Thursday, November 15, 2012

Name the Cheeto Muncher

Thanks to my wonderful husband, Matt, my blog now looks like a blog instead of a test tube. I have totally fallen in love with this little fellow in the photo, munching away on the Cheeto (for breakfast, of course), but he needs a name. Give me suggestions. If I pick yours then I will write a blog post in your honor on the topic of your choice.

Let the game begin!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Weighty Matter

Today I posed the question on Facebook, "How often do you weigh yourself?" So far the replies are what I have expected, all over the map. However, it does  seem that the majority of responses fit into two camps: every day or almost never.

In Camp 1, the motivation of the "every day" people is pretty straightforward and totally understandable. If you struggle with your weight and want to keep a tight reign on it, you keep daily watch lest five pounds leaps onto the bandwagon while you're not looking.

The motivation for the "hardly ever" crowd in Camp 2 seems to fall into two categories. The first is the category that every female dreams of fitting into but few ever make it there. These rare individuals don't get on a scale unless they are at the doctor's office because they just don't think about it. Weight is the farthest thing from their mind and they are totally comfortable in the body God gave them. Life is full of so much more and, well, what is a number, anyway? Sounds like heaven, huh ladies?

The second is far more common. The scale is the Doomsday machine. The purveyor of evil. The scale sees all and knows all and, worst of all, TELLS all. Turns out that a major reason people avoid going to the doctor is that they don't want to be weighed.  Last year, someone who will remain nameless (you can fess up if you want, you know who you are), wore shorts and sandals to the doctor's office in the freezing cold so that she would not weigh so much. Some choose to stand on the scales backwards and ask the nurse not to tell them the number. Others flat out refuse to be weighed at all and threaten to go elsewhere for medical care.

It's funny, isn't it? That a number can be so powerful. It makes no sense whatsoever, but the majority of women (and indeed some men) in our culture are influenced or controlled to some extent by that number.

I am not here slinging mud at others that I have not been bathed in myself. I spent several years of my young life in Camp 1. I weighed myself every day and, sometimes, several times a day. Of course, that is excessive and obsessive and I was terribly mixed up in the bizarre pursuit of the thinness that sucks the joy and life (sometimes literally) out of people. That is a long and messy story that I won't go into here but God graciously healed me through that over the years and brought me to a place of greater peace and less angst.

After the birth of my last child, we tossed out our rusty scale. We didn't want our children, especially our three daughters, growing up with a scale in the house and I knew that I didn't need the temptation to focus on that part of my life as I waded (or waddled?) into middle age. So I moved into Camp 2. Now I won't say that I NEVER weighed myself. There were occasional opportunities, but I would only do so when I felt "thin". All you ladies know what I mean. You can just TELL.

A couple of years back my husband bought a scale without my knowing it, so that he could monitor his attempt to rein in his middle aged middle. He kept the scale hidden for months before I found it in the back of a file cabinet drawer one day.

So now I am one of the "every so often" kind of people that don't really have much of a camp because there aren't very many of them. But even in this small camp I find that the numbers can still have more power than they were ever meant to. And it's crazy. And I say we stage a revolt.

By what authority can a number ever, ever, EVER define who you are as a person? Our culture is sick, deranged, and hell-bent on distracting us away from what truly matters. Whether it is airbrushed models or hyper-fit yoga instructors or uber-righteous news reporters telling us all how fat we are, the world screams that our value is all wrapped up in our physical packages and that bodies that are broken or floppy or fail to live up to the current standard of beauty are of no value. Not only are they of no value, but they are a source of shame and scorn.

But Jesus came for the sick, the scorned, the outcasts. Jesus never once mentioned a number on a scale. He doesn't say, "Blessed are you with a body mass index of 19-25, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven." He never says to the Pharisees, "Why are you so FAT?" He addresses the heart.

What does God require of us? To do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with him, regardless of a silly number.

A Wee Bit of Advice

I HATE advice. Especially unsolicited advice. I really try not to give advice unless asked.

Another thing I hate is our culture's obsession with health and wellness and weight. Taking it into consideration is a good thing. Hanging all of life, liberty and happiness on it is not.

Yet ANOTHER thing I hate is how this world has become even more divided into camps, so that the advice coming from one side cancels out the advice coming from the other and you can find yourself in an absolute schizophrenic frenzy whether you want to survive under the grasp of the evil "change of life," shed a few pounds, or even just grocery shop for your ravenous family.

The advice tends to come from two sides: the Experts and the experts. The Experts are those actually trained in the subjects of medicine, pharmacology, health, and nutrition. They have degrees from credentialed institutions of higher learning. The experts are everybody else. For some reason the experts seem to have the upper hand these days. The rebellion against the medical establishment is large and loud.

On the one side I see the problem. The overprescription of drugs. The overuse of pesticides. The lack of emphasis on "healthy" living (healthy being a rather elusive target).

On the other side I see a problem, too. The assumption that the that a "natural" supplement is always better than a manmade medication (note that I said always) and that the "healthy" living (i.e. the right diet) will cure all ills.

Now the right diet itself is up for such debate it makes your head spin: vegetarian, vegan, raw foods, whole foods (not the store), organic, gluten free, low fat, low carb, paleo, macrobiotic. Eat this. Don't eat that. And by all means, flee the high fructose corn syrup. It is mind boggling and maddening and if you listened to everybody you would be stuck living off of nothing but organic raw broccoli FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Barf.

So, I'm sick of it all. I'm sick of this bizarre obsession with weight and health and doing it all "right." I'm sick of people telling me to entrust my body (and its raging and/or absent hormones) to a fellow in the back of Green Life instead of the doctor who has treated me for years and knows my rather complicated medical and (full disclosure here) mental health history.

So now it is MY turn to give advice. Hah! By the way, I'm one of the Experts. (B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Tennessee, 1986) I haven't worked in the field in over two decades but I have tried to keep up with the comings and goings of trends and information. Much of what I am saying I said back then. Now I only say it with even more emphasis and perspective.

  • There is no magic bullet. There is no supplement, substance or food that will cure you of everything. Only death will do that.
  • Never trust health or nutrition advice from a company or website that has something to sell. There is an inherent conflict of interest. If it looks like good information, then find that confirmed somewhere else, preferably a scientific study done by an independent party, and not just from testimonials.
  • Unless you have a specific medical issue (kidney failure, diabetes, food allergies, phenylketonuria, etc.) there really isn't a food that is going to hurt you as long as you consume it in moderation. Categorizing foods into "good" and "bad" categories sets you up for an unhealthy way to relate to food.
  • If you are in pursuit of weight loss, make it a pursuit of healthier living. Make small, incremental changes that you can live with for the rest of your life. (I may do an entire blog post on what evil "diets" do to our physical and mental health.)
  • Put relationships ahead of the pursuit of your ideal. They really are more important, after all. If you cannot accept a dinner invitation because your host may not cook the "right" foods for you, there's a problem. You can be organic or paleo or whatever you jolly well please at home, but if you can't enjoy the company of others around the table or your kid can't eat a pizza at the school party because of your nutritional ideals, you're too obsessed. 
  • Be careful with the indignation with which you express your views. You may be speaking to someone who does not or cannot share your lifestyle or convictions. Somebody may actually NEED medication, no matter how healthy of a life they lead.
  • Remember that you are going to die. Some day. A healthy lifestyle can go a decent way in preventing certain types of diseases, but it can only do so much. One day SOMETHING will lay you low, whether the source is lifestyle, genetics, accidents or just old age. Don't be shocked. You will not live forever. (When Jackie Kennedy Onassis was diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 64 she told her kids in "mock indignation" that she was "proud at being so fit. I swim and I jog...and walk around the reservoir -- and now this suddenly happens...Why in the world did I do all those push-ups?")
  • And above all, don't make this your god. There is only one God. He made you for so much more than pursuing health and evading death. Yes, we are to be stewards of the bodies he gave us but we are also to enjoy life and the world he has made.

Carry on.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mommy Blog Rant

I am getting really worn out by the mommy blogs. It seems that every mother of small children out there has a mommy blog. Now some of these are pure fun. They regale you with the ins and outs of mothering small monsters and scheming cherubs and have at least some of us shaking our head in a knowing way and giggling that we remember that well.

I guess I could write blogs like that but I am not a mommy anymore. I am a mom... and a grandmother, and my children are of the age that any mention of their shenanigans just might saddle them with an extra large dose of blog-induced shame. Perhaps one day I will present my offspring with a written waiver, allowing me to disclose what little I can remember of my early parenting days and holding me harmless for any stain to their reputation. But I'm not that brave....yet.

Then there are the other blogs. The teachy blogs. The preachy blogs. The sappy, get-your-spiritual-lesson-here blogs. I can't read those. They make me feel guilty (most things do, by the way). I could never be one of those moms.

Sometimes these blogs tell us what is most crucial as a parent and sometimes the bar gets raised higher and higher. Oh, this stuff all sounds so good on paper but in reality may be much more difficult to pull off, at least for some of us.

Some people just seem to be natural mothers. They are organized and disciplined and love to do things with paper plates and glitter (shudder). These are the moms that are not fazed by juggling multiple small children and keeping chaos at bay. I can only assume that when God handed out this Child Raising Skill Kit, I was in the bathroom.

Last week a friend linked to a a mommy blog article that actually sounded very good (on paper). It was all about teaching your kids that they can take you at your word so that they learn how to keep their word or something like that. I read the blog poster's bio and she is actually a mother of four, though it did not say what ages her four are.

I guess what got to me is that this blog, like most, seem to imply that so much of our  kids' moral and spiritual development is dependent on what we do or don't do, even in the early years. Bummer!

Perhaps I am the only one who struggled here but this "make your yes be yes and your no be  no" principle can be really hard to pull off. I remember when mine were little and the buzzword in parenting was consistency. You must be consistent with your children or they will grow up deranged and drooling. That was all good and well with my first, or at least I could make a B grade in the consistency department, but when I got pregnant with #2 it all went out the window.

Will someone please tell me how you are supposed to be consistent when you are puking your guts out and your 14 month old is pouring out the box of Cheerios or taking apart the television? The "no, don't do that" suddenly becomes a "here, honey, enjoy yourself."

And those rules on consequences to behavior! "Never tell a kid they will have a consequence and not give it to them." That is fine and dandy if you can actually remember. All I know is that by the time I got home from Wal-Mart or the grocery store or whatever place I braved with my brood, any memory of the hair pulling or the karate chop to the sister's solar plexus (which requires a consequence in the parenting books) was replaced by the temper tantrum or the toddler who peed in the cereal aisle. Consequences? Who? What? Just give me some Calgon and a glass of wine. I was happy to have made it home alive.

I am not saying that parents shouldn't be parents. I am just saying that it is **** hard to be a parent and all these blogs of should this and do that can be overwhelming and lead one to believe that this level of parenting can actually be achieved. And maybe it can, for some.

But what I have learned over my almost 23 years as a mother is that you fail more than you succeed. You are weak more than you are strong. You mess up more than you get it right. And that is where you meet Jesus. I know God will have mercy on my children, for he has had mercy on me.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Idols... Idols... Everywhere

I have been struck as of late with the issue of idolatry. Most people think of idolatry as bowing down to some golden statue in hopes that the rains come or the babies grow or the neighboring tribe comes down with a bad case of the willies. To be certain, that sort of idolatry does exist. Being in real estate I see this more that one would imagine. I see rooms set aside for the altar to the god of choice, candles glowing day and night with the eternal flame (not sure how their homeowners insurance company might feel about this), and gilded statuettes keeping a watchful eye over the family flora in the "meditation garden" or whatever they want to call it.

To be sure, the above mentioned form of idolatry is seeing a growing presence in mainstream America. But more often than not, idols are not so obvious and so neatly packaged. They are most often seated in the heart and wreak all sorts of havoc therein. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, says, "If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol."

I first encountered the concept of the idol back in college. I had struggled my entire life with a poor self-image and a distorted view of my own body. This struggle led to a pretty serious eating disorder in high school. By the time I was in college I was, by the sheer grace of God, on the healing end of things, but still struggling a bit with a body that seemed out of control and with an agenda of its won. One late night as I was studying for finals I broke down and consumed what, to me, seemed an excessive and gluttonous number of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Two. Panicked that I had "let myself go" and that I would blow up like an inflatable mattress and forever live through life as an overall-clad Jabba The Hutt, I went into the bathroom and made myself throw up.

Keller points out that "Idols give us a sense of being in control, and we can locate them by looking at our nightmares. What do we fear the most?" At that point in my life I feared most being fat. I feared most that the result of my indulgence, those evil 400 calories. Having fat legs was a fate worse than death.

God is indeed the God of Perfect Timing and he knows that subtelty can be lost on me. A bit distraught at what I had done, I went back to my desk and flung open my Bible in one of those desperate swipes, eager to read anything that might fix the growing uneasiness and despair within me. I looked down and there it was, with flashing lights and bells and whistles and the 2x4 ready to hit me over the head if I happened to miss it:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. — Jonah 2:8

I fell on my face before God. Never had my obsession and my fear been pointed out to me so clearly as an idol. And never before had a had such a fear at forfeiting the grace of God and throwing it away for something so worthless.

Not long after that I stumbled across Isaiah 50:10-11:

Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

I was struck with how often, when I don't see God giving me what I want or working in my life the way I expect, I just forge right ahead of him, lighting my own fires instead of trusting him in the dark. Forfeiting the love and trust of a sovereign God to get what I want and think I need because he isn't delivering the goods will only end in disaster.

Again, Keller points out that "...an idol is something we cannot live without. We must have it, and therefore it drives us to break rules we once honored, to harm others and even ourselves in order to get it. Idols are spiritual addctions that lead to a terrible evil."

No wonder the first commandment is this: You shall have no other gods before me. God knows that anything else we put before him will ultimately destroy us. Only he who made my heart belongs in the center of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Class VI Rapids and Sex

This morning on Facebook a friend posted a link to an article by Steve DeWitt. Steve is the 44 year-old pastor and he is getting married for the FIRST time (gasp!) this Saturday. The article, blogpost really, is called The Bachelor Pastor and actually has some excellent points and encouraging content. I had planned to share it on Facebook until I got near the end.

It is there that he recounts his battle to remain celibate until marriage, an admirable quality, indeed. Don't get me wrong. I am sure that such an accomplishment takes a tremendous amount of commitment, self-control, and prayer, if not a padlock on the zipper, and I know people who have maintained their virginity for decades. I salute them and admire them for this. For those of us who married at a younger age and at a different time and in a less sex saturated culture, the need for such vigilance and endurance was not quite as acute. It just seemed to me the author was congratulating himself and his fiance for their success and I couldn't help but feel for so many out there who have tried to remain pure but, in this area, have failed.

My husband says that there is nothing the world talks about more and the church talks about less than sex. I mean REALLY talk about sex. Most young people get the message, "There is this thing out there called sex. Don't do it." And they are never given the skills or the information to maneuver in a world saturated and drowning in sexual images, desires, and opportunities.

Before I went rafting down the Nantahala River we were given some safety tips. One of those tips was IF you are thrown from the boat and find yourself in the river, DO NOT PUT YOUR FEET DOWN! If you do and a foot gets stuck in the rocks, you could drown. You keep your feet up and yourself as much as possible on top of the water until you can make it to the side and/or someone can get to you. The intention was not to tell us this so that we go diving in to the water for the sheer fun of it, but things happen. Rocks jut up, other rafts ram in behind, the right current and the wrong angle and you can go flying and get very, very wet. Knowing what to do in the event of the swim made for a more relaxing and confident and safer raft ride.

The analogy is by no means perfect but I hope the point is clear enough. Some people are able to navigate the sexual vats of our culture without getting wet. Others fly, splash, and may even drown, some so much so that their shame prevents them from coming to Jesus. Purity becomes a black and white issue. All or nothing. Some struggle with feeling like second class citizens while others hang their heads, walk away and assume the pearly white kingdom doors are shut to the likes of them. They quit trying and get carried away by the Class VI rapids of our culture and of despair.

The truth is that we ALL need the gospel and we all need the gospel equally all the time for every choice and every breath. Sexual sin is like every other sin. You turn from your sin to God. You run TO Jesus. You are cleansed. You are made pure. A wise young woman said to me that purity is not a quantity to be used up, it is a lifestyle. A choice. You do not have to have a perfect track record to get into the good graces of God, as the woman at the well found out in John 4 and King David confessed in Psalm 51. What God desires is a broken and contrite heart.

Life is so much more than succeeding and failing. It is sinning and repenting. It is keeping our feet up and grabbing hold of Jesus if we get thrown into the rapids. It is reaching for Jesus over and over and over again, for he alone can create in us clean hearts and godly lives.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lesson 1: Special Forces Training

For the past...oh.....say 48 years or so, I have viewed most of the hard things in life as some sort of punishment. I have looked around at other people whose lives seem to be cruising along rather swimmingly and thought that if I could just get myself together somehow, my life would be like theirs. So I have interpreted anything hard in my life as somehow a result of my own failure. "If only I were smarter, more competent, more physically fit, prettier, mores popular, more disciplined, more spiritual, etc., then life wouldn't be so darn hard."

The last couple of years have been a real doozy. Hormonal challenges, parenthood challenges, interpersonal challenges, financial challenges. It's been everywhere I turn. Nothing... NOTHING has been easy. I despaired. IT'S ALL MY FAULT. GOD MUST HATE ME! Goodness! I've been a mess.
A few days ago I had a light bulb moment. I have no idea where this thought came from other than sometimes God just drops things straight down instead of through some more circuitous route. I was talking with a friend who was dealing with some of the same issues I've faced recently and she thanked me for being there and understanding where she was coming from. Of course! That is exactly what 2 Corinthians 1 talks about: "...who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any troubles with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." That's how God works. 

Then it hit me. Maybe what I'm experiencing ISN'T punishment. Maybe it isn't just a result of my own failure or inadequacies or sin. Maybe it is more like Special Forces Training. God trains different people for different tasks and maybe he is training me for the specific missions has in my future, be what they may.

Yesterday my son showed me a TV show. "Two Weeks in Hell". It shows life inside the Special Forces Assessment Center in North Carolina (yay!) where soldiers who desire to be in the Special Forces are put through two weeks of physical, mental and emotional hell in order to see which men have what it takes. It looks pretty darn miserable. 

This got me to thinking. Here is a situation where men voluntarily submit themselves to this kind of torture and can willingly leave if, at any point, the pressure becomes more than they can handle. But the whole point is to see if they have what it takes. The question is always "Are you strong enough?" Physically strong enough. Mentally strong enough. Emotionally strong enough. Can you reach inside and pull out more and more and more and those that can and do will move on to begin training for the hardest missions our world can dish up. 

But God's training is different. I didn't volunteer for this and, best I can tell, I can't willingly leave. It sounds like that would suck and it would if I had to, over and over again, look inside myself for some sort of strength that I know without a shadow of a doubt is not there. The world glories in strength. In the ability to endure. To tough it out. I WANT to be tough. I'm just... well... not.

But listen to this: 
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
— 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
"Great pressure." CHECK!
"Far beyond our ability to endure." CHECK!
"Despaired even of life." CHECK!
"That we might not rely on ourselves." WHAT?
"But on God who raises the dead." HALLELUJAH!

I don't have it in me. I don't have to. God does. This entire exercise is to learn how his power is made perfect in my weakness. And just where the strength comes from. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Time to put on my combat boots and get on with the day.

Drinking From a Fire Hose

Several years ago I was doing what I love best: Reading information from some nonfiction book most others would consider a bore. This particular book was an up close and personal description of some of the best colleges and universities in the country. When it came to California Institute of Technology, the writer likened learning there to drinking out of a fire hose. No trickle or steady flow of information that could be leisurely and slowly sipped in and absorbed, but a forceful torrent of cerebral goods that threatens to drown or at least blast one back about 30 feet. That's what the last few months have been like for me. But the learning is good. It is so, so good. God has brought wise people into my life to speak truth to me in a language I understand. He has stopped me in my muddy tracks as I gain a new perspective on my murky and twisted perceptions of relationships and events. Indeed, he has gone so far as to even give me some much needed "light bulb" moments just when I am blundering around in the dark.

I hope to begin sharing these hard learned lessons in the near future before I forget them. Maybe they will make sense to somebody else, too.

Friday, June 1, 2012

I Do It Myself

I just got an iPad. The jury is still out on whether it could ever fully replace a laptop, but it certainly comes in handy and I can take it with me wherever I go. Kind of like a puppy, but it doesn't need a leash.

So far my favorite thing about my iPad is the solitaire app. I'm fairly addicted. In fact, my husband, son, and I all vie for our turn to have at the cards and see what we can do.

This particular solitaire app even has the "hint" option. That is great if you get stuck, which I often do. Sometimes the hint just makes no sense at all. Sometimes it tells me "no useful moves detected." But every so often, especially when I am distracted or tired, the hint shows me the obvious. Just a gentle nudge about moving the red five onto the black six. Often after this hint I can go on to win the round. But I don't like it. I don't feel like I've won. Because I needed the hint, it means I didn't do it myself.

Funny, that. How you can learn something about life from a game of solitaire. I go along and get stuck but I want to figure it out myself. I bang my head against the wall. I NEED someone to give me a hint and point out the obvious. But then I feel bad for being so needy, for not figuring it out on my own. But we were never meant to live life alone.

The first time God said it wasn't good was when he saw Adam. Alone. And Adam NEEDED someone else.

Our need for one another seems to be written into the created order of things:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
— Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

When my oldest child was three, my husband and I reached out to hold her hands as we crossed a busy Wal-Mart Parking Lot From Hell. She grabbed her one hand with her other and exclaimed in defiance, "I hold mine own hand!" We laughed hysterically at the time, giggling at the naivete of it all. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed pixie of a girl assumed she could navigate the world, or at least her corner of it, all on her own.

I'm forty-eight and should know better. I should know that I was never created to do it alone and that sometimes I need a hand to hold. Sometimes I need someone to pick me up. And sometimes I just need someone to point out the obvious. And that's OK. I don't have to do it myself after all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Leading the Blind

Earlier this morning my husband shared with me an amusing podcast from This American Life. A man by the name of Ryan Knighton was sharing some rather humorous stories of life as a blind man, husband, and father. His first story involves trying to find a telephone in a hotel room and just how disoriented he gets. At one point he made the following statement: "When you are blind you can't assume anything. If you get a picture in your mind and you get it wrong, you just live inside your mistake."

Hold everything! That is my LIFE! I am forever assuming that I know what is going on. I form this entire picture in my mind of what life is and what God is doing and I get it all wrong and I end up living in my mistake. Instead of admitting my blindness and asking for help, I just forge ahead, assuming that I've got it all figured out, and I end up fumbling and bumbling around, or worse yet, lost and heading for disaster.

But God doesn't leave the blind to their own devices or misinformed guesses.

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
These are the things I will do;
    I will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)

I am thankful that I don't have to live inside my blind mistake. Instead of making assumptions, I can trust the God who sees it all.

One of Those Days

Ever had one of those days? Those days when you just feel kinda nasty? You move through life like groggy molasses, expecting to look down and find cannonballs glued to your feet. Your hair strangely resembles the broom you've had since 1992 and you feel all bloaty-like and your clothes are too tight but you know that if you were to lose any weight it wouldn't come off the wobbly parts and puffy bits but only off your face, which is already too thin, leaving you to look like the cover of some Dust Bowl Years documentary. 

A friend makes a comment about seeing a house that has been poorly maintained and you wonder what on earth he would say about YOUR poorly maintained house. But it is not for lack of trying. It is just that no matter what you do, the Powers To Undo are just stronger and faster and more persistent. The dog pulls used feminine products out of the bathroom trashcan and chews them up in the yard, leaving a very intimate welcome mat for whoever dares venture onto the property. You look in the bathtub and wonder why one small person can possibly need eleven bottles of personal care liquids and 3 razors and hasn't she ever heard of consolidation or at least a trash can? It doesn't make sense. It seems that nothing makes sense.

You were so productive yesterday but today is another story. The refrigerator you cleaned out yesterday smells like rotting broccoli today because you forgot all about the veggie drawer. The rain dribbles and the dogs snooze and you want to snooze, too. It could have something to do with the Benadryl you took last night to ward off the itchy ankles, but maybe not. Maybe having two productive days in a row is too much to ask. Maybe being still has its merits, even for, or maybe especially for, someone who feels so desperate to earn her keep. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to take all the questions and all the angst and all the pride and lay it at the feet of the One who tells me to be still and know that He is God. Maybe we need days like this, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Broken Mother's Day

Ugh! You'd think I'd like Mother's Day. But it seems like nothing but overkill to me. A day to stimulate the economy and raise the guilt meter. Greeting cards and jewelry stores and restaurants all seem to cash in on the day aimed at celebrating a woman in the one role in her life where she will never, ever feel like she is doing a good enough job.

I had a mother. I am a mother. My daughter will soon be a mother. As far as I can tell, we are (were, in my mother's case) human beings. Made in the image of God, but made of dust. Our culture has gone totally, certifiably nuts when it comes to mothers. We aren't to be mothers, regular people like you. We are Mothers: Superhuman. Mothers: Infallible. Mothers: Omnipresent Mothers: Omniscient. Mothers: All wise. All powerful. All good.

You moms out there, don't tell me you don't feel that pressure. But you know what? That is not a definition of a mother. That is the definition of God. (Westminster Shorter Catechism: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.)

I suppose there has always been pressure to be a perfect mother ever since that hives-inducing Proverbs 31 chapter showed up, but I think that, with rise of the Information Age, where instruction and opinions can be had at the turning of a page or the clicking of a mouse, the expectations have spun out of control.

We are told that our choices in feeding, immunizing (or not), disciplining, scheduling (or not), training, nurturing, and educating our children will determine who they become and where they go in life. Young mothers write blogs on the holiness of this calling. Educators urge parents to raise the trajectory of their children's lives. Alarmists tell you that giving your child a vaccine will make them autistic. Doctors tell you that NOT giving your child a vaccine will give the entire country polio. And on and on and on, ad nauseum. And it's ALL UP TO US.

Since when were we God? What makes us so powerful? I think some of this is a backlash against the career woman movement so that stay-at-home moms could feel important. I remember the first time I heard the saying "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world," I felt a sense of pride and significance. I hear that now and totally freak out. Don't give me that kind of power. I'll screw it up. I'm just a person and a very broken one at that.

I had issues with my own mother. Over time, and upon reflection after her death, those struggles that loomed so large are disappearing in the rear view mirror, growing smaller in the distance. But at one time in my life I was actually afraid of my mother. I didn't know how to interact with her yet be my own person. I didn't know how to love her yet stay safe from a vortex of dysfunctional relations and unrealistic expectations. A counselor commented to me, "Your mother seems awfully powerful." I agreed. "More powerful even than God." I agreed again. Wow! "That is sin. You are attributing to your mother the power only reserved for God." This wasn't just a light bulb moment, it was a whole illuminated sign of light bulbs. Like Times Square on New Year's.

Aren't we doing the same thing? Aren't we, when we expect the mother to be the be-all-and-end-all of her child's existence, giving her too much power? When we expect the mother to be the lawgiver and rule keeper and trainer and sustainer and provider and coach and comforter? When we expect the mother to make all the right decisions and create all the precious moments and grind the wheat and cook organically on a budget and connect with her children in all the deep levels and mold their conscience and right their wrongs and motivate and never, ever, ever grow weary or need a stiff drink?

We are expecting mothers to be God. But I know one thing. I'm NOT God. I am a mother. A terribly sinful, flawed, broken mother who tried her best on some days and gave it all up with a whimper on others. I love my children more than life itself, but there is no way I can ever be everything to them or for them. My mother didn't have the power to determine who I became. I don't have the power to determine who my children become. Only God can do that. And for that I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chip

I love my dog but some days he can drive me positively mad. Chip is a big lumbering hunk of a beast who basically resembles a barrel with legs. We got him from Animal Compassion Network and, according to them, his mother was at least part border collie and only 40 lbs. When I was looking him over the Animal Lover People told me that he would only grow to "about 40 lbs." Idiot I was, I didn't realize that the darling  pup was likely already 40 lbs. with miles yet to go.

Chip has been a fabulous dog. Certainly the best dog we've ever had. Quite possibly the best dog on the planet. That is until it comes to walkies. For several years he was a good boy. He would poop in the woods and come when we called and say "please" and "thank you" (well, not really with words, anyway). He would stay in the vicinity of our yard, with no fence, and we could walk him off the leash for the most part. Good boy that he was, he was in voice command maybe 98% of the time with Matt and oh, maybe 80% of the time with me.

But there were times when he was a goner. Deaf as a doornail. That was when there was the smell of some critter about. It was like he could only have a couple of senses going at the same time so if his nose turned on, his ears turned off and he was all alone in the world. Just him and his little precious bunny, oh, so scrumptious.

Then one day he caught sight of a cat. Not any cat but the cat of an elderly couple on the next street. He took off much faster than I thought was physically possible, given his heft, and shut his ears to the hand that feeds him. By the time I got to the scene of the crime he was spinning himself in circles with poor, evil Fluffy affixed to his torso, resisting the pull of the centrifugal force by the sheer power of her claws. When it was all said and done, the cat was fine except for a bruised ego but refused to eat for days, necessitating two trips to the vet. A slightly nasty and condescending letter from her owner and $152 pet bill later, Chip was on a leash.

So, I had to walk the boy on the leash. A pain, of course, but he was emotionally traumatized and would refuse to walk that direction in the neighborhood anyway. So I took to going farther afield and he seemed happy enough until the day he got the hankering for chicken.

Remember that we had no fenced in yard for this pup. A short distance through some woods is an illegally placed camper type residential option whose occupants are not the most savory characters on the planet. One fall day I was busy with the leaves when Chip disappeared for a while. Later we got a visit from one of the characters. I don't think it was the one commonly referred to as "Wild Bill," but I could be wrong. According to him, Chip had eaten his chickens. Or at least killed them. Or maybe he was attempting to greet them up close and personal and all and was a bit too vigorous in his hospitality. I don't know, but they swore up and down Chip was the culprit and their precious chickens were gone.

Not wanting to start a feud with our neighbors, illegal as they were, Matt offered to pay them for the chickens. "Them's fightin' chickens!" Say, what? Mr. Take You For All You're Worth proceeded to tell us that these were prize chickens, worth $100 a piece. Knowing that we were being taken but not wanting to fight over something like poultry when there may one day be bigger fish (or chicken) to fry (there had been an easement dispute with the property owner), Matt coughed over the money in a show of good will all the while being told that if Chip came over there again they would feel free to shoot him. And that's when we fenced in the yard.

Back to my initial point. I love my dog but he drives me crazy. Turns out he's considerably larger than a Border Collie, perhaps part St. Bernard, and, with the onset of middle age and the confinement that comes from leash walking and fence-in living, he's grown into quite the portly fellow. The vet wants him to lose 15 lbs. but Chip isn't getting with the program. When I walk him I'm DRAGGING the dog up hill, all the while his collar is up around his ears, the only thing keeping it from coming off is the roll of fat that comes with it. It's like ratcheting  up the tension on an exercise bike, only I'm the one getting the exercise and he is ambling along looking positively miserable.

Maybe one day I'll have success with the Doggie Spa and Fitness Center and he will have energy again. But I'm not banking on it. Meanwhile, he is fairly self contained and happy, unless he's walking.

To Blog Or Not To Blog

It seems like at least five times a day somebody on Facebook is linking to somebody's else's blog post. Every so often I'll go in and read these posts and I almost always come away feeling like "why bother?" Why should I bother blogging when there are women out there who are so much wiser or funnier or more insightful and much better writers. I know, this isn't a contest and I am the last person on the planet to want to compete. I hate competition with a passion, perhaps from my years of always coming in last, but anyway, I sometimes wonder if it is worth the effort.

These blogger women seem so young and beautiful and talented and they all have like a gazillion kids and homeschool and have big gardens (organic, of course) and bake their own bread and, quite possibly, even grind their own wheat. They cook and love to do it and post recipes. They tell stories of great spiritual insights gained when conversing theology with a 4 year-old in a beautiful hand-smocked dress. They seem to have animals, too. They are all so perky, with their latte infused humor and Pinterest sense of style. Their children are gorgeous chore-loving cherubs, their husbands handsome and strapping, and their hormones mostly intact. Why write when there is already so much better stuff out there?

I do have things that come to mind. And friends keep encouraging me to write. But there are so many limitations. Already the hapless victims of my Facebook charades, two of my offspring do not want to be mentioned in any way, shape or form in a Facebook status, much less an emotion-laden blog. I must respect that. I must respect them. They did not sign up to have their life on cyber display, even if only 68 people ever view that particular post. I could go into greater detail with the struggles I had growing up but there I must tiptoe along a fine line between honesty and honoring the parents that brought me into this world. It's just so much more complicated than I thought it would be.

Life is messy. That is what I know. And, from what I hear, you are to write what you know. At least that's how it seems to work best for most people. But how do I write about messy and who on earth would want to read it? I am totally stumped.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Chore Time

Kids around the world do chores. Mothers across this great and mighty land of ours organize their offspring and mobilize their activities via chore charts. Some charts are simple with stars or check marks. Others are more sophisticated. And yet others resemble the inner workings of a top secret nuclear power plant. My chore chart isn't like any of these because, well... because I don't have one.

Chores is one aspect of motherhood I suck at. One of many, but one that causes me no end of grief and gnashing of teeth. Why has getting my children to do chores always been so darn hard for me? It seems like every mother on the planet succeeds in this area, producing highly competent children who are paragons of responsible citizenship, children who could run a small republic, if need be, before the onset of puberty.

It wasn't for lack of trying, of course, but by the time I got around to the chore ideas, other families were far, far ahead. I once had a friend call me and ask if I had any ideas for how to get her 3 year-old son to make up his bed neatly. NEATLY. My three year-olds were hardly even potty trained, much less pulling up and smoothing out bed linens. This is just an example. The problem was, when it came to chores, I was out of my league.

You see, I didn't grow up with chores. We had a maid, Rose (for more info on that see my February blog post on this dear lady). Rose pretty much did everything. I don't remember anything that I HAD to do. It wasn't that I didn't want to do it, I just was never told to. On top of that, I was a pathetically compliant kid, so anything you told me to do I would have done with no back talk and a lot of guilt that I wasn't doing it well enough (such is my life....sigh). So I had no modeling on how to run an army of short, short workers.

Add to that the fact that I have absolutely NO managerial skills. Now, why on earth a woman with no intimidation value, managerial skills, or backbone intentionally brought forth four children in six years is beyond me. But have them I did. I just didn't know what to do with them once they were here. Still don't.

I bought the charts with the stickers and the stars and wrote their names and then was stumped. I couldn't even divvy up the work to be done. What if it wasn't even? What if one was harder than the other? What would be the consequences? You mean I'm gonna have to remember to remind them? And then I'll have to remember to enforce it? And then I'll have to remember to fork over consequences for chores left undone? Sheesh! And what if it needs to be done and they are not home. What then? That's a lot of work. My brain short circuited and fried itself, nice and crispy.

Meanwhile, other moms were teaching their kids to clean and vacuum and sweep and cook and sew and plant gardens and grocery shop and milk cows and feed chicks and roof the house (ok, maybe not that, but you get the picture). I had no idea how to do half of that stuff myself, much less teach my kids to do it.

I threw out the chore charts in exasperation and gave up. Eventually we got our kids to do their own laundry by the time they were 16. And that is about where it stands. My house is not run like a well-oiled machine. It's messy. There are rings in the toilets sometimes. Bath towels seem most at home on the bedroom floor. Dishes stack up beside beds.

I worry that my lack of chore training will hurt them in life. That somehow they will move into adulthood handicapped because they never had to unload the dishwasher on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays or vacuum the living room every day at 5 p.m. or get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows before walking 3 miles to the school bus.

I would imagine that everybody that reads this will rush to defend chores and, frankly, I don't blame them. I am in no way saying they are wrong. I am just saying that I must be the only person on the planet that has really and truly failed in this area of motherhood.

It is what it is. I love my children anyway. God gave them to me anyway. And his grace is sufficient even for this.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Reliable Cog

Have you ever noticed that so many scholarships and awards out there are for people with leadership potential? When my oldest was applying to college, we were struck by this. The most coveted scholarship, the one with the most financial outlay, was for those superstars with leadership skills. Even with the lesser scholarships, the goal seemed to be to find those students with that extra "something" that set them apart from the crowd and gave them a leg up.

Now there is nothing wrong with being a leader. Heaven knows we need them. Good ones. Strong ones. Wise ones. But there is a reason for the phrase "too many chiefs and not enough Indians." We can't ALL be leaders. We can't all be stars. Somebody has got to follow. Somebody must set up and take down. Somebody must organize. Somebody must direct. Have you ever noticed at the end of a movie all those names. Line upon line of names doing jobs that make no sense to us. But they were all part of the production that became the movie. We only recognize the stars. But they never could have made the production without the hundreds of people behind the scenes.

Most of life needs a few leaders and a lot of reliable cogs. We need those who have, in our estimation, bit parts and small jobs. Jobs that go unappreciated until they aren't done. Parts that are unnoticed until they break down. A bad seal caused the Challenger explosion in 1986. A bit part. Easy to overlook. But the link between life and death.

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul talks about the Body of Christ being like a real body. We each have different parts but serve one body. And it is sometimes those lesser parts of the body that serve such an important purpose. Shortly after Matt and I were married I had an accident that included cabbage, a brand new really, really sharp knife, and lots of blood. The end result was that I lost an entire fingernail. Never before had I given a fingernail any thought at all, except when my oldest sister laughed at my nails because they grew in square.

Over the course of the next few weeks, as I eagerly awaited my new nail to grow in, I was shocked and pained (quite literally) to find out just how important the fingernail actually is. I think there may be no place on the human body as tender as the naked nail bed. The naked nail bed of the index finger finds just about anything first. Scissors, ends of coat hangers, door frames, razor blades, bricks. Even something as soft as a pillow can inflict pain on something so tender. So it is with us. Some of us are heads. Some of us are hearts. Some of us are feet. But some of us are fingernails. And the body will really hurt without us.

One day my husband and I, if we are ever wealthy enough, will start a scholarship, a Reliable Cog scholarship, for the student who is conscientious and responsible and hardworking, but lacks the bells and whistles of the great leaders and superstars of the world. Because reliable cogs are important, too.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Envy Sucks

My sister-in-law came to visit and brought with her Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung's book Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies. In describing the subject matter, my sis-in-law flipped to the first vice in the list, envy, and began to read aloud. Never before had I heard a more accurate description of much that ails me. I was so engrossed that she left the book in my hands and went back to Missouri empty-handed.

The bottom line for the envious is how they stack up against others, because they measure their self-worth comparatively.

Based on the description, envy has always been my vice of choice. It stems from a sense of powerlessness and inferiority that sees anyone else's good attributes as a threat to one's own worth. It's mode of operation is by comparison. And that I can do on an Olympic scale.

I think most females are rather good at comparing. We do this from an early age, comparing looks, friends, popularity. Then boyfriends. Some girls are high strung and driven and compare grades (I never did that until I was 47, after I had mastered comparing in all other venues). Then we have houses and babies. Or babies and houses, depending on how you order things, and the comparing moves from an amateur to a professional level. How many of us have visited a neat and tidy home of a mother of 5 and gone back to our own cribs of chaos with the dog hair and the sticky counter tops and the mountains of laundry and the smell of rotting broccoli coming from... from... somewhere and felt terribly inferior by comparison? Even James Dobson has said that the worst thing that one mother can do to another is to clean up before the other mother comes over for a visit. The mighty Dr. Dobson knows that we will compare with one another. It's what we do.

Envy has always been a huge and driving force in my life. From my earliest years when I was painstakingly shy, to when I was so aware of another's popularity or beauty, to the years as an awkward, hormonal teen with a grill of metal in my mouth and the coordination of a herd of cattle. Everyone else was pretty. Everyone else was popular. Others got into the good clubs. Others got elected positions. I "trailed and failed" at pretty much everything. Envy went deeper.

College brought much of the same, with possibly the inklings of understanding that there was a God who created me. I was given respite for a few years as I made my way into adulthood and marriage. Then came motherhood and it was all over.

There is nothing... NOTHING... like becoming a mother to dig up every insecurity known to man... or woman. Motherhood is the comparison game on steroids. From pregnancy weight gain to birth stories to feeding choices to sleeping styles to schedules vs. non-schedules to discipline styles to education choices. It can be a wretched, wretched world, motherhood, and some are so very competent at it while others are so very pale in comparison.

I could go on and on with descriptions of my insecurities but I won't because the point is that, no matter what stage of life I'm in, I will find myself comparing myself with others and always, always come up lacking in some way. And envy, taken root and blossoming, produces a hideous fruit. I see that. I see that in myself. And I go to the Master Gardener and beg him to remove the weed that is choking the life out of me, choking out my ability to love others and embrace life because my eyes are on myself and not on the one who made me—for it is he who has made me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I Don't Know Nothing 'Bout Birthin' No.....

I've always wondered about those ladies that give birth who never knew they were pregnant. My last four posts were about my own experiences and there is no way I wouldn't have known. The missed periods. The nausea. The barfing at the drop of a hat (or at the scent of bacon or the mention of pizza). The greenish tint to my face. The wobbling of the alien in my belly. The belly that slowly morphs into an overinflated yoga ball. It just seems uncanny to me that anybody could miss this. But people do.

After watching numerous episodes of "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" on YouTube, I have picked up trends with these poor women who are completely clueless to the baby making factory at work inside their bellies. It seems that a number of them continued to have periods or had repeated negative pregnancy tests. Some had been told they were infertile. Others were on birth control. They attributed bodily changes to stress or gas or lifestyle changes. I can KIND OF see how this could happen. If you are a large woman, at least, and have never had a baby.

What I can't understand are the women who have been pregnant before and yet don't know they are pregnant again. Does nothing seem remotely familiar to them? That kicking was a baby last time but dancing gas bubbles this go round? I guess if this undetected pregnancy is so totally different from the other pregnancy, you could even rationalize that.

But this is what I don't get. In every single episode the woman begins to describe this awful pain and cramping, which we, the snickering audience, all know is labor. She usually ends up running to the bathroom and plopping the baby out on the floor (head first, of course) or, better yet, straight into the toilet. Sometimes it actually takes the baby squawking and doing backstroke to get the lady to even look down and come to grips with the fact that what she just pushed out was NOT a result of last night's adventures at La Cucaracha House of Beans.

How..... HOW does this not feel the least bit familiar? I can understand that if you haven't given birth there is no way, unless somebody informs you beforehand, to know that giving birth is the sensory equivalent of pushing a watermelon out a hole the size of a lemon. Or rather POOPING out a watermelon through a hole the size of a lemon. Nobody prepared me for that one, either. (Come to think of it, our cat had her first litter of kittens in the litter box. One can only assume she went there awaiting a huge deposit and was met with quite a surprise....five of them.)

But if you've already given birth once, assuming it wasn't a caesarean, certainly some of this would ring a bell to you. Maybe? Perhaps these ladies opted for the epidural too soon first time around and had no clue what labor really feels like. I don't know. But that is another reason that I like natural childbirth. If you know what it feels like when you KNOW you're pregnant, you're better prepared next time, even if caught off guard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Parenthood: Pregnancy and Chilbirth
Take #4

Much to the surprise of most everyone we knew, and to the chagrin of many of them, we actually conceived Baby #4 on purpose. At this point the other kids were 5, 3 and 1 and let's just say nobody ever viewed me as the most competent mother on the planet. One friend, upon hearing the news, actually came up and whispered "I'm sorry" to me, assuming that she was comforting a shocked and overwhelmed mother.

Shocked? No. Overwhelmed? Yes. But our thought was why not just go ahead and lump all the chaos together? They can all be teenagers at the same time. That will be fun. Right? RIGHT?

I was as sick as ever this time. Not necessarily throwing up but nauseated beyond belief. I could not cook. At all. If I cooked it and ate it I threw it up. At one point I lived on McDonald's cheeseburgers and orange drink. This was the summer of 1995 and Jars of Clay had just come out with their first album. We had the cassette tape and my husband played it over and over and over again, ad nauseum (quite literally), so that for years afterwords, every time I heard a song from that album, I could taste the McDonald's cheeseburger and the big orange drink and feel the wave of nausea wash over me.

When I found out I was pregnant, I knew that there was a possibility that this might be my last. I really wanted a good birth experience. I was frustrated by the way I was treated by the eye rolling, sarcasm oozing triage nurse when I went to the hospital with Baby #3 and I had had a very bad experience with the postpartum nurse after his birth. I had also struggled with pretty severe postpartum depression and didn't want any events that might make that worse. But mainly, I really, really wanted to give a home birth a try.

We interviewed our midwife and were pretty impressed when she said she had quit counting after she had delivered 2000 babies. She was a Certified Nurse Midwife, which appealed to my law abiding side (lay midwifery is considered a misdemeanor in the state of North Carolina), and brought along all sorts of important stuff like Pitocin and oxygen, which appealed to my cautious medical side. I was also more comfortable with the idea since we lived about 7 minutes from the hospital.

My only concern was that she lived in Mars Hill, about 20 minutes north of us, but regularly went to visit her sister over the mountain in Johnson City, TN. And this was February. One time I thought I might be in labor. She was in Johnson City and it was snowing on Sam's Gap, the highest part of the highway between the two cities. But that petered out.

Well, my due date (2/9) came and went and no baby. I had really thought that perhaps this one would come early like #1 and #3. I had even gone sledding and chased the garbage truck down the road, but to no avail. No labor. On Wednesday, February 14, she checked me and still not a lot was going on... maybe a centimeter or two. We planned that, if I hadn't gone into labor by Friday, I would make a milkshake with castor oil in it which would get certain things moving below which would then, hopefully, stimulate other things to get moving.

By noon on Thursday I was about as crabby as I can ever remember being. And hungry. I ate everything I could get my hands on. A friend came over for a while and while we were talking , around 2:30 p.m., I started having contractions about 10 minutes apart. That went on for about 1.5 hours and got a little closer together. I called my husband to come home from work and he said he would start walking. We only one car at the time and I had it. I blasted him with "What the **** are you thinking!" (remember I was very crabby). A friend gave him a ride home.

I took a shower and the kids took late naps as we timed the contractions. They got closer together and finally we called the midwife around 6:00. She told us to call her in another 30 minutes to report back. Around 7:00, my husband took the kids across the street to a neighbor's house and then I got in the bathtub. Funny how that tub had seemed so deep when I was leaning over bathing the kids. Now the full tub of water only covered about half of my bloated belly. I lay there, like a hormonally devastated whale, groaning through contraction after contraction.

The midwife and her assistant arrived at 7:30 and started setting up shop. I was so afraid that she was going to say that I hadn't dilated yet. At 7:45 she came in to check me and said the most beautiful words: "You are a good 9." She told me to have a couple more contractions in the tub and then move to the toilet and try pushing.

I got to the toilet and had one outrageous contraction that apparently expanded my limited vocabulary of expletives. Good thing it was winter and the windows were closed. (Houses were close together in our neighborhood.) With that contraction, my water broke and another contraction jumped in on the fun. My midwife said in a gentle, sweet voice, "OK, when you have a lull we need to get you to the bed." And all I could squeal was "LULL? WHAT LULL? THERE IS NO LULL" over and over again.

The midwife, who I guess had seen it all, looked knowingly at my husband, who had almost lost a piece of his ear in the last contraction, and they picked me up and carried me across the hall to the bed as Baby was crowning. My husband landed on the bed. I landed on my husband. And Baby #4 popped out. (Reminding me of what my former midwife had said about what I would do if I ever got hold of a small, anterior baby).

Our little girl was born at 8:00 p.m. weighing in at a precise 7 lbs. An hour later the other kids came back home. It was peaceful and wonderful. I would do it again, if I were younger and still had the necessary equipment.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Parenthood: Pregnancy and Chilbirth
Take #3

Well, I was hooked. Childbirth with Baby #2 had been a blast. A long, hard, painful, excrutiating blast and I wanted to do it again. I love babies. I love birthing babies. I love nursing babies. I love holding babies. And I wanted more babies.

By December of 1992 we had moved to North Carolina and I was ready to roll but my husband said that we had to conceive a house before we could conceive a baby. So we moved into our house August of 1993 and by September had conceived yet again. Perhaps it was the time of year or the sea bands that I wore or the fact that (unknown at the time) I was expecting a boy, but the nausea wasn't quite as bad this go round.

A friend was a Bradley childbirth instructor and my husband and I had a blast learning anything and everything related to birth. I had thoroughly impressed my midwife with my endurance during Baby #2's birth ("If you ever get ahold of a small, anterior baby you will shoot that thing across the room") and was gonna do it again. But we weren't living in Philly anymore so I had to find a new midwife/OB. There weren't any midwives that delivered at our local hospital so I opted for an MD who had apparently let a woman push for 4 hours (word on the street was that most MDs would only let you push for 2 and then cut you open).

My due date was June 5 but by early May I was pretty miserable. On top of the usual pregnancy stuff I had severe itching. Not just on my belly but on my arms and legs. It was so bad I couldn't sleep at night and I was clawing my skin off. My liver enzymes were normal so they ruled out interhepatic cholestasis of pregnancy and said I just needed to have the baby. Thank you.

On Tuesday, May 24, I was 3-4 cm dilated, 75% effaced, my cervix was aimed and ready to fire and the baby was at 0 station. My husband named my waddle the Zero Station Strut. On Wednesday I started having some very watery discharge. This had happened with Baby #2 and it had just been from the effacement. It wasn't a tremendous amount and nothing that concerned me. Later Wednesday evening I began to have regular contractions and we took the girls to a friend's house as we went home to see how things progressed. The contractions fizzled and so did my emotions.

Thursday brought things off and on. I kept thinking, "Gee, if I was 3-4 on Tuesday imagine what I might be now with all this activity." Now let it be known that my mother did not know she was in labor with me and ended up getting to the hospital 15 minutes before I was born. I couldn't help but think, and hope, that I was following the same pattern.

I made pancakes for supper because I figured if I was going to throw something up, they would be the least gross. After supper I had to go to the bathroom. Now here is the weird thing... and to this day I am not sure what happened. I sat down to pee and couldn't. All I got was this very bizarre pressure and burning sensation and, of course, I figured I was about to have the baby. It felt exactly like it did when Baby #2 was crowning.

I screamed to my husband, we grabbed the kids and threw them out the door (braking to a slow roll) at our friend's house on the way to the hospital. No, I had not called the doctor. Who had time to call the doctor? We got there and rolled back to triage. The nurse checked me. Laughed. Rolled her eyes and said with sarcasm and a huff, "She thinks she in labor." Well, if I wasn't in labor what the heck was I in, mind you? It was so bizarre. I was 2 cm dilated, 25% effaced and my cervix was posterior again. Huh? I've gone backwards? Now that's skill.

The doctor came down to check it out himself and noticed the watery discharge and discovered that it was not discharge at all, but amniotic fluid. I had been leaking for perhaps days. They gave me 2 options. Go home and come back at 6 in the morning to be induced or go ahead and do it now. I was worn out and emotional and decided that after all this I was most certainly NOT going to leave the hospital without a baby. So up we went to labor and delivery.

This was not the way I wanted things to go. I wanted a natural birth. All my life I had wanted to be good at something and had decided that maybe childbirth was it. This was not in the plan. God provided us with a wonderful labor and delivery nurse who understood my desires and worked with us. I got hooked up to all the bells and whistles and at about 10:30 p.m. had that first Pitocin contraction.

Holy cow! That stuff was bad. A contraction came... and then another one... and then another.... My nurse came in a few minutes later, looked at the monitor readouts and said, well, I see you are having nice contractions about 5 minutes apart. FIVE MINUTES! If they were 5 minutes apart then they were lasting for 4.5 of those minutes. When she heard this she checked me and I was already at 6 cm. I got a "whoa, you may be going fast" out of her as she ran to find the doctor who was playing a human pinball with 5 women in labor.

Somewhere along the way I started wanting an epidural because I couldn't take it anymore. Well, the Bradley class teaches about emotional signposts of labor and when you are at the "I can't take this anymore" stage you are in transition and almost ready to push. I got through that section growing fangs and breathing fire and headed on to the pushing. Memories of Baby #2 came flooding back and the thought of a 5 hour pushing extravaganza overwhelmed me. "Please don't tell me it's posterior," I begged. I heard the amused doc mumble under his breath, "It's posterior."

Well after 20 minutes of pushing one way and turning and pushing another the doctor told me to reach down and pull out my baby. Pull I did, and out came Baby #3 at 12:09 a.m. "It's a little boy!" I cried. "It's a BIG boy!" said the doctor. And yes, Baby #3 was a beautiful, healthy 8 lb. 7 oz. boy. And he was purple, like a large, squealing grape.

He pinked up nicely and I asked for something for cramps. Instead of the expected ibuprofen they gave me Stadol, which had me loosened up and loopy and saying all kinds of things to a friend across the state, who I called shortly after his birth.

I still wonder what it was that I was feeling when I went to pee that night and why on earth I went backwards in my progress. My Bradley instructor thought that perhaps he was spinning on my cervix (doesn't THAT sound nice!). My theory is that the leak in my amniotic sac took just enough pressure off my cervix for it to un-dilate a bit. Who knows?

My postpartum nurse was a real winner. She treated me like an idiot, even though this was my third child, and had me so upset that I was in tears by the time I went home later that day. I was determined not to have that experience again.

Parenthood: Pregnancy and Childbirth
Take #2

By the time Baby #1 was about 6 months old I was ready to do it again. It just seemed the natural thing to do. Biology took a little longer to think so. But one Saturday afternoon, shortly before she turned a year, our little cherub screamed from her crib as if to yell, "I know what you're doing in there and I don't like it" while her younger sibling was conceived.

Because I hadn't been terribly regular yet, it was a few days before I noticed I was late. I must have been about 5 weeks along. The little cube produced a plus sign and we were on our way. I felt strangely fine. I had had some bizarre cravings for Italian Hoagies at breakfast, but other than that I was fine. Famous last words.

A week later I was flat. Totally unable to function. But this go-round I had a toddler. I would lie in bed as long as I could each morning, nibbling Kix or Cheerios straight out of the box while Child #1 ransacked whatever she could find. I didn't care. Just leave me alone. I distinctly remember giving her a box of Kleenex to do with as she wished just so I could lie there for 20 more minutes and groan.

Now I didn't throw up every day all day like I did with my first, I just FELT like I was going to, which, in many ways, was worse because I never got any relief. Certain foods could really push me over the edge. One evening we drove past a restaurant with the word PIZZA lit up in neon. The sight of the word set me gagging. Another time I was babysitting a neighbor's son who was just about a year old. I was pleased with myself for having such a good morning when the inevitable happened. I had to change his diaper. The poor kid was on some sort of antibiotic which made something unpleasant downright unbearable. I threw up right then and there. I held him on the top of the dresser with one hand while I leaned over and lost my pancakes onto the floor. Poor guy didn't know what hit him.

Because of my poor birth experience the first go-round, I opted to go with a midwife this time who delivered at a smaller hospital and had good medical backup. Baby #1 came along a week early so I was just convinced that all my babies would be early. I started thinking I was in labor with Baby #2 at about 36 weeks and on and on it went. My due date (10/21) came and went with no baby. I was enormous. My 20 month old toddler could actually take shelter from the rain under my belly.

Friday morning, October 25 dawned. It was my 28th birthday and my husband was home sick with a cold. I wandered around all day in a bad mood and totally bummed that it was my birthday and we couldn't even afford to order a pizza (payday was not until the next week), much less get one of those yummy cakes from the bakery on the next block. I made myself a pathetic salad, watched Jeopardy, and began to get contractions. I was a bit of an emotional wreck and just couldn't figure out what was going on and was convinced that I was NEVER going to go into labor. After all, I hadn't really gone into labor the first time.

My in-laws came and got Baby #1 so we could figure things out and we headed to the hospital around 11:15 p.m. I was 4 cm dilated and my midwife gave me the option of going home for a while. My ever so rational mind told me that if I left the hospital I would never have the baby—so we stayed. I spent the majority of the night in the tub and do not remember labor being all that bad. Along about 6 a.m. my midwife said I was close to 10 cm and suggested that I start pushing. From there things got difficult. I pushed and pushed and pushed. I got in every position known to man. I stood, sat, squatted, rolled. Nothing would happen. Finally, just as she was on the verge of calling the backup doctor for a c-section, things started to progress. As it turns out, this baby was posterior with a compound presentation. Her right fist was up at her left temple. No wonder I... well, never mind.

Now, I had been so sure that this baby was a boy. The pregnancy had been a bit different. I had carried differently. It just seemed that that was the way it was going to be. At long last, at 10:56 a.m. Baby #2 was born. She had a head of thick black hair and didn't look a thing like our first, so I was sure that she was a boy. Nope. She was an 8 lb. 9 oz. baby girl with a host of "stork bites."

My in-laws brought Big Sister in that afternoon. She looked at her Baby Sister, leaned over, and yanked a handful of that thick, black hair. Ah, siblings. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Parenthood: Pregnancy and Chilbirth
Take #1

You know the phrase "morning sickness." Well, somebody goofed up. Let's just call it "sickness." Mid-morning sickness. Noon sickness. Afternoon sickness. Dusk sickness. Twilight sickness. Bedtime sickness. Get-up-and-pee-in-the-middle-of-the-night sickness. Wretched, wretched sickness. By the time I was 5 weeks pregnant (for those of you uneducated in the calculations of all things pregnancy related, that's 5 weeks from the first day of your last period, or approximately 3 weeks post conception, or approximately 1 week after your period was due), I was tossing my cookies (or whatever morsel I found remotely appetizing) wherever I could.

We were living in Atlanta at the time and my job was a good 19 miles away. Because we had one car, my husband would drive me to work and then head off to school. We soon hit a rhythm. We would eat breakfast (usually something I wouldn't mind seeing again in about 20 minutes). He would drive. I would ride and, at some point during the commute, barf into a stainless steel mixing bowl. Once at the building, I would head to my office while Matt would take the bowl to the bathroom and do away with its not quite digested contents. He'd bring the bowl back to me and be off on his way.

Throughout the day I would have to nibble constantly to keep from getting sick. I kept my handy bowl in my desk drawer just in case. One day, after my boss had gotten on me for eating at my desk, I tried... tried... tried to make it until noon without eating and almost (yes, ALMOST) succeeded. At 11:55 I lost it all. In my bowl. In the drawer. I seriously doubt that front desk barfing is considered more highly professional than front desk eating. I think my boss let up on me after that.

I was pretty miserable all day, every day, up until the end of the first trimester and then, almost like magic, the nausea stopped. The spewing stopped. And I turned human again. For the most part things progressed uneventfully. When I was 7 months along, we moved to from Atlanta to Philadelphia and in with my in-laws until my husband could find a job and us a place of our own.

OK. For the record I went into childbirth the way most first-time moms do. Totally ignorant and a lot befuddled (come to think of it... that's is how I go through life in general). I was due February 12. On the morning of February 5 I was lying in bed next to my husband and waiting to hear the bathroom door open, which would be my cue that his dad was out and it was my turn to take myself and my overfull bladder in. Then I felt the slighest almost scratch down under and a weird sensation. The bed was all wet but I still needed to pee. I was with it enough to realize what had happened. This being our first child we totally panicked and called the doctor who told us to come right in, regardless of the fact that my contractions hadn't even started.

Well, I tried to get dressed... what I mean by "tried" is that my water was flowing as profusely as the Nile at that point. Desperate for a solution, I grabbed a cloth diaper and stuffed it in my monster panties just so we could get to the hospital, later to be know as "the hospital from hell."

Once at the hospital. which, by the way, was like a movie set from Marcus Welby, MD, I got all set up and ready to focus on my stuffed bear and breathe my special Lamaze breathing and birth out a baby like all of womankind before me. Enter Dr. K., AKA Dr. Kielbasa Fingers. This dude was separated at birth with Dom Deloise and Paul Prudhomme, the Cajun Chef. He had fingers the size of Polish sausages. I must say that there should be a rule about that in medical school. You don't go into this rather dainty line of work if you are going to kill your patient with your beefy digits.

Anyway, Dr. Kielbasa Fingers checks me out to see how I am progressing and decides that he is not sure that he is feeling our little bundle's head. Alas, all this time, instead patting little bundle on the butt I had been banging her on the head. Yep, C-section time.

I got the epidural, which was definitely NOT an enjoyable experience. I am still amazed that people opt to get one voluntarily. Well, they start working on carving me open and I get these weird sensations. I can't breathe. Or at least I think I can't breathe. I tell the anesthesiologist this. I YELL the anesthesiologist this. He assures me that if I can yell, I can breathe and not to worry, the epidural just took a little too high.

My little girl was born at 11:14 a.m., weighing in at 7 lb., 1 oz. She had apparently been having a jolly time doing flip turns in utero as the umbilical cord was around her neck 3 times. The powers that were gave me a split second glimpse of her and whisked her off to heaven-knows-where, not to be seen again for hours. Meantime, the dude with the fingers put me back together again—a hormonal and shaky Humpty Dumpty.

Apparently there was something going on with the planets or stars or gravitational pull that day because everyone due between mid January and mid February all showed up to have their babies at the same time. There were no vacant recovery rooms, so the nurse wheeled me into an equipment room, told Matt he had to move the car or it would be towed, and left the room. So there I was. A wiggly blob of flesh. In a closet. Alone.

This was back in the day when you stayed in the hospital 4-5 days after a caesarean. I had this nurse from the Russian Front, possibly named Helga or Brunhilda, who would come in and sit me up and start raking through my hair with a brush as my husband winced and my eyes teared. She would bring me my baby when she jolly well pleased and take her away on a whim and feed her sugar water because she wanted to. We were too clueless to know any better. After that experience we decided that next time it would have to be different.

Home: The Kitchen

Years ago my husband made a very astute observation: "Our country took a turn for the worse when it traded in Erma Bombeck for Martha Stewart." I'm thankful that he sees things that way because I sure as **** ain't no Martha Stewart. In fact, Erma herself might be a bit skittish about setting foot in my well-lived-in domicile.

Our kitchen is front and center in our house. Because the "front" door is inaccessible to all but the likes of cats, bears and perhaps Spiderman (there is a doorbell there), all bipeds must enter the back door and pass by our tiny heart of the home. Our house was built in 1989 and, as my dear husband says, the builder spared every expense. It functions perfectly well as long as no more than 1 adult or 2 pygmies attempt to cook at a time.

Appliances aren't bad but would likely be immediately replaced by anybody with a few pennies to rub together, were our house to change hands. The refrigerator we bought new in 2005, when we moved in, howls a low, ghastly, ghoulish howl, off and on, for no apparent reason. There are parts of its interior that are impossible to get clean. So I hope nobody ever looks in there.

The stove doesn't appear to be that old but, at any given time, only two burners will work. The sink (I know....not really an appliance) is a shallow, stainless steel job with a faucet that squeals a high pitched, dog-torturing squeal, often in tune with the ghastly fridge howl—and the spray thingy only dribbles mildew-strewn water down the hose.

The microwave is a little, on-the-counter box of a thing, normally sold at Wal-Mart to college students (Note to self: Will NOT fit turkey or full-grown cat in microwave). Every so often I must chisel the dried splatter of spaghetti sauce and buttered goo (a la Rorschach) off of every square centimeter of the interior.

Dishwashers. Blast them! Our first we bought in 2005 and it sputtered and died four years later. Some builder friends had pity on us, offered us the last of an overstock of dishwashers from their warehouse, installed it for us, and left us to kill it off in less than a year (I'm not doing this on purpose.....really). So when we bought our last one I decided to purchase the cheapest dishwasher possible that Consumer Reports didn't spit on (After all, how different can dishwashers really be? HA!) Enter Dishwasher #3. It looks like a dishwasher but sounds like a jet engine gearing for takeoff with all our dishes aboard. It cuts down on chatter within the family considerably.

The cabinets were pretty much the off-the-shelf late 80s, which I painted green, in hopes of disguising the fact that they look like they were stolen from a cheap apartment complex remodel. The counter is perfectly fine, laminate counter that some dimwit chose in solid ivory shade so that you can never slice a strawberry or defrost blueberries or spill Tropical Island Potion of Love or whatever without leaving a faint representation of your food or beverage behind for posterity. The end of the counter is coming off, half having broken off at some undetermined time in the past, so that what is remaining will snag your shirt and then snap back in place, sounding like someone just came after you with a plastic ruler.

There is currently a bag of potatoes on the counter. I bought them with grand hopes of expanding my culinary skills and making cheap and yummy comestibles for the family, and freeing up the food budget for more important items like coffee, guacamole, and Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs (kidding). Problem is, I hate upon hate to peel potatoes. That being said, those little buggers are just sitting there... lonely, growing eyes out of the backs and fronts and sides of their heads. Eyes so stupendous that they resemble centipedes (shiver) and are busting through the Green Giant plastic bagging, at the bottom of which is an expanding soup of rotten potato juice that, given enough time, will stink up the house and hatch a country of fruit flies.

Behind the bag of potatoes are the uncounted bags of bread and bread-like products. Whole wheat, raisin, French, bagels, and buns in various shapes and shades of staleness (hot dog buns in an advanced state of breadhood make great flying torpedoes), all begging to becomes part and parcel with the meat loaf I'm not making... yet.

Between the sink and the microbe-oozing tubers is a cappuccino maker my sister-in-law gave my daughter that was seemingly designed by NASA. All other small appliances reside in the bowels of a lower cabinet, scheming to strike en masse some Thanksgiving when I'm feeding 284 people.

I enlisted the help of a wire file holder to hold my cutting boards, wire cooking racks, and notebook full of printed out and typed up recipes. At one point all recipes were snug and neat inside their protective plastic covers but entropy abounds and batter-covered sheets stick out, willy nilly, seeking escape before it's too late.

The rest of the counter is strewn with stray flatware, sticky goo puddles hanging on for dear life to cereal boxes, half drunk cups of coffee, a cannibalized cell phone, paper clips, a bottom retainer, a glass of water that is permanently adhered to the counter, bottles of medication, etc. Atop the refrigerator are box after box of cheap, out of date cereal. On top of the cabinets are all those things I rarely use (or never use) but need to keep anyway....crock pots, pitchers, vases, soup pots, fancy crystal stuff that somebody's somebody's somebody owned 7 generations ago.

Inside the drawers are crumbs. There is other stuff in there, too, but it's mainly crumbs. I used to have my plastic ware in a cabinet, but plastic doesn't like the low altitudes of cabinet hell and rebels. When I got to where I would open the door, throw the goods, and slam the door shut again before anything could escape, we knew something had to change, so the plastic is in the pantry and the flour and sugar are in the land down under and like it there.

Then there's the whirligig. That thing in the corner that goes round and round and pinches thumbs. Measuring cups and mixing bowls live there with crumbs. Lots of crumbs.

At any given time there is a village of dishes awaiting to board the dishwasher jet but they must wait until the arrivals disembark. When counter space runs out or the microwave is in use, these dishes use the sink as an overflow waiting room.

In the sink is usually a stinky dishtowel, food that got lost on its way to the disposal, and some pot too large to board the jet (they discriminate) and therefore must be washed by hand.

For a small kitchen, a lot seems to go on there. It's fun. It's useful. It's just not terribly tidy. And it's NOT Martha Stewart.