40 Year Old Pearls

After having an amazingly simple birthday without parades or “over the hill” signs, one of my twin boys came to me crying at bedtime. He sobbed and said, “what did you mean when you said that this morning?” I quickly tried to remember what I may have said in a hurried morning state of mind. My son responded, “You said you were happy you made it to 40.”

Oh. That. I still felt a bit confused as to why my tender-hearted boy couldn’t contain his sobs beside me. Through his snot and tears, he continued, “What does that mean? That you made it to 40.” I began to understand that he may have thought I had an expiration date. And I got it. I understood his worries.

One of my biggest fears as a woman and mom who has Crohn’s disease and has experienced countless surgeries, procedures and complications is that I will not live to see my boys grow up. All the way up.

I’ve been in many hospital rooms in a desperate, totally dependent state. My boys have happily visited me, sat gently on my bed, and eaten the nurse-issued hospital popsicles. Still, it tears a hole in my mothering soul not being able to care for my children when my own health takes center stage. I’m pretty certain it’s because of those difficult times that I play harder, hold on longer and love the best and most that I can. When I can.

I worked for years in the pediatric emergency department, an environment where you can’t help but learn how terrifyingly fleeting and fragile life can be. In an attempt to somehow honor those who died too soon, I try to live my life without regrets, albeit imperfectly. It’s not possible to do this every moment of every day because bills, stress, mean people and life can get loud and my inner voice doesn’t like to scream.

My youngest boy studied my pearl necklace at dinner last night. He asked, “How do you make a pearl?” My husband and I explained how a piece of sand gets into the oyster shell and how the oyster works hard to get the sand out. In the process, the oyster makes a pearl. We explained how it’s rare, but it creates a beautiful masterpiece. In the process, I’m sure the oyster isn’t stoked about the dirt in its cramped space. (As it turns out, after some five minute Wikipedia pearl research, it’s more of a microscopic parasite or tiny crab invasion that makes the mollusk work to protect itself, thus creating a pearl to envelop the invader. Still, pretty dang awesome)

One of my hopes and life goals is to find the pearls amidst the pain. I’m aware that my life and perspective has been altered time and time again by laying on too many doctor’s tables to count and waiting to get better. I fight. I grumble. I cry. Then, I guess I try my best to envelop these intruders in something beautiful. Like a mollusk. Who can forget those paper sheets and backless hospital gowns? We cannot control all that happens to us in life. Sometimes it feels like we can’t control much at all. But I do believe in the great power we hold to choose our perspective. Make our pearls.

If we can take the time to recognize the tiny moments filled with so much beauty and love, it’s impossible to deny the gift of the life we have. Our lungs. Our breaths. Our hearts beating. We get to live amongst belly-laughing, freckle-faced kids, hummingbirds and weird mushrooms. If you buy a pair of binoculars, and use them correctly, suddenly you can feel like you’re riding on the wings of a great blue heron. We live in a amazingly simple yet fascinatingly complicated world. If you look gently and persistently, you will find that beauty often surrounds the pain.

Last night, I held my ten year old boy, snuggled up to him. I apologized if I made him worry. I helped calm his fears and my own and I tried to help him understand the best I could how extremely grateful I felt to turn 40 yesterday. I let him know that I hope to live forty more years. I cannot begin to enunciate the echoes of love in my heart for the life I get to live. I am so deeply grateful for those who hear me, see me, love me and cushion the blows that sometime come my way. No matter the extent of my pain, God has always provided me with the greatest, most supportive human pain relievers, helping me create funky shaped pearls.

Here’s to a new decade of playing in the water and probably falling repeatedly on my ass. And getting back up, over and over again, whole-body laughing all the way.

Stuffed Animals

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I think I got onto him several times today for not doing what I asked of him. Small things. Cleaning the bathroom, a chore he owed me. Or “Can you get the dog some food?” or “give your brother back the iPad” type of offenses. Not pure outward defiance. But he subtly disregarded me. Looks can be deceiving sometimes. On the outside, he still looks like a young boy but inside he is changing. Wiggling. Growing. Testing. Constantly testing. Me.
Then, there are the times when he walks over to me in the kitchen and pushes his lanky body right up in front of me. I drape my long arms around him and rest my chin on his head. And I hold him. Feel his hair. Briefly. He doesn’t need to say any words.
There are also the unabashed moments when he just plops right down onto my lap around the dinner table. Typically after school. Maybe all this growing up stuff can be confusing or scary. Mom-holds can help settle the uncertainty. And he knows this mama will always make room for him on the bench or find the time for extra hugs, snuggles or comfort.
He’s always preferred to fall asleep with the light on. His vivid nighttime imagination comes to life with the flip of a switch. He has quite the sleep resume: talking, walking, bed robbing and night terrors. This boy prefers less darkness. More daytime. Rightfully so. It’s safer to settle your mind when you can see the sounds and know what’s around you.
Tonight, like many nights, I saw his light on and walked in to find him asleep with his hoodie up and his arms cradling three stuffed animals: Camo, Rocket the Raccoon and Buoy, his stuffed guinea pig. His legs are getting longer. His brain keeps on getting stronger but his little boy heart still reaches back to grab onto his youth.
Heart teasing moments like these pull and pull and pull on my mama’s restless heart. Please let up. It’s hard for me not to sneak right up next to him and put my hand over his heart and listen again to his deep sleep breathing. He’s so peaceful and beautiful. Nearly eleven years old. Others may venture the world to see the most breathtaking art but oh, how grateful I am to witness this boy. From the shortest distance. Up close. Sleeping. Breathing. Playing. Laughing. Arguing. Helping. Growing. Always growing.
Thank you, God, for this gift. Sacred moments. Times three.
Lord, help me with my twisting, turning, growing, constantly adapting mama’s heart.

Untangling

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I fought the wind unsuccessfully. It’s Kansas, after all. The wind tends to win most days. I escaped to the refuge of my mini van. A moment of quiet accompanied me as I sat untangling all the strings and colorful ribbons of my son’s kite. He patiently waited outside watching his brothers and the dog.
 
I remember asking for help untangling things as a child. And teen. And adult. I blamed my inability to loosen the knots on my constantly bitten nails. “Do you have any nails? Can you help me with this?” I asked those near me.
 
Wait a second. When did I become the untangler?
 
I suppose at the precise moment when I became “the mother.” I became the one my flailing children needed. I quickly learned to untangle footed pajamas and wet wipes in the night. I routinely untangled the tubing to my breast pump. As my children grew, I’ve bent over a million times or so to untangle their knotted shoestrings. “Come sit down. Watch a show,” I would often say as I untangled the back of my toddler boys’ heads of matted blonde hair. Their rabbit fine blonde hair has championed the greatest or worst bed head title for years.
 
It’s an art form: untangling. I never imagined I would be any good at it. I guess it takes practice. And patience. A willingness to pull, tug and gently make a difference. Sometimes, you’re thrown into situations and you’re the only one seemingly capable enough. You’re suddenly “the most grown up” in the room. With all the giant greenish brown eyes looking up to you, you have to do something. You adapt. You must be willing to learn on the job. In the midst of the tangles. The many different tangles of parenting.
 
Some knots are trickier than others. Some knots require more time, more experience, and a bigger investment. Some produce more tears of frustration and confusion. Untangling words and heated arguments between brothers, while remaining every boy’s loving mother, puts even the baddest ugliest quadruple knot to shame. A mama has to learn to tap into her emotional savings account: the wisdom and advice and encouragement of others. Thank, God for their listening ears, their stories, and their graceful ability to resuscitate my mothering soul.
 
Am I doing it right? Am I doing it wrong? Will tomorrow be better? Less competitive? Holy moly. This is hard. Can I have my grabby toothless babies back for a few moments? Just for a moment of bliss. A moment of mundane. And a moment of hard to remind me that it’s not all rainbows in the past either. My mothering moments seem all tangled up in my thoughts and the steady beating of my heart. Ten years and three boys full of moments. Raw moments. Heavenly moments. Silly moments. Growing moments. Perhaps if they’re all tangled together, I won’t lose them as easily.
 
The other day I walked down to my in-law’s dock to grab the leftover towels and shoes. I looked down and noticed a struggling sky-blue dragonfly trapped in a sticky spiderweb. Lake spiders don’t mess around with their giant intricately designed webs. “Oh, you poor, dragonfly. I will help you,” I said.  I think he understood or he thought I was the spider. I gently pulled the googley-eyed dragonfly out of the sticky web. I held him in the palm of my hand. Then, I used my giant fingers to delicately untangle the web from the dragonfly’s wings. He couldn’t fly. The sticky web clung to his feet and his four wings, but he only squirmed a bit while I performed a webectomy. Then, just like that, he flew off. “Oh, goodbye,” I said. It was a magical moment. I thought I should hop into the kayak and get to work, untangling all of the webs off of the backs of the trapped dragonflies before the sun set. But I needed to get my own dragonfly boys home to bed.
 
When we learn the beauty of untangling life’s knots in one area, perhaps we give ourselves the confidence to attempt to untangle knots outside of our typical comfort zone. I’m grateful to untangle yo-yo strings, matted hair, my husband’s cables, the dog’s clumped up ear hair, and dragonfly wings. How strange and magnificent are the lessons we learn when things get knotted up.

Heavy Pretty Trees

I’ve spent hours plowing the snow this weekend. I feel strong and productive when I can hurl, shove, and carry the snow across the driveway. It’s rather hard work, yet mostly calming for me. This snowfall landed hard and heavy. It knocked our power out. My boys got to experience how many of our luxuries require electricity. All. The lights. “The TV?” Yes. “The heater?” Yep.
Looking outside, my old tree loving self had conflicting emotions. It was gorgeous yet sad. The beautiful mature trees in our neighborhood looked exhausted as they held up the weight of the snow on their branches the best that they could. All the neighborhood creatures hid silently below the pure white blanket of snow. Interupting the winter silence, I could hear the tree branches crack, snap, fall and I often heard them land on the hard surfaces below.
After one large tree branch fell, my son asked me,
“Mom, should we go tell (our neighbor) that tree just fell?”
When we embrace the life that surrounds us, we all have the tendencies to snow coat our hardships or dwell on how heavy our branches feel. It’s a difficult balance to hold the beauty and acknowledge the pain. Sometimes, I hide from people because I don’t like faking how I feel. Sometimes, I do my best to show that my branches are purely beautiful not heavy. Just like yours, right? But that’s not the truth. If I can be honest and vulnerable then I put out a welcome mat that allows those around me to do the same.
I wanted to share a picture of myself feeling confident and proud of braving the storm. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Or maybe longer than that. I’ve got a pocket full of hope though. And we’ve got a shoveled driveway and my boys got the sidewalks. We’ve also got our power back on. Lights and heat and dishwashers and dryers are pretty darn nice things to have.
Hold on, heavy pretty trees, I think you’re going to be alright.

Staphylo-(you’re a)-COCC-us

If I could grow a rainbow mustache, I would do it. It would be beautiful, sparkling and shiny and super clean. Then, people would be fascinated with my colorful mustache and I would be less insecure about the impetigo sores on my face.
Call me crazy, nonsensical or ridiculously impractical (same thing) but I’ve got a problem. With the natural bacterial world. It’s with the seemingly annoying small things like impetigo, cracks in my fingers, and winter diarrhea bugs. Ughhh. Small things. That exist without sharing much great love. Perhaps, having part of my small intestine coming out of my body makes me feel like I should have some sort of super immunity Captain America type shield to the petty peck, peck, pecking away at my immuno-compromised body. It’s quite the opposite though.
Do you know who gets bright red, itchy, burnt pus filled sores on their bodies, faces and under their tiny noses? Children typically do. Sweet little babies who don’t understand. Oh, yes, and my grown ass adult face gets impetigo too.
Oh, how I understand the heinous contagious sores. I tend to them like a diligent gardener. Even though I’m unsure of how to diligently garden. I clean and clean and ointment the painful tender blisters that feel more like burns. OUCH! Mother@&$!€r! Who put their cigarette out under my nose? Who would do that? And in my sleep.
I’ll tell you who. An opportunistic staphylococcus bastard. If I could have negotiated with the bastard before he infected me, I would have said, “Hey, again. Listen, I already have Crohn’s disease and a big ass kidney stone camping out in my left kidney. Can you just leave me the hell alone? For today. Why don’t you go play with C-diff. Just don’t take advantage of my overly-snotted-on broken-down skin under my nose. Please. I beg you.”
Fine. Be that way. I hate you. Yep. I said it. And I do teach my kids not to say the word, “hate.” It’s a bad word and you’re a bad bacteria.
Who am I kidding? Then, I would probably get some aloe-infused Kleenex for Staph because I’ve taken the imaginary conversation too far.
But I’m pretty sure Staph doesn’t listen anyways. Bacteria can be so egotistical. Or is it narcissistic? Thinking they can go wherever they want. Infecting people, surfaces, whatever. It’s cool. They’ve got a confident “don’t fence me in” mentality. You’ve got to hand it to them. Just make sure you wash your hands after you do.
The redness under my nose makes you accidentally make that “ouch, what happened? Did a Kleenex try to kill you? That must hurt face.” You know the one. It’s fine to do it to babies but not so much grown-ups. I feel a bit better and I promise I won’t touch you. Unless I really don’t like you. You should be suspicious if I start doing awkward double face kisses like I’m from another country. Just kidding, I don’t think I’m contagious anymore.
Or am I? Insert evil laugh.
Whatever you do, just say no to “staphylo-(you’re-a)cocc-us.” And wash your hands for crying outloud. I see you, winter. Now, stop it.

 

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Baby Grass Resuscitation

I feel a bit absurd raking snowy leaves in November. I can think of other more productive things to do with my time. Raking and vacuuming must be best friends. It’s quite breathtaking though, all of the bright colors that I see when I pull the rake back and forth.
I’m resuscitating the new grass my husband planted. I imagine baby gasps when I shove a clump of reddish orange leaves off the fragile green life underneath. This is where my mind goes when I do yard work and house work. Fall grass shenanigans. By the way, Mother Nature may need some sort of autumn intervention. Really. Snowing when the leaves haven’t all fallen? But this is the Midwest. You can expect anything. Or you should. Our weather is truly phenomenal for elevator small talk.
I was counting but now I’ve lost track of how many balls and toys and yard surprises(dog poop) that I’ve discovered hiding under the leaves. I pause and stare at the fully clothed tree above me and wonder what the point of all this raking truly is. The newly planted grass. Oh yeah. I’m saving it’s life. “Hurry. I’m a late first responder.” That motivates me. It makes me feel like I’m back in the emergency department. Temporarily. A little bit. But I never had to resuscitate anybody. I usually sat outside in the inside waiting room with scared siblings and cousins.
Old work stories and thoughts hop in and out of my brain. I grow rather nostalgic. I try to remember it all. The good. And. The bad. The giggles. The cries. But some twelve hour shifts could feel so long. I have forgotten so many beautiful faces. I can always see and hear the feelings though when they decide to resurface.
I shove the leaves up against the back fence. I hear my boys laughing in the front yard, throwing dirt-filled snowballs at each other. It’s one of my absolute favorite sounds, the noises that accompany the three of them playing outside. I’d rather be heaving leafy snow balls with them then resuscitating grass. And thinking so much. Being a grown-up really has a few disadvantages. Less play, more worries and duties. All of those bills to keep track of. And pay. Neon notices. Dishes. Leaking ceilings. It all sounds so boring. I did forget R-rated movies and alcohol. Whoop. Whoop.
I’ll venture to the front yard, after all, since
we’re out of lawn bags. I’m thinking that it’s really not the best leaf collecting form to put sopping beautiful leaves in a brown paper bag. Shouldn’t they get brown and crunchy first?
Nonetheless, I succeeded. The new grass has a strong heartbeat again. Or perhaps I’ve removed its colorful blanket and now it will shiver all night. I don’t know. I suppose I did my job. Maybe.
I’m definitely not a grass life Specialist.

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Warm Blankets

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My soul exhales. My soul writes.
My inner critic says in a snarky tone of voice, “what’s so special about what you have to say?” Yet, secretly, I still write perhaps when my grouchy inner critic takes a nap. Just as I breathe. Just as I pray. Everyday, I write.
I recently have had the privilege and honor of taking a class(again) with Ginger Rothhaas, a remarkably inspiring woman, overflowing with hope and love. She kindly spills herself onto all of us as she coaches our souls. You should check her out @ compassionfix.com or ManyOpenGates.com Ginger gently leads, turning my head in a direction that I often avoid. Walking before me, loosely holding the reins, she escorts me down the gravel road of self-compassion. I look ahead and I see the beautiful mountains of God’s overflowing love, grace and patience. For me. I have not travelled this road often enough in my past. This road has not been paved. Yet.
I trust in Ginger’s guidance. She believes in me, probably more than I believe in myself. She has spoken truth to me at such hard times in my life. Times when my inner lies were playing a seemingly endless game of tag in my head. “You’re it. No, you’re it. No tag backs!” She gracefully teaches me how to delicately tend to myself like I would care for a dear loved one.
Today, in class, she asked us to describe what images come to mind when we think of God. I have many loving images and deep feelings that accompany my understanding of God. Feeling safe. Protected. Hugging my children when they’re excitedly running up the hill after school. I watch the hummingbirds and feel God’s love through their beauty and the complexity in their mere existence. I marvel at a creation so tiny yet so breathtakingly mesmerizing. God’s presence seems to accompany me when I’m stuck in the bathroom for the nine millionth time in my life. God has never gone to get me another roll of toilet paper. That would be weird. And hard to believe probably. Thank goodness for my husband. He certainly helps me feel God’s love.
I raised my hand in class today and said that God feels like warm blankets to me. One of the small joys I had when I worked in the pediatric emergency department was bringing warm blankets to kids and sometimes parents too. I loved tucking the warm blanket around their anxious, shivering bodies.
I have also had so many surgeries for Crohn’s disease. I’ve sat in my hospital gown waiting for hours before surgery. I have felt cold, shaky, worried and afraid. But yet, when a kind nurse covers me with warm blankets, their warmth has helped calm me and allowed me to feel less affected by the sterile walls, the bright lights and the hospital smells. Sometimes the nurses have piled multiple warm blankets on top of me to help me. It’s a seemingly small act that I remember vividly despite the memory erasing medicines.
Warm blankets.
My sons have always loved when I preheat their pajamas or towels in the dryer. I love watching the joy on their faces when they hold their warm clothes. “They’re sooooooo warm!” I rarely get to wrap them up in their warm towels anymore, but it’s a beloved bath time ritual that has brought me such joy over the bathtub years.
It’s the beautiful love-fueled and love-filled protected moments like these that help me understand God’s love. For me. And I feel special. And I want to share that feeling. It’s funny how writing works. God’s influence on my snarky thoughts can be pretty overwhelming too.
Thank you, dear Ginger, for the tender construction work that you do on our souls.