go without a something for her self so that I could have anything from braces to a prom dress.  For all the times she would have liked to spend a week away with my Dad and instead sent me on a school or youth group trip.  I thanked her for sending me to college and seeing to it that I lived in the dorms even though I could have lived at home.  The water and the cloth were now a channel of respect and admiration.

The litany of humility and gratitude for her forgiveness even when I was too stubborn to ask for it, for the times I didn’t respect her as my mother or even as someone who had traveled the road before me, when I was insensitive and selfish.  Even for the time that an 18 year old me I told her I wasn’t going to waste my life staying home with my kids like she did, the cleansing and warm restorative water carried the pain between us away and was replaced with a river of peace.

The litany of praise for the wonderful example she was to me as a mother and grandmother, the beautiful example of what a good marriage can be like, the way she strove to live with Christ as her example.  All gifts that cannot be given without intention and vision, and I wanted her to know, with my basin beside me, that I was aware of that.  I wanted her to know that I admired her authentic faith and her extravagant love.  With my water I wanted to honor her and I knew she understood.

It was a gift to be able to, in my own way, get to say goodbye to her in that sacred moment  that day, even though she was still with us for more than a month.   Watching Cancer scavenge the life out of her physical body was excruciating, but more bearable knowing that nothing between us was left undone.  When the night came for us to sing to her heaven’s lullaby, as she stepped to the other side, I knew that there was nothing left incomplete, nothing that had not been washed clean.

With Hope

I’ll say more about this day later.  For now, I’m taking the little guy out for some spoiling!  But I wanted to share this song called ‘With Hope’ by Steven Curtis Chapman that we played at my mom’s memorial service.   There’s a place, by God’s grace, where we’ll see her face again, and today, she’d want me to remember that!   Here are the lyrics and a youtube link if you’d like to hear it…

With Hope
This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you’ve gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but …

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
‘Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
‘Cause we believe with hope
(There’s a place by God’s grace)
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
We’ll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God’s plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
‘Cause now you’re home
And now you’re free, and …

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
‘Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
‘Cause we believe with hope
(There’s a place by God’s grace)
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
We’ll see your face again

We have this hope as an anchor
‘Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so …

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcYRr1dk7wA

I’m Living!

I had this surreal dream once while my mom was dying.  In the dream she was healthy, and pink in the cheeks. The yellow tones of jaundice were nowhere to be found on her face and she was dressed in her everyday clothes, not pajamas.  She was sitting at her kitchen table with one of her brothers, her sister, and one of her sons and they were doing something she absolutely loved to do at family get-togethers:  they were playing a board game.  She was happily laughing, her loud chuckle filling the room, and they were all acting as if there wasn’t a care in the world.  All the while, as they played their game, every wall in the house was engulfed in flames.  Chaos had erupted all around them, stray flames were licking at her feet, but she played on.  As she noticed the flames, she would stamp them out and continue laughing and playing.  With her back to the walls and the others across the table, it felt like the walls were closing in around her, and yet she still chose to play that silly board game.  The dream really spoke to me, and from then on I resolved to be a much more active participant in her living than her dying.

To live while you are dying must feel something like the scene in my dream.  There are only moments left, only so many more times you can extinguish those insistent flames, before the fire will win out.  In my dream my mom was intent on living despite knowing she was unable to defeat the death that had come for her.  It was time for me to help her make that happen.  For weeks she had been talking about her desire to live past Christmas, the problem was, none of us were quite sure how to accomplish the ‘living’ part.  We had gone so quickly from ‘no cancer’ to ‘dying of cancer,’ that we completely skipped the ‘living with cancer’ chapter of the story, and it was clear that if there was going to be anything to write in that chapter, the time was now.   We needed to get on with the living part.

My sister, sister-in-law, mom’s best friend Joy, and I arrived to my parent’s house with a plan involving some of mom’s favorite things:  her grandchildren and Christmas shopping!  In her prime, mom practically elevated Christmas shopping to an Olympic level!  She was an avid Black Friday shopper and would go to the ends of the earth for that perfect something she knew her loved one wanted.  When I was in high school I asked for a pair of navy blue penny loafers for Christmas and she delivered, driving some 60 miles to get the only pair left in my size in the region of Nordstrom stores!  She loved to spoil us on Christmas morning, and she was good at it!  Sometimes she even knew what we wanted or needed before we did.

Mom was pretty excited about the shopping excursion.  Her only request was that we not tire her out, so we set a time limit of 3 hours.  My dad was much less excited.  He reminded me of when I was a new mother, preparing to leave my newborn baby with a babysitter for the first time.  He hovered over her and recited every detail of her care, “Did you pack all of her medications?  Do you have The Notebook?  Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.  Don’t tire her out, she gets tired real easy.”  He checked and double-checked that all of her necessities had been loaded before he gently and reluctantly placed her in the front seat of my van.  With a firm, “3 hours,” he shut the door.  We were on our way to do what living grandmas do; we were on our way to Christmas shop for the grandkids!

At the shopping mall, I carefully I loaded my precious cargo into the wheel chair, all the while my dad’s voice echoing in my ear, “Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.”  It was no small feat, talking him in to this scheme and I wanted it to come off flawlessly.  The only damage done on this day was going to be to dad’s credit card, so with her safely installed in the wheel chair we were off on our Christmas shopping spree.

She was very thoughtful about what she bought each of her 9 grandchildren.  She decided on clothing for each of them, wanting to buy nothing to sentimental.   Gifts of clothing were a grandma specialty of hers, and with glee she had flooded her grandchildren’s closets over the years.  With a smile spread wide on her face she directed each of her ‘elves’ to help her reach the clothing racks.  This time she wanted to choose things that she could see them wear right away.   Cautiously, I wove the wheelchair through the maze of hanging clothes.  It was a bittersweet moment for both of us.  We were finally enjoying something we had loved doing for years and yet trying not to think about how this would be the last year we would Christmas shop together.

After mom finished making her selections, she and I headed to the parking lot while the rest of the group waited in the long checkout line.  We were approaching the 3-hour time limit, and I was determined to follow my dad’s instructions to a ‘T’.  The others would rendezvous with us at the van once the purchases were made.

Outside the air was misty and cold, but neither of us seemed to care as I maneuvered the wheelchair to the outer parking spaces.  The pavement was a little slick and I could feel the wheelchair pick up speed on the gentle slope of the parking lot.   Evidently mom could feel it too, because I heard her say under her breath, “Faster!”  It took me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly, but then she left me with no question, “Faster!” she commanded in a louder voice.  It reminded me of being a backseat driver as a child!

“Mom, No!  I can’t…” she wouldn’t hear of it, “Faster!” mom insisted, and with excitement my feet picked up the pace.  Soon I was running through the dark and misty parking lot and we were both giggling like children absconding with the forbidden!  The more she commanded, the quicker my steps, the gentle slope almost carrying her away, and then she began again, “Let go!” she urged.

“No,” I said trying to keep the little wheelchair under my control.  “If something happens to you,” I panted as I slowed down, “Dad will be so mad!”

“Faster!” she prodded me, and I picked up the pace!

“Let GO!” she begged.  “Mom, this is dangerous…” I said, my voice trailing off.  “I don’t want…” sensing where I was headed, she cut me off.  “What the worst that can happen?” she appealed, “It could kill me?  I’ll take my chances!”  Excitedly she pleaded, “Let go!

And so I did it.  I gave in to her relentless requests and I let go.   As the rented wheelchair wobbled on the pavement, she arose her tired hands in the air, and with pure delight she exclaimed, “I’M LIVING!”

Ode To Joy

“I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read this quote the other day a smile broadened across my face and my across my heart.  The first person I thought about was my mom’s best friend, Joy.  She and my mom met back when they were both the moms of busy young families.  They spent a lot of time shuttling kids to the same school games and church youth group events, and shared a camaraderie when their husbands both worked a similar rotating shift schedule that left them with out their spouses on so many evenings.  Riding the waves of life, they supported each other through the highs and lows of marriage and raising a family.  As their children went off to college, married, and had families of their own, the twosome became closer than ever.  It was that type of family friendship where the wives were friends and soon the husbands were friends, the daughters were friends and the sons were friends.   Their family are the kind of family friends that when you say something like, “Remember the ‘Great Clam Chowder Disaster of 1986’?” everyone laughs and the story telling begins.

During the time that my mom was sick there was a steady stream of visitors that came to her bedside.  Family from near and far, friends old and new, people from church and work, old neighbors and new neighbors, there was almost never a time that there wasn’t a visitor.  She had so many visitors at the hospital that the nurses soon made sure she got the “big” room, complete with sofa and picture window.  It was a comfort to know that so many people were supporting her and supporting the ones she loved.  Many, many of those treasured family and friends ministered to her by sitting at her bedside, preparing meals for her husband, and babysitting her grandchildren so her own children could take some precious and few moments alone with her.  My mom had amazing friends and family who showed their love for her by stepping up to help when we needed them most.  It was a deep comfort to know we were all so cared for.  I am humbled by the love shown to our family when we needed it so much.  It was ministry at its most beautiful.

Before mom’s diagnosis I had no idea how draining caring for a patient could be.   At a time when I was being pushed past any preconceived ideas of my own emotional limits, I was also feeling inadequate about caring for her in a very practical way.   Early on it became evident it would take a monumental effort to remember all the many details of her care!   With every hospital stay there seemed to be another name to add to the ever-expanding list of care providers.  There was an endless revolving list of her current medications and another list nearly as long of ones she had reactions to.  It seemed redundant to maintain a list of the specific procedures and tests she had undergone at the hospital where she was a patient, but often times nurses and doctors were not aware of recent changes from one shift to another and important pieces of information would get left out.   I began compiling a notebook that functioned as a running document of her care.  I felt like it was the one thing I could do.  Organization was a skill my mom prided herself in and it felt like a way I could help her maintain her dignity at a time that her dignity was being stripped away.  It was nice to see the flash of pride appear on her face when the paramedic came to the house or the nurse at the hospital was admitting her and we would present them with precise notes about her condition.  “The Notebook” as we referred to it, was a love letter of sorts to this meticulously organized woman began by me, her not so organized daughter.

Physically, she was becoming increasingly fragile, and her stamina was very low even when she was having a “good” day.  Her diminished physical capacity made it absolutely necessary to help her with everything from the mundane to the most private tasks.  Soon her house was fitted with an arsenal of equipment for helping her do everything from walking to bathing.   New devices appeared in the kitchen for feeding her and in the bathroom for caring for her Jejunostomy.  All of these changes were happening rapidly and with every new piece of gear it felt like a stronghold lost.  A walker, a shower chair, an IV pole, a bag for her waste… every few days a new introduction and each introduction meant another casualty of capability.  The home makeover was another step in the march toward the inevitable, but with each step we were blessed with the unwavering presence of Joy.

I do not recall anyone ever asking Joy to be so involved in caring for my mother.  I don’t think it was even necessary.  She was just being Joy, my mom’s best friend.  Joy knew the details of The Notebook as well as, if not better, than the rest of us. No one had to point out the subtleties of the placement of a pain patch or tell her which pillow configuration mom preferred on that particular day.   As each new change came and each new apparatus appeared in the house, Joy learned to master it.  If there were a need for a meal to be delivered, or an appointment to be accompanied, or a craving to be satisfied, Joy would find a way to satisfy the need.  Joy was my mom’s hospital advocate on countless nights, while I took the evening to take care of my young family and get some much-needed sleep.  When there was a new turn for the worse, Joy would lovingly sit me down and tell me about it.  Together we took the painful step forward.  Joy was my partner in the awkward three-legged-race called ‘loss’.   Without her constancy and love, the suffering of our entire family would have been so much greater.

Her presence in the midst of my personal grief is a gift for which I can never adequately express my gratitude, and that is where the real beauty in what Joy did is.   All those late nights spent next to my mom’s bed so that my dad could take a shift at work.   All the nights the phone rang after midnight, followed by a hurried rush to the hospital when Joy still had to be at work in the morning.  All the times she was the one in the bathroom helping to change the Jejunostomy bag because I could not bring myself to do it.   All the times she met me in the hallway of the hospital to be the one to break the bad news so my mom or dad would not have to.  She wasn’t there for her moment of recognition.  She was there for love.

So again I think about the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.”
 and my thoughts turn to Joy, and I offer up a prayer of thanks.

Love you Joy!  Happy Thanksgiving!  Have a blessed day!

Love, Vicki

5 Years Ago Today…

October 25, 2009

5 years ago today…

I have heard it said that the healing comes when you tell your story, and so it is for purely selfish reasons that I am telling mine.  Healing… what is that anyway? It’s such a neat and tidy word, and really I hate using it.  After 5 years it sure looks a lot different than I thought it would, but then again I guess that when wounds heal the big ones often leave scars.

Life was pretty blurry in the weeks heading up to the day I refer to in my mind as Black Monday.  The Saturday night before, my not quite 3 months old son had just slept through his first full night.  Being sleep deprived was only part of it, I also did not want to admit to the post partum depression that had wrapped its tentacle around me and had stolen me to a dark depth.  After all I had just given birth to a beautifully perfect son, I had 2 great daughters, and a wonderful husband who loved me very much.  I was living a real live Cinderella story.  I was supposed to be happy and I was worried about that.

I had spent the weekend being the nurse to my husband who had just had a minor surgery.  My two older daughters were at my mother’s house so that I could take care of my ‘boys’.   We watched the 2nd game of the World Series that day.  There was magic happening at Fenway Park and the entire country was under the spell.   The Boston Red Sox were well on their way to making World Series history and breaking the famed “Curse of the Bambino”.  They were looking for a miracle, and by the time I went to bed that night I would be too.

At some point in the weekend my dad brought the girls home.  I called my mom to thank her for having them and she reported to me that she had been so sick during their visit that it was a relief to have them there to help her out.  I remember worrying about this because she had been sick a lot lately and that just wasn’t like her.  There had been a lot of discussion about her frequent stomach pain and nausea and what she should do about it.  She had been tested up one side and down the other, poked, scoped, and scanned.  Nothing was showing up and we were all getting concerned.

Later that evening my mom called to tell me that she was going to go to the Emergency Room.  Her thinking was that if she went to the ER with a presenting persistent pain, the doctors there wouldn’t let her go until they figured out what the problem was.  She was desperate and had to find the answer.  When I hung up the phone, even though it was getting late, I set about the house cleaning.  I had this intuitive feeling that I needed to get a good cleaning in because I might not have the opportunity to get it done again for a while.  I was almost done vacuuming and was planning on calling it a night when the phone rang again.  It was my dad.  He seemed calm and said they were going to be doing some further tests on my mom and that they would be keeping her all night.  I asked him if he wanted me to come to the hospital and keep him company.  He said no and we hung up.  Before I could get the vacuum put away the phone rang again.  This time it was my mom.  She spoke quickly and urgently in a hushed voice.  She said, “Please come now, there are spots on my liver.”   I told her I was on my way.

I went to the hospital alone that night.  It was now close to midnight and not practical to tote 3 kids and a recovering husband out that cold and foggy October night.   Besides, in the 15 minutes it had taken me to drive to the hospital I had solved the worst-case scenario with one word:  Transplant.  A person can live on a donated liver.  I was her daughter, I’d be a match, I’d donate part of mine, and we’d both live to tell about it.  Solved.  It wouldn’t be easy, certainly inconvenient, but we’d manage.  Everything would be fine… and with that pep talk, I entered the Emergency Room.

I don’t remember how I ended up at her room, but I remember entering the tiny observation room.   She was alone and with her eyes closed.   There were IV bags hanging and machines flashing numbers and wavy lines, and I assumed she was sleeping.  As I walked to her bedside and took her hand, she looked up at me.  In that moment that our eyes met I knew she was trying to tell me something no mother ever wants to tell her adoring child.  She didn’t say anything as I draped my body over her chest and began to cry.  I knew I had just walked in to my worst nightmare.

A few moments of silence went by before we found our way to the difficult conversation we needed to have.  She told me how the doctors had discovered several “spots” on her liver and how no one was being very specific, but every one was acting very urgent.   At some point I became aware of the gentle and steady presence of my dad in the room.  He knew I had kids to get off to school in the morning and an infant to attend to, so he urged me to go home and get some sleep.  They would have some of her test results back by the morning and we would need our rest in order to make decisions regarding her treatment.  Everyone was being very careful not to use the “C” word yet.   I left that night still unsure of exactly what was wrong with her.

On the way home my mind drifted to a memory of a shopping trip I had made a few years earlier.  I was at the mall shopping for a purse at Meier and Frank.  It was a rare shopping trip because I was alone and as I often do when I’m alone, I was people watching as I shopped.   In front of me was a large table full of purses that were neatly set out in rows according to size and color.  Across the table from me, shopping for just the right hand bag was a very stylishly dressed woman who looked to be around her 70s.  She was taking various styles of purses and trying them out in front of a full-length mirror.  Eventually she found a nice one and turned to her shopping partner and asked her what she thought of it.  The other woman wasn’t pleased with the bright color of the red purse and suggested a more practical brown.  Well, this just frustrated this woman and she turned to her friend and said something like, “Mother, we just have different taste in color.  I’m getting the red one!”

It was the word “Mother” that really caught my attention, and I smiled and silently chuckled as I pictured myself in that same situation some day with my own mom, who had me at 19.  I just knew that was going to be us one day.  In my mind was a picture of my mom, who regularly told me (and anyone else she thought should know) that she was going to live to be 100, and me, her geriatric sidekick!  We were well on our way to those days because we already enjoyed each other’s company very much.

I cried myself to sleep that night feeling more afraid than I had ever felt in my entire life.

After a few hours of fitful, tearful sleep I woke to the realization that the night before was not a terrible dream, but in fact an unfolding reality.  In a fog, I sent my daughters off to school, my husband off to work, and took my son with me to the hospital to learn about what the overnight tests revealed about my mom’s health.  I arrived to my mother’s new hospital room, stroller and baby in tow, to find my mom in her hospital bed, surrounded by several people.  Some were new faces, doctors, nurses, and some were familiar, a couple of her friends and one of the church pastors.  It was among this sea of people that the “C” shot was fired.  It was as if her words were shot from a loaded pistol.  “It’s Cancer.  They can’t take it out.  It’s everywhere.”

I wanted to dissolve.  I wanted to push everyone out of the room.  I wanted push the rewind button and search for the moment this dreaded disease invaded her body.  I wanted anything but this moment!   Again the wave of fear gripped me and I felt paralyzed.  This time I didn’t cry.  I sat down at a chair next to her bed and watched as the universe whirled around her.  I was numb.

It wasn’t at all like I thought it would be, to hear those words, “It’s Cancer.”  I thought there would be an immediate mobilization of the troops.   I began to think of questions that there appeared to be no answer to.   The answers were things like, “We’ll know more after a test/surgery/procedure.”  When will she have that test/surgery/procedure?  “In a few days…”  Nothing was immediate…  I kept picturing the ticking time bomb inside her body and wondering when MacGyver was going to show up with his pack of rubber bands and paperclips and save us?  Do these people really know what they are doing?  Why is this going so slow, don’t they know my mother’s life is on the line here?

I don’t really remember the rest of that day.  I know that the words, “Terminal” and “Hospice,” were used, but by that point I was unable to comprehend what those things meant for me.  When I left the hospital that day I felt angry that the rest of the world hadn’t ground to a halt because my mom lay in a hospital bed, a victim in the War on Cancer.  In fact life didn’t slow down and it certainly didn’t stop.   By Wednesday, October 27, 2004 the Boston Red Sox had won the World Series shutting the Cardinals out in 4 games.  I was praying for my miracle too.

It’s Gimmelwald not Grindelwald

For the past few weeks I have been watching a lot of travelogues and reading a lot of travel guidebooks.  Happily, I have reason to do this!  My husband, who is a professional musician, is going to be giving some concerts in Europe next summer.  Lucky for me, I will get to tag along and we’ll only have to pay for my portion of the expenses and any additional sightseeing we decide to do.  I’ve been very excited about this opportunity ever since it started shaping up at the end of the summer!

I know that this trip is still many months away, but I am a planner.  A planner with wanderlust…  I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I like to plan the trip as much as I like to take the trip, but I do like it.  A lot.  This trip will be taking us through Switzerland, so for the last few weeks I’ve spent much of my spare time watching anything on the region I can get my hands on.  (I like to start by watching travelogues and then read about what caught my eye.  Kinda’ like window shopping!)  Along the way I have made notes about Swiss towns and attractions that make the region we are going to be visiting special and unique.

One of the travelogues I enjoyed watching was made by Rick Steves.  He visited the exact region we are going to be visiting and I made tons of notes about all the interesting sights, train transportation, and the towns to see.  It was very exciting!   In my notes I wrote about how while watching the DVD, my husband and I really thought it would be neat to see a town I noted as “Grindelwald.”

We listened intently as Rick Steves toured this idyllic alpine town that is not even accessible by car.  I began looking for this charming town in the stack of guidebooks we have checked out from the library.  It was a surprise to find so much information on this remote little town in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  I was delighted to find many options for accommodations in and around the community and went to bed a few nights ago sure that we had found the perfect little mountain hideaway to explore for a few days along our trip route.

This past weekend my husband made a trip to the bookstore to buy our own copy of the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book.  We often use his books to help us plan a sensibly priced vacation and have found he has lots of great advice.  I was eager to read what he had to say about the little gem of a community he showed on his documentary, the town that had me dreaming of a life in seclusion with fondue and chocolate.  I flipped to the section on the Berner Oberland and read with anticipation…

On a very neatly boxed couple of pages he gives a quick run down of the places and names in the Berner Oberland and what each has to offer.  This was the page where I came to understand that I had it all wrong!

There in the Rick Steves’ Switzerland book, on page 130, it was very plainly written, “Grindelwald: Expensive resort town, not to be confused with Gimmelwald.”  On the line before this he lists the town, “Gimmelwald,” and gives this description, “Wonderfully rustic time-warp village overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley; good home-base option.”

Oh…

Well that changes everything!

Isn’t that just the way a faith journey can go?  So many times along my path in life, I’ve been busy making plans for a destination I only think I am interested in and it is only when I have paid close attention to my guide and my guidebook that I have been able to arrive at the destination my Guide intended.

I am finding myself at a new intersection again.  My son, my youngest child, is going to start Kindergarten next fall.  When he was born I felt a strong call to stay at home with him until he went to school.  I say call because over the past 5 years I have felt like my ministry has been to serve my family.  I have felt God guide me on that path over the last 5 years.  It has been a gift and I am so glad I’ve done it, but I see that huge intersection looming in the distance, and I’m a little weary.   Where do I go from here, straight ahead, stay on target?  Turn Right to Grad School?  Turn Left to the work force?  How ‘bout a U-Turn, this time to adoption and parenting a preschooler once more?  I want to make sure I’m looking at the map God has for me, listening to God’s divine voice as my travel guide.

My ears are open Lord…

Grindelwald seems nice...

Grindelwald seems nice...

but, it's not really Grimmelwald.

but, it's not really Gimmelwald.

(And in the end I think we’ll be staying in Lauterbrunnen!)

The Goalie

Sunday was my son’s first soccer game, not just first of the season, but first game ever.  He’s five so I anticipated it would be pretty cute to see him out on the field in his “you’ll grow in to it” jersey and matching socks so long that they were only inches from the hem of his shorts.  It was an exciting day and we were all petty pumped to see the game.  When we arrived to the field we found his coach and left him with his teammates.  The team warmed, up while the rest of my family and I took our places on the sidelines.   It wasn’t long when we noticed that the coach was preparing our son for the position of Goalie, which he played for the first part of the game.

The players took their positions on the soccer field and the game began.  That’s when for me the unexpected anxiety began!  I watched as player after player came toward him dribbling the soccer ball between their feet.  What I wish I could say is that as each different player approached the goal area I watched as my son swiftly and deftly defended his turf, but this was not the case.   The opposing team quickly scored a few goals.   As the wild little band of soccer players traversed the field, my son remained in his designated spot and appeared to have no interest in the action happening just feet from him.  He mostly ignored it and instead preferred to scratch his leg… wave at his dad, sisters, and me… look at the goal net…   Soccer game?  What soccer game?

I was beside myself!  Keeping things in perspective was getting harder and harder.  I restrained myself from shouting, “Get the ball!!!”  I didn’t want to make a scene and be one of ‘those’ parents who constantly coaches from the sidelines.  I didn’t want him to be embarrassed and I didn’t want to embarrass my husband and daughters.  I didn’t want him to miss the ball because he wasn’t paying attention.  I didn’t want to see him fail…  Ouch!  Did I really say that?  Did I just say that about a 5 year olds soccer game?  Boy have I got a lot to learn!

I couldn’t believe how watching the ball coming toward him gave me such a feeling of panic and as I watched the game, it began to dawn on me how much this little ball game was like parenting.  I found myself remembering the times that my mother would try to reason with me about all the typical teenage subjects.  Dating of course was a favorite concern of hers.  I remember the dread every time I had to ride alone in the car with my mom, for fear she would use the car for what I viewed as a mobile torture chamber!  If I think back to those days I can easily remember the pitch of her voice and the way her lips would thin as she spoke with determination and authority with just the slightest hint of desperation.  During the soccer game I began to realize how I was that parent now.

Watching my kids struggle is something I have done a few times over the last 14 years.  I have seen my daughters each take blows from life that would take the breath of even the greatest athlete.  I have seen them struggle with issues far more adult than their own years.  I have felt protective, but mostly for them the things they face are not things they have brought upon themselves.  This little game was just a tiny taste of what I’m sure my mother was swallowing whole on those car rides.  She could see her player in the game of life.  She had been to many a ‘soccer’ game and knew a bit about how it was played.  Seeing me in charge of guarding the goal, it was hard for her to stay on the sidelines and let me experience defeat.  It wasn’t that she didn’t have confidence in me, it was that she knew that at some point everybody misses, everybody looses focus, everybody… looses.   She knew these things because she had lost a few times too.  And I have.  And he will.   Somehow we all make it!

Preparing My Goalie

Preparing My Goalie

The Moment Anxiety Set In...

The Moment Anxiety Set In...

Maybe we should explore the Martial Arts?

Maybe we should explore the Martial Arts?

Defending the Goal!

Defending the Goal!

My Mom Likes to Sleep In!

Last night I stayed up way to late!  It was just one of those nights that I couldn’t sleep, but this morning I was so tired.  As I was trying to schlep my body down the stairs, my brain was desperate for an excuse to crawl back to my bed.  Despite the pleading from my body, it was time to get up.  Mornings are not my favorite…

For all of my parenting years this not being a ‘morning person’ has been a problem.  You see, I have been blessed with 3 curious and energetic morning children.  You might even be able to call them night owls, because frequently they were up before the sun, only for them it was morning because they had already slept enough to no longer be tired!  From my bedroom I could often hear them as they opened the cupboards looking for snacks and rummaged through the house by the light of the TVs blue screen.  My husband would refer to this a being “on patrol”.

When my daughters were going through their morning patrol phase I was single parenting.  In an effort to keep them corralled for a precious few more moments of valuable sleep I would confine them to my bedroom.  During that time, which was usually not longer than an hour, I would remind them that mommy likes to “sleep in” and they would watch a movie.  At the foot of my bed they would sit, their bare little feet dangling over the edge of the bed, while I came to terms with the fact that morning had indeed broken.   I must have really stressed to them how important these few extra minutes were to me, because they were very good at not disturbing me as long as their video played.

It is now officially Autumn, so thinking of that today as I was helping my son get ready for his day at preschool, I remembered a little story about his older sister when she was around his age.  She was a pm kindergartener at a private school where I also worked at the time.  One day upon my arrival to work her teacher caught up with me in the school hallway.  She said I had to hear what my daughter had said in class the day before in school.  Now those are words every parent wants to hear out of the mouth of their child’s teacher!  I waited with a fair amount of anxiety as she began to tell me her story.

Mrs. D was preparing the pm class for the upcoming annual field trip to the pumpkin patch.  The class was getting very excited as she told them to make sure and wear their grubby clothes, to bring their lunches, and most importantly to make sure to come to the am kindergarten class time.  She stressed to her students how important this last instruction was because if they did not arrive on time in the morning with the am class they would miss out on the field trip.  Upon realizing that this would require her to come to school early, my daughter began to cry.

In a concerned tone Mrs. D told me of how she noticed my daughter’s tears as they sat in circle time the previous afternoon and she asked her why she was crying.   She said my daughter told her that she was very sad that she was not going to be able to go to the pumpkin patch with her class.  Mrs. D was concerned because my daughter was quite broken up about this and asked her why?   A wide smile broadened across Mrs. D’s face as she told me what my daughter’s explanation was.  My daughter said, “Mrs. D, I can’t go to the pumpkin patch, because MY MOM LIKES TO SLEEP IN!”

As they say, out of the mouths of babes!

Why Blog?

So you might be wondering why I decided to start blogging?  Well, I’m kind of wondering that to…  I guess when it comes down to it, I have 3 reasons, two of them are girls, and one is a boy, all of them are amazing!  They, along with my own relationship with my mom are the inspiration for why I write.

When I think about the kind of relationship I want to have with my kids when they are grown, what I hope things will “be like”, one of the things that I often hope for is to be able to sit down to a nice meal with them, at a restaurant or in one of our homes, and be able to talk.  I mean really talk, like the kind of conversation that you have that is still going long after the plates have been cleared and the waiter is just dropping in occasionally for refills of your cup.  To talk about anything, religion, politics, their loves and losses, and have the safety and understanding that it is OK to disagree.  To have that kind of relationship with them would be a gift and it is the type of relationship that I look forward to and miss all at the same time.

I was blessed with some amazing parents!   The whole story will unfold over time, but in order to know where I’m coming from you need to know that my beautiful mom died of cancer in January 2005.  She was a truly great woman.  I can’t even adequately express how much I adored her!  I was so blessed to have such a relationship as I described with my own mom, and it is only since her passing that I have come to see just how rare that is.  I’m not saying that when she was alive I didn’t know we had a something unique, I really did, and I’m not saying that we didn’t have our disagreements, because we sure had those too, but after my loss many people have told me how their own experiences are so different.

It was in a Grief Recovery group that I began really examining this sort of parent/child relationship.  When someone you love dies there’s a lot of stuff to make sense of, and it was really important to me to keep my mom’s memory real.  I didn’t want my memory of  her to turn into some super hero-angel-princess-perfect who never really existed.  (Although sometimes that does creep in just a little.)  Someone in our group began to talk about regrets and our group facilitator invited us all to talk about the subject.  I was remembering back to some of the more unpleasant moments between my mom and I and the feeling of regret came crashing in.  That’s when the light came on.  The best way I know how to describe it is like this… a diamond.

Like the diamond I wear in my wedding ring, our relationship was beautiful.  It was full of color, it was vibrant, and it was multi-faceted, and like even the most precious diamond it had some flaws.  Did those flaws mean I didn’t love the rest of it?  Of course not!  Sometimes the easiest way for a jeweler to know if a diamond is real or a fake is by looking for the characteristics of the real thing, and that includes the  flaws.  I began to look at those regrets as part of the beautiful markings of what made our relationship real.  I don’t want this to sound like we were always at each other, because we weren’t, but in thinking about the journey ahead of me with my own children, I think it was an important thing to think about.   It won’t always be perfect, but it will be real!

Along with keeping it real, I’ve been feeling a need to keep a journal for my kids.  I’m sure you’ve heard the idea before, and most likely from an tragic story about a parent who is leaving a journal for their children after their eminent death.  What a courageous and beautiful thing to do.  This is NOT why I am doing it, but quite the opposite.  I want to share myself with them while I am here and this is just one more way to do it!

Sometimes when they are at school or when they are asleep and I’m still up, these thoughts come to me that I wish I could tell them.  Sometimes I write them down, sometimes I don’t , but in my mind they keep coming up, and always it is because I love them, and I want them to know that I love them!   Some of the most beautiful things my mom ever said to me were words that she had written, of course she followed them up with her actions, but I treasure her written words, which were usually signed “With Love, Mom”.   I want them to know, like I knew, that they will never be adored by anyone like they  are adored by their mom.  Yes, others will love them as well, but it will be different than my love for them.

So, thanks for joining me, and let the blogging begin!

My Mom and I on my Wedding Day.

My Mom and I on my Wedding Day.