Work Spades


I could tell you a million sad stories about a million hard things that happen to kids. And their families. Well, maybe not a million. But eleven years worth. I could tell you about horrible, awful things. Worse than you can imagine. Worse than you’ve seen on TV. It would alter your mood. And change the vibe of your get-together, if I’m honest. I know better. I won’t do that. I will listen to you talk of work stories. And I will let you insert hard things for me to hear like “you have such a fun job” or “I could never work in a children’s hospital” or “I don’t know how you do it.”

It really would not be fair to follow up your bad day at work story with one of mine. That’s because when it comes to sad stories, I’ve got a hand full of spades. Every single time. Pretty soon you just won’t want to play with me anymore. You won’t ask about work. It will be the elephant in the room, the one in the corner making herself a drink. Don’t worry, its okay. I get it. I do understand. It’s hard for me, too, walking into the hospital on some gorgeous happy sunny days. You never know what you’re walking into. You never know how hard your hands will be squeezed. Or how many times your heart will be flipped upside down. How many screams or cries you will hear. Or how hard it will be to hold back the tears building a sad castle inside. You never know how many times you will need to go to the bathroom. Or how many times you will just have to keep holding it. Or if you will eat anything other than a donut and cheez-its. It’s an unpredictable environment, to say the least.

But, it’s not all ace of spades sad trumping stories. Or none of us would do it. There are victorious, fist pumping small miracles happening. All around. I could also tell you of some of the most inspiring stories. The times where I’ve witnessed love in it’s purest, most raw and unconditional form. When I’ve held back both happy and sad tears as I left the room to go grab a warm blanket. Or a glass of water for a parent. I can attempt to describe to you the thrill of working on a team where each member excels in different roles but most have mutual respect and adoration for each other. And every member has the same goal: to help make things better in both gigantic life-saving ways and the seemingly small, dignity reviving ways. We all show up and hope to help kids and families overcome. We aspire to make the world inside a kid’s hospital better.

If I could see that you truly wanted to listen, I would highlight all the joys and all of the many pains. The frustrations. And the necessary humor. Definitely the life-changing moments. The many heroes and heroines. You would hear all about the kids who proudly shouted “I did it!” after completing something really scary and painful. And excruciatingly hard. I wouldn’t forget to tell you of the time where I witnessed a teenage brother sit on the bed and comfort his younger sister in the most inspiring, compassionate way. A way that reminded me of my big brother. Or the time where I stood beside a father who held on so tightly to his daughter’s head and hand, never letting go, as she screamed in pain and begged him to hold her. I think she was begging him to make it stop. To rescue her. But he couldn’t do that, so he did what he could. He held onto her through the hurt.

I would need to tell you of the innocent, gigantic-hearted children who say things like, “I want to stay at your house” or “do you want to go to Worlds of Fun with us?” And of the painful, heartbreaking realizations that tumble out of kids’ mouths like… “He was just a kid. And he died.” I would have to boast about the littlest interpreters who carry the weight of speaking English at the doctor and Spanish at home. Who speak for their mother or father, all the while trying to play and just be a kid. Just a few weeks ago, one sweet seven year old boy fumbled and told me, “I got lost in a word.” How perfect. I knew exactly what he meant.

I get lost in words too. Especially when I try to explain what working in a hospital is like. Most people have a hard time listening. So I stop talking. I recognize that maybe you just wanted to hear something less heavy. More happy. Lighthearted.

Unfortunately, I think I can usually trump any sad story you tell. That doesn’t mean I should. Or that I want to. I usually won’t. I try to hide what I hold in my hands. And in my heart. Unless I know that you carry a hand of spades too. I will not unravel in front of you. I will hold my cards tightly. To my chest. You will never know of the faces, the sounds, the room number. The smells. The horror. The memory triggers. I know I can’t tell you about this. If I told you about it, you may not understand. You would wonder how I can talk without sobbing. You would think I’m some sort of sick human being. You may think I just don’t feel anymore. Or that I’m insensitive, maybe calloused. Burnt out perhaps. You may say something like “I just don’t know how you do it… you don’t cry.” You forgot to ask me the question. You assumed that this work doesn’t affect me. Maybe not like you imagine it would affect you. You forgot to ask,

“Do you ever cry?”

Because, if you asked this, I would answer, “Yes.” Exhale. “Yes, I do cry.” Not in front of you though. Not right here. Not right now.

I cry as I turn my back to you, quick tears that never exit. I cry in the halls and bathrooms at work. Bent over using the cheapest toilet paper or paper towels to wipe them away. Or in my office. I cry at home in my kitchen into a dish towel or on the tread mill into my t-shirt. I cry in my bedroom into my pillow when my kids are sleeping or getting ready for school. Just because I can stand in this room or tell a story without crying doesn’t mean I don’t feel the utter sense of loss and pain and unfairness that you felt upon first imagining it. I’m only human. I’m actually a lot like you.

We all have different strengths. And different capacities. Limits. Gifts. Yet, we all have weaknesses. Vulnerabilities. Every single last one of us. There is a completely different language that takes years and years to recognize and learn. A language we will never fully understand. And the more time you spend around this unspoken language, the more deeply you feel. In happy or sad moments. It’s the language of hurt. The language of pain. The language of unexpected life-altering circumstances. It’s too difficult to try and understand in a moment. In a conversation. In a day. It’s much too complicated. It often feels foreign, uncomfortable. You just can’t fathom the all-encompassing, overwhelming and sometimes heart-stopping beautiful feelings that accompany holding these cards. So, I will nod. Put on my best poker face. And most likely I will never let you truly know what it feels like to work in a children’s hospital. It’s easier for me to just hold my cards closely, tightly, right up next to my beating heart.

(NOT) FUNdraising


My poor dad. My poor mom. Our poor neighbors. There were seven of us kids. We were not all in school or  at the same school or playing the same sport at the same time, but one of us must have always been fundraising for something. I vividly remember boxes and boxes of M&M’s going missing. And yet, the fundraising envelope remained empty. My parents paid for every last box of those expensive fundraiser M&M’s. Good one, soccer league. I also remember that crazy, overly enthusiastic sales guy showcasing all of the prizes elementary students could win if and only if you sold enough random crap to your neighbors and family members. They can’t say no, right? Wrong. We would beg our dad to take the sign-up form to his break room at work. He eventually would. Surely his co-workers would go nutso about the wrapping paper and gummi bears. Fancy gummi bears, that is. You can imagine the disappointment when the order form finally would return home with only a few names on it. Maybe the ones who just couldn’t resist the deals? Or felt sorry for that lonely ordering form hanging on the bulletin board. I do think I “won” a plastic Nerds candy container one time for my lame fundraising attempts. Never the Mickey mouse phone. Or the gumball machine. Or the walkman. Oh, the walkman. Maybe I did win a walkman. Or it may have been a present. I drove my sisters crazy singing the “Bodyguard” soundtrack every night. AND I will always love you. And so on.

It’s just not really practical or effective or safe or well-received to go door-to-door fundraising anymore. I will never forget my sister and I walking door to door in our tartan plaid Catholic skirts as highschoolers. We would alternate who would talk and do the spiel for whatever we were selling. Probably magazines. It was getting old fast, the failure, the unanswered doors. The quandary, “should we ring the doorbell or not?” We walked up a long secluded driveway. That should have been our first clue. It was unfortunately my turn to talk at this house. As we made it to the front of the house, we noticed a man outside gardening. Naked. Instead of turning and running the opposite direction, my sister nudged me, it was my turn to talk. I began awkwardly fumbling over my words stating that we were selling magazines or whatever. I should have just stated the obvious, “We’re selling magazines. And you’re naked. Completely naked.” Maybe he felt sorry for us. He grabbed a garbage bag and covered up his junk. I gave him the order form. And I remember his bare butt walking towards the front door. We quickly speed walked away. I never, ever, ever have wanted to be a door-to-door saleswoman. I learned the hard way that there are too many unknowns. Will the person be creepy, pissed, overly talkative, or naked? You just never really can know.

Unfortunately, my kids now have my negative fundraising history to unknowingly combat. Tonight when I remembered that the walk-a-thon was tomorrow and we had done NO fundraising, I forced my boys to call their grandparents and ask if they would like to support them in their walk-a-thon. “What are you walking for?” I don’t know, they answered. “How long are you walking?” I don’t know…again. I’m pretty sure raising money for the PTA will never go down as one of my strengths as a parent. Hopefully, my kids won’t hold it against me. Similar to the stories shared of walking miles in the freezing cold snow to school, I will pull a fundraising story from my stash.  At least you don’t have to walk door to door with a rehearsed speech, only to get turned down or wish that you had been turned down. Nervously waiting at the door, wondering if you are going to get chewed out or denied. Or worse, asked to come inside for some marzipan. Or even worse, stumble upon a naked gardener. Yep. Naked. The thought of him gardening naked still weirds me out to this day. Even if he was in his own yard, his very secluded hidden from the road yard. So, tonight, I repeated history. I did what my parents must have done time and time again. Times seven kids. I wrote a check to the school. So, walk your little hearts out, boys. Your grandparents and parents fully support you.

The Hurt Yarn


When you’re busy knitting your life, you should remember that there are many different spools of yarn. And you really have to include them all. No matter how much they may be a bother. Or how much they may hurt. You can’t cut out certain ones or it may eventually cause the entire work of art to unravel. That’s you. Sometimes, we’re so busy trying to get some place else or be somebody different that we fail to see the beauty and the power that encompasses all of the different colors and textures that venture into our life.

My mom can knit beautifully, like no other person that I know. Pro status. She’s got mad knitting skills. She will talk to you, watch basketball games, and even play with your kids, all the while knitting the most gorgeous and difficult creation. Her relaxed hands move the needles flawlessly as she gently tugs on the yarn that may very well be strung across the room from a kid or dog playing with it. She’s not phased. She just keeps on knitting.

She once taught me how to knit when I was stuck in my dad’s borrowed leather chair by our front window. Modified bed rest. I couldn’t keep reading and watching TV all day long, going stir crazy waiting for two little boys to grow in my giant, nervous uterus. My mom would come over and teach me how to knit scarves and how to pearl. She also brought me delicious food. Probably because all I thought about and talked about was food. And more food. I could have been categorized as a tight knitter. A person wouldn’t watch me and feel pressed to learn the “relaxing art.” I made several imperfect scarves on my bedrest. Then, I delivered twins. The end. Of my amateur knitting career.

Watching my mom knit from the beginning stage of choosing her yarns and finding a pattern, to the “it’s coming along” stage to the gorgeous finished products helps me understand the process. It’s a powerful thought to envision that we were fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our mother’s womb(Psalms 139:13-14) and that we continue this beautiful work of art by how we live our lives. We are all the same in some powerful ways. We all receive a first breath and a last breath.  We are all so unique though in how we use the breaths in between. What we do. Who we become. The many strands of yarn that define us, change us, and help us relate to one another and love each other differently. More deeply. All the changing patterns our lives follow or stray away from differentiate us from one another. How we weave the many different colors and textures of yarn into our lives makes us each different, beautiful, and unique. It’s quite fascinating to think that no two of us are exactly the same.

I have witnessed some of the most remarkable, influential and compassionate people who have learned the delicate art of weaving “the hurt yarn” into their lives. The yarn of this world that represents pain, hard times, loss, brokenness, unfairness. The scars, the unanswered questions, the feeling of not belonging. I believe that this yarn carries the power to strengthen, help, heal and teach others. And love others on a whole different level. If and only if we consciously use it, not try to camouflage it. Or tuck the hurt yarn away in some cabinet only to then wonder why we’re suddenly falling apart. It takes time, patience, even practice to figure out how to best incorporate the hurt yarn into our lives. It’s difficult. It takes people recognizing it. And gently helping hand it to you. Then, helping pick it back up. It can be tricky, slipping out of your hands, give you callouses kind of yarn.

The greatest hidden, yet liberating gift of the hurt yarn is it’s power to open your eyes to a beauty and appreciation in other creatures like you’ve never noticed before. Beauty that others may not recognize. Yet. There is a tremendous amount of beauty in pain, fragility, struggles, vulnerabilities, honesty, imperfections, weakness, and forgiveness. They all hold the ability to unite us, humanize us, and relate us to each other in a way that’s more powerful than blood. That’s the beauty in the hurt yarn. If we incorporate the hurt yarn into our lives, it doesn’t take away from us. It stabilizes us. It humbles us. And strangely enough, it delicately holds the power to make us stronger in the most unexpected, unpredictable ways.

Permanent Teeth


Earlier today, one of my sweet first grade boys started talking to me after school. We were hanging out up in the treehouse. In between talking, he would take a lick from his popsicle. Oh my goodness, I thought. I interrupted him, “Did you lose a tooth????” I had been gone at work all weekend. And he had been at school all day. A part of me experienced a huge flood of relief when he began to wiggle one of his bottom baby teeth back and forth with his fingers. Then, he creepily pushed it all the way forward and all the way back with his tongue. It gave me the heeby jeebies. I knew that wiggly tooth was just barely hanging on and that our first tooth fairy visit would be within days. I felt a sudden urge to take a couple of pictures of him with his baby teeth smile. The smile that soon would be different. Older.

Oh, man, here come the permanent teeth.

Permanent. That word. I’ve never been the greatest about holding onto physical, tangible reminders of my children’s youth. Like clippings from their first hair cuts. Or even writing down the exact day, time, and place where they first walked. Or said their first words. I do tend to remember moments. Emotions. Feelings. When my boy ran out of his room tonight shouting,
“MOM! DAD! I lost my tooth!” we quickly ran up the stairs.

And I will always hold tightly onto this memory. The look on his face of pure excitement and also disbelief as he held up the tiny tooth. While looking for a container to store his tooth, he dropped his baby tooth on the front porch. At 8:45 at night. I began desperately picking up odd white looking dirt specks. And tiny rocks. Seriously. We couldn’t find his tooth. We HAD to find that missing tooth. I had all three boys step inside so I could look around. Sometimes, I think these crazy unexpected things happen to put one of those neon, sticky page markers on my memory. Memory triggers. There I was down on my hands and knees looking for the first lost tooth. Literally, a lost tooth.

When I found it, I held tightly onto the tooth until we secured it into a tiny tooth container to await the tooth fairy’s visit. Ironically enough, the plastic tooth holder my son so proudly placed his tiny tooth in previously held my fancy expensive crown. For one of my “permanent teeth.” Later that night, after my husband filled his tiny tooth container with a few bucks, he handed me the tooth. I held it up in my big hands careful not to drop it. I looked at it. And I just couldn’t throw it away. So, I taped it inside of a jewelry box. I guess I needed the physical reminder. A reminder of one of the sweet little first white baby teeth that poked through when he was a bright pink-gummed, grinning, drooling baby. His baby tooth represents a touchable, physical reminder that my boys are getting bigger. Losing their baby teeth. Growing up.

Their body is pushing out those tiny “baby” teeth that have served their purpose. They’ve chewed their first bites of food, bitten my fingers, shoulders, legs repeatedly and their dad, bitten each other, Nerf Gun bullets, foam balls, nickels, quarters, and SO many other toys. But most importantly, those perfectly tiny teeth have helped communicate a million different kinds of smiles, giant open-mouthed giggles and laughter. I’m hopeful that his permanent teeth will continue to do the same. Only bigger teeth should amount to even bigger smiles, right? Smiles that will be contagious, life-changing, genuine, helpful, and representative of his passion and joy for life. A joy ignited at a very young age. And a joy that I hope will continue to shine through those teeth. Those permanent teeth.

Drunk Hummingbirds


Low expectations Thursday. I set out to do two things today, besides the obvious goal of keeping my kids alive. Just two things.

1. Change the hummingbird juice
2. Put the clean sheets from the dryer on my bed

That’s it. That’s all. I could have thrown ‘take a shower” onto the list, but really, I don’t want to get cocky or be overly successful. We will just deem that an extraordinary bonus, if it happens. A gigantic pat on the back. Sometimes, towards the end of the week, when I’m getting a little disappointed in my lack of accomplishments, I do this: I set two small easily and totally doable goals. I can’t let the hummingbirds down again today. I know I may be hypersensitive but it seems like they’re giving me a crazy intoxicated look when they buzz by. We have two specific birds the boys have named “Green Lantern” and “Batman.” They are our “regulars.”

“Change the juice, big lady, ” Green Lantern says, in a high-pitched fast-paced tone of hummingbird voice.

Acckkk. I don’t want drunk hummingbirds. And I really don’t want to sleep on a naked bed again tonight. It’s too hot. And not in the sexy way. Though the three boys that invaded at some point in the night didn’t seem to mind. So many unexpected things happen in a day. It’s usually okay for a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of self. Like when the dog decides to totally delve into the trash that only made it to the laundry room. Oh, commence swearing at the dog. Ughhh. Maybe I should feed him some dog food. He’s so needy sometimes. He probably wants me to pet him too. Then, there’s the totally unplanned for calls like you know, the one from a detective in Wichita. Another detective to talk to. “Quiet down, kids. Really. IT’S A POLICE OFFICER ON THE PHONE.” He told me they arrested a woman who fancied stealing people’s identities. She was driving around, stealing mail and had MY license and credit card. My costco card. She wouldn’t dare! I’ve never even been to Wichita. The kind detective let me unload a little on the situation. I told him that the worst part is how much time these crooks have stolen. You know, time that I could have been changing the hummingbird juice. Or putting some stinking sheets on the bed. Visiting my grandma. Or taking a shower.

For now,  I would rather just write about it. Because sometimes that’s the most helpful thing. Releasing it. Sometimes time just flies by. Other times, it quickly slips through the cracks in our cupped hands as we attempt to hold it still. No matter how hard we try to hold onto it, it’s fluid. Moving. On the quarrelsome evenings, time stands completely s….t….i….l….l. It really never seems to do what we would like it to do. Slow down. Speed up. JUST STOP already. Can’t we ever make up our minds.  I’m trying to be more aware of the time and place I am presently. Today. This moment. What I am capable of. As a human being. It seems like a sneaky way of forgetting about time altogether.

It’s not such a bad thing to lower expectations in certain areas of life. It feels good sometimes to feed the hummingbirds. And finish putting sheets on the bed. And quite honestly, when the hot water from the shower you didn’t expect to take hits your face, you feel like you must be dreaming. Low expectations Thursday….I think I love you.

Loan-A-Uterus Program


My husband asked me, “What’s wrong?” He could tell that it was more than just a routine case of the pre-coffee morning grouchies. It was something beyond my control. He caught me in the midst of a hormonal roller coaster. I was on a series of upside down loops. Feeling out of control. About everything. And the laundry everywhere was taunting me, taking over, well, every room I entered. I didn’t know where to even begin. So, naturally, I called the paper shredding company to find out if I could drop off a garbage bag full of papers to shred. Sure, the guy told me, for $60. He seemed nice enough, but my goodness, would they be hand-cutting each paper with kids scissors? In his defense, he could have told me he would pick it up for free and bring me a Starbucks drink of my choice. And, undoubtedly, I would have found something wrong with his generous offer.

Sometimes, I just want to loan my uterus to my husband for a month. Or two. I know it seems like a complicated process. Insurance probably wouldn’t cover it, but I think he would benefit from a first-hand, personal experience with the craziness that takes over your thoughts, your body, and your emotions when your uterus gets the spotlight and a microphone and starts speaking on behalf of the whole rest of your body. So, I answered my husband,

“I’m grouchy and my freakin’ uterus is shedding.”

He, like most men, didn’t want in on any of the details. I think he felt a little remorseful for even asking. Please stop. Don’t talk about a tampon. It’s scowling, cover-his-ears kind of awkwardness. Retreat. Retreat. And don’t call his underwear “panties” either. Or they will quickly get all in a wad. Because he doesn’t wear “panties.” They. Are. Underwear. So, you’re saying, boxer panties, right?

I know I’m being irrational, short-fused and utterly annoyed by people’s existence. Why would they do that? Be alive. Or say that? “Hi.” Or look that way? Cute. Just stop talking. And don’t look at me. I don’t think that it would help much during this time to have daughters, but having three young boys asking what a tampon is and trying to constantly barge in the bathroom can really make matters worse. “I need some privacy. Please.” They just don’t understand. Can I just borrow a grown woman for about a week out of each month? Until I hit menopause. I think it would really help to have someone hang out in my closet with me that understands and can say, “I know. Oh, uteruses. They’re so hysterical sometimes.”

I don’t really love roller coasters at amusement parks anymore. Heck, I nearly lost it on a Ferris wheel a few weeks ago. I think the oxygen disappeared as we neared the top. I start to get motion sickness just looking at them. My stomach drops and I feel like I need to cross my legs, I’m going to pee my pants. But, man oh man. These hormonal roller coasters? I will take a barf bag and an extra set of pants over these any day. It’s just too many emotions trying to get in on the action. Settle down. None of them are even listening to me. Did they learn this behavior from my kids? Why would they listen to me? It’s only my body. Sometimes. However, it’s under the influence of a moody female dictator. The uterus. I know. I know. I should be happy and grateful that I have one. And I am, especially the weeks out of the month when she’s not trying so hard to get my attention. Everyone’s attention.  I’ll be happier when she drops the mic. Sits down.

If I could just put a little more time and energy into the loan-a-uterus program. Work out a few logistics. My husband surely would be the first to volunteer to be a guinea pig.  Then other men would be lining up, out the door. I’m sure of it. The female under the direction of the uterus can be pretty persuasive. And a little intimidating too. I can just hear premenstrual women right now saying, “you’re going to sign up for that loan-a-uterus program, right, Hon?”

The answer is “Yep…” Silent thought bubble saying, “Anything to get out of the house.” Maybe they can even have a few beers before the procedure. It may help during the part where the doctors talk to them about the difference between tampons and pads.

Loan-A-Uterus. A woman can dream.