No Time to Play

IMG_0719I have a difficult time preparing for temporary separations, like hospitalizations, between myself and my children. I typically have plenty of time to prepare: do laundry, help with schedules and school projects. I tend to stay busy so I don’t panic and drift away on the river of worries. I want to stay present with my boys. I want to savor good night rituals, hugs, and giggles. I want to gently trap the sounds of their voices echoing and competing with one another to love me to the most distant place and back, “I love you, Mom. To Saturn and back…..”

Oh, how my heart aches when I peek down on their precious sleeping faces one last time before I go. I watch their chests rise and fall. I am mesmerized yet, again, by their beautiful eyelashes. I kiss them on their soft cheeks. I draw a heart on their wrists. It feels close to impossible to say my temporary goodbyes. Yet, I know that I will be back home with them soon. Just a few days, I whisper this to myself. I hope with all the strength in my heart that I will be back home soon. Soon. Yes. Very soon.

When I’m away, my boys are taken care of ever so lovingly, patiently and gently by their father. Their grandparents. Their aunts. Their teachers. Their friends. My friends. But, still, I worry. Because I am their mother. And I know that no one can replace me. My presence. Our relationships. No one else loves them quite like I do.

I worked for nearly nine years in a pediatric emergency department. If you’ve ever had to witness one child being unexpectedly separated from their mother, father, or caregiver then you understand the agony, the pain, and the unfairness. Torture. I’ve held sobbing children until their exhausted bodies could cry no more. I’ve sat for hours in hospital rooms holding babies, blowing bubbles for toddlers, playing games with children and listening to teens because of some awful circumstance that required them to be separated from their family. I worked with some of the most enormous hearted, unconditionally loving, and self sacrificing people that would stay hours past their already-long shifts to fight for innocent children.

I know how resilient children can be. I have seen them struggle and overcome horrific, unfair, cruel and unimaginable situations. I just wish they didn’t have to be so damn resilient. Doesn’t every child deserve a chance to laugh and play and be a kid?

I wish the kids in the detention centers could play in creeks and run and laugh and feel safe and loved. Here. Like my children get to do. I wish they didn’t have to be introduced to overwhelming fears at such young ages. I wish I could be there to hold them since their mamas can’t.

But I am not their mother.

My heart breaks reading the stories. Seeing the photos. I have to catch my breath between sobs. My head aches thinking on all of the wounds. So much pain. Those grieving mothers who want desperately to hold their children. All of the precious scared babies, toddlers, children and teens. They couldn’t choose where they were born.

Neither could I.

I catch my breath. And I know my long distance sympathy is not enough. My prayers churn in my head and push the blood more quickly through my beating heart. I will not be paralyzed by the atrocity and the great big beast of an issue. I have to do something. Some thing. One thing.

Sign a petition.
Donate money.
Write.

They need us all. They need our help. We have to use our strength to fight for them. Like we would want other human beings to fight for us. We have to do our small part, whatever that may be, because this is not right. It’s so very wrong and we have to change this.

It’s a privilege to be born in a country where we don’t have to flee violence. It’s a damn privilege that we get to play in creeks and driveways and bake cookies and kiss our babies goodnight tonight.

How will you use your privilege to help those struggling to survive? Those dying not to give up, fighting against the pain and the hurt of this world. The hurt we often cause each other. Please tell me how you’re using your wounded heart in some small big way to help heal this broken world.

I need to hear it.

I think we all do.

Informative links:

https://www.texastribune.org/2018/06/18/heres-list-organizations-are-mobilizing-help-separated-immigrant-child/?utm_campaign=trib-social&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_content=1529361248

https://theartofsimple.net/borderseparation/

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483

https://childsworldamerica.org/stop-border-separation/stop-border-separation-text-preview/

What We Know: Family Separation And ‘Zero Tolerance’ At The Border – NPR
https://apple.news/AI9pNswnFQ3exvNSZvan46Q

 

 

The Great Carriers

IMG_0773

“Mom, can you carry my……”

Stick. Backpack. Shoes. Water bottle. Glove. Coat. Trash. Sweatshirt. Books. Ball. Gum. Ripstick. Scooter. Skates. Hockey stick. Socks. Deer antler. Bug. Feather. Half-eaten food.

(Newly designed cardboard) robot?

Please don’t drop it. Or lose it. Or break it, ok? Just carry it all around downtown Kansas City for me. Please?

When they’re babies, we, parents, hold our kids. We carry them. They ask or demand, “Hold you, Mama?” Or “Hold-you-me?” On our hips. On our chests. On our backs. In car seats. In expensive back-saving Ergo baby carriers. But then, something changes, all of the sudden, they want to use their legs to walk. Run. Jump. Fall. They don’t need us to carry them anymore. Most of the time. But, they definitely need us to be the great carriers.

The holders of important stuff. The grown-up, living, moving trapper keepers of their kid adventures. All sorts of day-to-day things. There’s nothing too great or seemingly too unimportant for a parent to carry. Our hands are bigger. Stronger. And less preoccupied by the next activity. We are highly intelligent when it comes to knowing where trash cans are. Oh. “Right there.” We aren’t planning on using our arms to climb across monkey bars or break our wreckless falls attempting to parkour or climb a random pole.

“Mom, can you carry this? Pleeeeeease?”

Ok. Fine. Yes.

And so we do. We carry their stuff.

We also carry loads that our kids don’t see. We carry the enormous weight of being a parent. We carry our hopes, our concerns, and our worries for our children. We carry or perhaps, drag our fears. We carry our struggles, our insecurities. We carry the uncertainties of other children who don’t live in our homes. We carry the past, our own childhoods. We carry our constantly evolving parenting selves the best ways that we can.

Sometimes, we carry far too much for one worn-out body to hold. That’s when we need help. When we’re holding too much to manage on our own. We need those who walk alongside of us. We need those who see us and graciously reach out to help us clean up our messes. They recognize our hunched over backs and tired eyes. They say, “I’ve been in a hurry” or “I’ve carried too much before, too. Let me help you.”

Isn’t that what we’re all here to do: Love each other and help each other get through. Life can be heavy and lonely and overwhelming. We can make it less heavy, less lonely and maybe underwhelming if we take a second or minute or hour to stop and recognize each other’s eyes and the weights we all carry.

“Let me help you.”

And we do.

 

Dear Georgie

image

I remember Grandpa calling you that, “Georgie.” I can’t begin to tell you the countless happy memories birthed and held gently here in your room.

From the moment we drive up and park the car, my boys, your great grandsons, run up the sidewalks sneaking behind the bushes, beating me to the door. Always. They fight over who gets to push the button outside the doors to the building, then they happily argue over who gets to push the button on the outside and who gets to push the button on the inside. Oh, to possess the power to tell the elevator where to go. The coveted button pushing position. Floor Number 3? Yes, that’s your floor.

The elevator takes a little time going up, the boys hop around, bouncing all over the place until the elevator stops. When the doors open, they escape and start sprinting down the long hallway to your room. I can’t begin to keep up with them. So I just watch them excitedly chase each other. It’s a race to get to your door. I barely ever got to watch your face upon seeing one, two or the three of their faces. It always brought me such joy watching them and hearing their six feet pounding down the halls. I loved seeing the other residents smile and reach out to them. I wish every resident had as many happy, life-filled visitors as you.

“Hi, Grandma. How are you doing?” I always said, loudly, when I made it inside your door. You usually sat in your chair. “I’m doing pretty good.” You would often say. Or sometimes, “I’ve got the blues.” The boys would begin playing with toys or tell you something. I loved the time when Julian told you he lost his first tooth. The excitement you both shared melted my heart. You always told me how good my boys are, how sweet they are and how I needed to get a bigger lap. You always told me something kind about me, “you have really pretty legs.” Or “I like your hair.” Even though I have needed to get it cut for a year.

It was an honor to sleep next to you last night. I will always hold on tightly to the memories with you over the past few years. I loved our Easter egg hunt. I loved sharing a bottled coke with you on Christmas Day. I always loved hearing your stories of growing up on the farm. Your sister stories. I’m so thankful that my boys have gotten to know you, truly know who you are and how you love others. I will never forget the time that they picked you a flower and as you held it, a butterfly landed on it. The boys talk about you holding a butterfly. They have been trying to recreate that moment for years by picking flowers and holding them up in the air, in attempts to persuade a butterfly to land on them.

You have always had the magic touch.

I want you to die peacefully, knowing how enormously loved you are. As I have watched so many employees, nurses, techs, and waiters, come say goodbye to you, I have been overwhelmed with how many people have been touched by your presence, your kindness, your love, both young and old. Nobody wants you to die. But yet, everybody wants you to be free of pain. We all want you to get to Heaven.

We’ve cried, sang to you, held your hands, rubbed your hair, told you why we love you so much, sat next to you and shared stories. We’ve laughed with you, smiled with you, encouraged you, and truly cherished every last moment with you. It’s so hard to let you go. Because you’ve always been here. Before all of us. You loved us all. You loved the party. You loved the sounds of children playing, “Where are the children?” You said one day when it was too quiet.

You have shown others what a beautiful life looks like right up to your last day. You have inspired us to live beautifully. To notice and praise the tiny bit of the world happening right before our eyes. You’ve always chosen to fully engage with those right in front of your face. Thank you for humbly and happily teaching us all the most valuable lesson without even knowing it. That’s always how the greatest teachers do it. Your example of how to truly live has paved the way for all of us. We will remember you. And try our very best to honor your legacy in the ways that we love those around us.

I love you so much, Grandma.

Human Thorns

IMG_9083We have these crazy fast growing, never-stopping, always-multiplying vines in our yard. They spring up in the front and back and everystinkingwhere. They taunt the pseudo-gardener in me. They seem to snicker and stick their leafy little tongues out at me as I walk out the front door past the bushes.

Some of them are so easy to pull out of the dirt. I reach down quickly in the middle of taking the recycling out. I feel strong. Proud. Accomplished. Other vines are a bit more established and sneaky too. They strategically tangle themselves up in flowers or bushes in difficult to reach places. I want to grab them at their roots so I’m not repeating this process every week or so. But this can be an awkward task and falling-into-the-bushes hard.

Lately, I have had the most challenging time pulling these vines out of our rosebushes. It’s a tedious and painful process, especially for a woman who never wears gloves. Every time I have tried to help the rose bushes, I end up bleeding. Poke. Ouch. Stab. Stab. Ouch. Cuss. Those thorns don’t mess around. They hurt. I suppose they are fulfilling their purpose. They are the aggressive protectors of some of the most brightly colored and fragrant flowers. I investigate and interrogate the thorns but they don’t care that I’m trying to help the beautiful flowers too. Our rose bushes are getting all choked up, literally, by the sneaky vines that wrap up and around their delicate branches and stems.

I sow some of my deepest thoughts outside. While I am bleeding from the thorn attacks, it occurs to me that we, beautiful and complex humans, have our own thorns. We often overprotect ourselves from things that may hinder our growth. We want to keep moving in the direction of light but sometimes our thorns injure those who want to help. Those trying to clean up our vines or prune our branches. Thankfully, if we are lucky, we have those relentless green thumb kind of people who won’t let a little flesh wound stop the weeding.

Those loyal and faithful friend, sister, and mother gardeners don’t give up. They keep after us even while we poke them, sometimes purposely, sometimes unknowingly with our ever-present thorns. Oftentimes, these vine gardeners are the people who know us the very best and still love us the most. They possess the instinctual power to feel the vines choking us. They show up at the times when we are trying our hardest to stop growing through the pain. Or stop growing altogether. Or perhaps we momentarily surrendered to letting our prickly thorns do all the talking.

It’s not so bad to have the thorns. After all, we are each such beautiful complex creatures. But, we have to recognize the potential of our thorns. To hurt. Isolate. And create physical and emotional distance from those who wear gloves and come ready to gently untangle the vines that surround us.

Letting others help us is one of love’s most humbling and delicate tasks. The practice takes root with a wheel barrow full of patience and our willingness to surrender control. I recently read one of Brennan Manning’s books, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat. I nearly copied the entire book since I borrowed it from the library.  I highly recommend it. Among so many others, I love this excerpt,

“The child spontaneously expresses emotions; the Pharisee carefully represses them. To open yourself to another person…is a sign of the Holy Spirit. To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened, cried, got frustrated, righteously angry, and felt sorrow for people in pain.”

When I untangled the vines creeping up their fragile branches,  the roses didn’t say “thank you.”  They didn’t need to. Their beauty, their fragrance, and their mere existence is enough. Just as giving and surrendering our entire selves for each other is enough. More than enough.

Freckle Constellations

IMG_0393

I may not recognize the constellations in tonight’s sky but I’ve seen the Little Dipper on your cheeks. As you tell me things like, “I really want a rhino to lick my face,” I trace an imaginary line back and forth between each freckle on your nose. I can’t help but soak in the beauty of your eyelashes, your freckles, your oversized grown-up teeth, a sweet new addition to your innocent six-and-a-half year old face. You may not remember these moments forever but I will hold onto them tight enough for the both of us.

I snapped a picture when you weren’t looking. While our brightly colored toenails dried. I’m so grateful and proud to be your mom. I will attempt the monkey bars, see saw, and superman swing with you on any beautiful spring day of the week. I love you a million, bazillion, beyond Pluto and back. I will dot to dot all the stars tonight and think of how grateful I am for your sun-kissed face. Your curious brain. Your welcoming, friendly, kind and inclusive heart. Your inquisitive and complimentary soul. Your strong monkey arms and your “supa fast” legs. Oh, and today, your perfectly mismatched pink, blue and purple toenails. I love every little beautiful thing that makes you special and unique and 100% pure therapeutic grade-Colby. I loved all of today. Every single drop.

Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for dropping pine cone bases for me so I wouldn’t touch the mulch. Thank you for waiting on me. Thank you for stopping and noticing so many gifts of new people, flowers, trees and the great outdoors. Thank you for loving the simple, wild and free things in life. Thank you for going to school in the morning and unknowingly becoming one of my wisest teachers in the afternoon.

Mother, May I?

E43E22D4-FF99-45C1-B244-8EBDB44393BF

“Everything is hard.”

I told my husband as tears rolled down my face. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the frantic and confused April birds hide seeds surrounded by a dusting of snow.

“Like what?” My husband asked.

“Like everything. Walking up the stairs, bending over, getting up, helping the boys….”

“You did just have several surgeries. You did just get back from being in the hospital for five days.” He reminded/scolded me.

I know. But somehow it doesn’t help. These are the lowly moments I remember later. These are the moments that spring me into action later. Remember when you actually physically couldn’t? I remind myself. Remember when it felt like any strength you had evaporated into the dry air of room 408? Yes. Remember when you couldn’t lift a laundry basket or one of your children? Yes. Remember when you desperately needed help and you accepted it? Yes. Remember when you couldn’t eat for days? How could I forget?

Last week, I ran. I walked strongly. I laughed. I danced in the kitchen. I watched the roller derby and drafted my future derby name. I played with my kids on the playground. I chased them around as fast as my thirty eight year old body could go.

This week is quite different. My body aches. I have new marks, scars, leftover medical tape gunk, a drain, a stint, fragile guts, and a healing kidney. All of my post-surgical hospital wounds.

Recovery sucks for an impatient patient like me. It strangely feels like I’m playing the childhood game of “Mother May I?” Two baby steps forward and then four shuffle steps backward. Side step. Wait. Mother may I take off my own socks today? No, you may not. Ask your husband for help. Mother may I stare at my boys’ eyelashes and freckled faces in the kitchen sunlight? Yes, you may. Mother may I feel a little better today? Yes, you may. Mother may I get my drain removed today? No, you may not. Please wait longer.

I use these fragile moments as future motivational fuel. I store these weakened moments in an easily accessible place. I will use them for compassionate strength down the road. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Day by day, I will get stronger physically. Mentally. Emotionally. I must promise myself to be patient, never give up, and let others help me. I must put tight reins on my pride and my ego. I will not compare myself to others. Even myself last week. I will send myself compassion. Every hour, every day. I will give thanks for all the hands I hold. I will give God all the glory because Jesus knows I could never endure this alone. I’m too weak and tired.

Father, may I cry on Easter when I’m alone and exhausted? Yes you may, my sweet child.

Easter tears will not drown out my hope.

You may cry. But you may also remember all these brightly colored flowers that sprang up this hospital week, despite the cold:

*Countless dinners and breakfasts provided by thoughtful friends and family
*Bouquets of flowers spread throughout your home
*Overflowing Easter baskets for your boys
*Hospital visits from family and friends
*Milk in the fridge, Cocoa Puffs on the counter
*Compassionate nurses who advocated for you
*A Team of doctors and surgeons who reacted quickly and worked together to help
*Cards, care packages, and texts sent to let you know you were loved
*Prayers that calmed your fears and steadied your anxious mother’s heart
*Three compassionate boys who gently nudged their way next to your good side to hold your hand or hug you or sit beside you (and also control the hospital bed)
*Your solid oak tree of a husband who sways gracefully and can be a million different people in a day
*Your ever-present mom whose instincts knew to kick in and also call her long-distance sister nurse sidekick about your deteriorating post-surgical state
*Your family who worries and cares and prays so overwhelmingly much for you
*Your kind-hearted sister who took your boys to Easter service
*Your dear friend who FaceTimed church for you and whose husband videotaped the music for you
*All the other helpful things others did out of love for you and your husband and children and dogs while you were in the hospital
*Friends who hosted play dates for your boys so you could recover

672B0221-3FCF-4017-B5B6-63462F8326C5

My hospital week garden is beautiful and in full bloom. It’s overflowing with the love that we’re constantly surrounded by. Moments of grief, shuffle steps backwards, and taking the extra space to heal grant me time, perspective and gratefulness in my heart.

Mother, may I sit in this garden and have a cup of tea?

Yes you may.

 

Humor Poncho

I flung open the door and reached into the overcrowded laundry room closet of my brain. I grabbed my humor poncho and then ran out the garage door. I’m always running late. I hear it means I’m optimistic. I read that in an article on the internet: a most reliable source, so it must be true.

I thought I might need a lightweight, easy-to-carry coping mechanism for my doctor’s appointment.

Better to be safe than soggy.

I’ve cried in front of many doctors and nurses over the years. I don’t like to do it. Especially not in those awfully patterned, poorly designed oversized hospital gowns. It’s just that I’ve had so many difficult appointments. It’s awkward. Most of the doctors I’ve had don’t quite know how to handle the slow trickle of tears or a sobbing mess of a patient.

Although, one time, my favorite surgeon sat down next to me on my hospital bed. I could tell that she hurt for me by the look in her big brown sympathetic eyes. That kind of response helped ease my sadness, my pain and frustration and oh, the crying weirdness. Crying in front of medical strangers? I highly don’t recommend it. But, sometimes, you can’t prepare for how your mind, body or spirit will handle certain settings, unexpected pain or the news of a failed procedure or a delayed discharge date or another surgery.

I recently met with my new urologist. Bad news. After a $20,000 lithotripsy procedure, straining my urine for a week (so fun!) and hanging upside down two times a day, my kidney stones didn’t budge. Unphased. Because, of course, my kidneys grow what I call “strong ass kidney stones.” The kind you would want to make a wedding ring out of. If you wanted to stay married forever. I knew I needed to go to a funny place. I thought about bringing a couple of rocks from our backyard garden to my appointment. “Here, Doctor, I passed these bad boys.” But, there’s nothing like doctor’s office stage fright or the potential for an audience of one to lack a sense of humor. Or perhaps, walk in unprepared for the “comedic patient” or be afraid to laugh. The list goes on. I get it.

Humor tends to be my buffer, my go-to move. It helps me momentarily cope. It’s my fast-acting short-term ability. It acts as a cheap, easy-to-carry poncho to temporarily protect me from the harsh realities of life. It’s lightweight, easily accessible. No phone booth necessary. “Ha. Ha. Ha. You’re making truly fluorescent light of the situation.” My funny self talk. Humor: it’s typically well-received. Because people like to laugh. Laugh, don’t cry. Repeat. Just laugh, don’t cry. People like funny. Don’t bring any of that sad shit news, right? Don’t go around ruining people’s sunshiney days.

But sometimes, life rains down. Nope. It pours. Sadness. Frustration. Loss. Disappointment blows and anger and fear strike hard. A poncho can only offer brief protection. Most of us don’t want to feel the chilling hard rains of life seep into our bones. Yet, you can only ignore it for so long when you’re sopping wet.

I walk to the car or get to my house and I peel that humor poncho off. I let it dry out on the garage floor. Dare I let myself go to the ugly crying places? Dare I let myself ask, “Why?” and “Why?” and “Why?” again. I texted my husband. He helped me laugh. And process. Dry off.

IMG_8596

I remembered all of the ways my stubborn, strong-willed spirit and body has helped me over the years. I remembered my perseverance. I remembered my three sons and how it took two doctors to get my third boy delivered because my body was so damn strong. And stubborn. God gives me this crazy strength from time to time and I’m certain it’s contributed to who I am and what I’m capable of today. Naturally, my self-manufactured kidney stones will not be moved. They will put up a good fight. They’re not quite pearls but that doesn’t mean I can’t pretend they are when they surgically remove them.

Perhaps you could say a few prayers for my surgeon and the nurses and crew. They have a difficult job especially when it comes to a well-seasoned stubborn patient like me. You may be so kind as to include my husband and my tender-hearted boys. While you’re at it, you might as well pray for me, my kidneys, especially the right one, and my weary anesthesitized soul. Thank you for caring.

Also, be on the lookout for my Etsy shop. “Strong Ass Kidney Stone Jewelry” I may work on the name a little. Limited supply, factory closing down. They won’t be cheap so you may want to start saving your change.