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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ghosts of High School Past

This weekend is my 30th high school reunion. Ours was a class of 67 lassies in a 7-12 all girls school. With the increasing popularity of Facebook, I made a specific page for our class. Only a handful of us really interact there but, with the reunion fast approaching, more people have logged on to see what's up. Some good conversations were started, but most have petered out due to some sort of a "let's just put that all behind us and love each other now" derailment. I wish it were so easy. High school was hard for me. The heartache and loneliness ran deep. Leafing through the old yearbooks takes me back to a place I don't ever want to be again. I really thought I was the only one, but a couple of old classmates, girls I hardly knew, have confessed to me that they, too, struggled in silence. Below is a response I had to one friend as I shared my current fears:

Every time I start to say that this past year has been the hardest year of my life (struggles with children, menopause, depression) I stop myself because high school was worse. So much worse. Aside from all the hell of home and my personal struggles, I can still feel the sting of rejection and the frustration of being labeled and put in a box. I was terrified to go to our 10 year reunion. The 15th came a little easier and the 20th, too. But I still experienced moments of being the odd man out with no one to talk to. And I so wanted to prove that I wasn't that messed up kid any more. Facebook has changed some of that. I am totally comfortable now with the people I interact with there, but I'm still a wee bit nervous about the ones I haven't seen in 10-30 years. I so wish to shed the insecurities of youth and just move on in life, but they come so easily, like riding a bike or singing along with a bad BeeGees song. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am shocked that other people feel this way. Everyone seems so excited about seeing everyone. And I DO want to see people, to connect and maybe establish new and healthy relationships, but there's still a bit of the teenage me inside who's hesitant.
I have even paused about sharing more openly on Facebook my pain and struggles for fear that my high school friends will be like "Oh, no. Here she goes again." I did struggle in high school with awful depression and anxiety and probably OCD and most likely ADD as well (yes, my kids come by it honestly), not to mention the hated eating disorder, which pushed me over the edge to total "freak" status. I didn't want the high school people to think that I hadn't grown beyond all that. But life is life and life is hard and pretending it's not doesn't change it at all. So I've been honest at the total risk of being labeled "least changed" or whatever. I've been honest because it's hard for me not to be and because most people I know (though maybe not most people we went to high school with) can relate much better to failure than to success. And because Jesus came for the sick.

Strange as it is, I do still feel the need to connect with people from my past. This desire has only gotten stronger since my mother died. Within days of her death my desire to reach back and grab what shreds of my past that I could took on a life of its own. Am I trying to make peace with it? Am I trying to make sense of it? I don't know. It's just there. Perhaps the hardest of all is wanting to and trying to connect with those who clearly have no desire to connect with me. I must pause, accept it for what it is, hand it over to God, and move on.

I know that some classmates will not come to this reunion or any other reunion that we have. Some will not come because time or distance or previous engagements will not allow it. Others will not come because, for them, reconnecting with long lost friends just isn't that important. Some may not come because their lives are in the pits and they don't want to have to keep up appearances. But others won't come because the reunion could be like choosing to enter back into a bad dream. And most people won't do that willingly.

I read an article on reunions that stated that through the 25th reunion, people are busy showing off their adult lives and their well trained bodies and their hunk-o-husbands and gorgeous children and their impressive careers and, somehow, by the 30th, so many have gone gray or gained weight (menopause...sigh) or lost jobs or passed through teenage hell or are one paycheck away from foreclosure or their marriage is in the trash and somehow they end up being much easier to relate to. I guess life does that to us.

So I'll go and see and hope that I can be a friend to someone who is in need and put the past behind me.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Parenthood: The Beginning

It starts out so simple. So innocent. So manageable. Like a snowball, carefully shaped by a child's hands that somehow, strangely and seemingly in an instant, explodes into an avalanche, huge and deafening, bearing down on you at breakneck speed and threatening to bury you alive, leaving you to die. That's parenthood.

I was never much of a "kid person." I hated to babysit and didn't even know how to change a diaper, but somewhere in my early 20s biology or insanity, one, kicked in and I wanted babies. Lots of them. I imagined myself in a large, white farmhouse busting at the seams with an extraordinary number of kids, somewhere between 5 and 11, I think. Cheerful. Nutty. A bit chaotic. But much fun. I envisioned myself barking orders to my polite and willing accomplices in rural life and dishing out nuggets of wisdom to eager and open ears while I chopped wood and baked homemade pies. I'm not sure but I think rope swings were involved and perhaps a barn.

With that in mind I begged my husband to begin a family. I not only begged, I got downright adamant about it. Due to my endometriosis, I was afraid I would not be able to conceive, so I wanted to start trying as soon as possible. Now I'll just say this. Nothing increases a woman's interest in conjugal activities like that drive to conceive. My dear husband was thrilled at my new found interest and, to be honest, was a little bit disappointed when my goal was reached with such ease. Be that as it may, after our second month of effort, I grew queasy, went to the doctor, and came out with a little cube with a plus inside. I started throwing up the next morning. Welcome to parenthood.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No Words, Just Tears

A poem from a friend:
They told me to recline for labor,
But I was on my knees.
I was on my knees
When I learned who you were.
Knees on the floor,
Hands in the air,
So much cause for praise.
I was on my knees,
Clearing the garden,
Planting seeds in the rain.
They wrapped the monitor around
And it moved up and down
With your body.
You were kicking against it
As hard as I was.
You were never on your knees.
She said she lost hers, same as mine
Twenty years ago.
She caught my son, she felt the weight.
She knows. She knows.
One day gone, and clothes hang loose.
All of me is too small without you.
Every sight of mother with child
Whispers, My son, my son, my son.
The longing all day, the longing all life,
For the moment to recline.
We push, we writhe, on cursed ground.
You drive us to our knees.
They say they want to take the work,
They tell me to be still.
They’ll cook, they’ll clean, leave me undone:
You forget I was made for labor.
Let me weep, with feeble hands reverse
The mundane disorder I can control.
Milk is here and you are not.
We touch each other to quell the grief.
I hold your brothers in my arms,
Your father wraps around me.
There’s nothing to do but wait
For the milk of the Promised Land.
I will see your face. I will hold your face.
On Your knees, sweating blood,
Wrestling over life to be lost and won.
I watch the blood flow, the scar site burns;
My son is lost to me.
Your Son was lost to You.
You know. You know.
And I am on my knees.
I am on my knees.
The above words were penned this morning by my dear friend, Amy, only two days after losing her baby boy. At 21 weeks gestation, this precious child was perfectly formed but not yet developed enough to cope with life outside of the protective covering of his mother's womb.

In situation like this we all want to say the right thing. We humans are funny. Somehow we think that we are in charge. That it is up to us to fix things. That we have the answers. That we can provide wisdom and comfort. That we can bring clarity to situations that are tearing others apart. I'm not sure where we get this idea. But it seems to be rampant and as old as history itself.

I've been reading through Job. I'm only to chapter 13 by now but I've already gotten the gist of things. You have Job suffering more than anybody can imagine ever suffering. And then you have his friends. These friends start off fine. It says that they weep and tear their clothes and then sit with him in silence for seven days. No words. Just tears.

But dang it to pieces! One by one, each buddy opens his mouth and what spills forth is a pathetic drivel of arrogance and assumptions and prescriptions.

Funny thing is, we, the readers, have already been filled in on the entire story. WE know why this is happening, so it is maddening and almost humorous to hear Job's best buds waxing long and theological about something that they really know nothing about.

What's interesting is that what they say is true, in certain circumstances. It's just not true in THIS one. But each friend assumes he knows best and can set things straight and Job can be on his merry way. Theology misapplied is a dreadful, dreadful thing. Perhaps that is why it is best to just keep our mouths shut. No words. Just tears.

But even with the best of intentions, sometimes silence is what soothes and heals. Sometimes there are just no words to ease the ache and only tears will do. Several years ago a woman in our church lost a baby at 37 weeks. Heartbreaking in a way most of us cannot even imagine. The graveside funeral was on a cold, rainy October afternoon. As we stood there amid the brown grass and the tombstones and the tiny casket and family, numb with exhaustion and loss, the pastor began to speak. And as he spoke the skies opened up and poured... buckets of tears from heaven. The louder the rain, the louder he spoke. And the louder he spoke, the harder and louder it rained. As if heaven itself was saying "Shhhhh. No words. Just tears."

Today my friend is laid low. Flattened by the grief and loss. Milk, but no baby. A wrecking ball swings through her flesh and through her soul. Let's let her speak when she is ready and keep our best of intentions to ourselves. We'll be quiet and mourn with her. No words. Just tears.