Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Lifesaving Skill of Floating

Our favorite family comedian does a bit about having four kids.  It goes something like, “You know what it’s like having a fourth kid? Imagine you’re drowning, then someone hands you a baby.”

He nails it...and it doesn't seem to get any easier.

The only way to survive parenting four children is to teach them to swim, all of them - even the little ones.  Especially the little ones.  Teach them to be resourceful, find flotation devices when possible and conserve energy.   Teach them the lifesaving skill of floating.  A skill, I might add, that has been perfected by my mother who we believe was an otter in her past life.

To survive as one of four in our family you can not afford to let things drag you down.  You have to make do and move on.  Mini-Monkey, now affectionately known as "Moody-Monkey" wore Middle-Monkey's old baseball cleats last year in the snow complete with bread bag sock covers.  And she survived.

Could we afford new snow boots?  Sure!  Does she have an army of people who will buy her anything her heart desires? Absolutely.

Yet somehow size 4 snow boots fell through the cracks.  We missed the boat and Moody found herself bootless for the Big Snow.

She had a choice - sit inside lamenting her lot in life - wishing she had appropriately sized girl boots or improvise.

And now this is her story.

Concrete evidence of her problem solving skills, flexibility and innovation showcased with a solution sans parent.

And just where exactly was I when the "cleat-clad" child took to the winter wonderland?  Who knows...Maybe at work? Maybe cracked out on a street corner - that part of the story is hers to embellish each time she tells the tale...

The point is that Moody Monkey worked it out on her own.  Resourcefulness is the gift that keeps on giving and it's never too soon to start.  

There are many times that I lament the fact that my children do not have a "matching Tupper Ware," "remember the teacher gift" kind of mom.  Most days I flail wildly in the choppy waters of parenthood trying to not to drown.

But every now and then I allow the buoyancy of the sea to support the weight of my body.  I stop fighting against the waves and I float.

Head back, eyes to God, every ounce of my being filled with gratitude, thankful for all of my blessings.  In those moments I can see so clearly what a gift it is to learn to float.  I am so happy that our parenting style is making our children into capable, apt adults, the kind of people you would want to spend time with.

For a moment I am confident that we are, in fact, doing it right...

And then I say a little prayer that someday their therapist will explain it all to them the same way.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Quality Control

Words fail me.

I am trying to explain to my children why their father isn't "qualified" to coach football this upcoming season.  After 3 years of coaching football, 25-3 record, and dozens of supportive parents and happy players -- he is now considered "unqualified."

Sliding in the space between angry wife and protective parent I want to be diplomatic.  I want to be positive.  I want to find the silver-lining lesson.

But I can't.  Because this is a hatchet job.  Plain and simple.

Leaving only one question,  "Why?"

Their father is their hero.  He's mine too.

He is strong, sturdy and solid.  Like quality oak furniture.

Not many frills, just clean, classic lines.  His style doesn't suit everyone but there is no denying his quality craftsmanship.

He's a little rough in some places and like oak, he has a coarse texture that with a little effort can be sanded extremely smooth revealing a beautiful inner grain.

But this hatchet job has done a number on him.  This gash, this break in his confidence allows the doubt to creep in.

And now he is hurting.  He is broken in more ways than one. The wound to the wood compromises the structural integrity of this once solid man.

Now when pressure is applied the crack lengthens and threatens to snap the great piece in two, down to the deepest grain.

Though this crack can be repaired, the oak will never again be the same.  Some glue and some screws will hold together the once flawless wood with a lick and a promise.

But there is no way to truly repair the damage.  No way to fix this wrong.  And the loss is ours.

His optimism is fractured , splintered and jagged with sharp points jutting out.  His glass half-full lies shattered on the ground, his bright-side is dimmed.

Oak, like the father of my children is incredibly durable, a favorite choice of wood workers.  Oak like my husband is accepting of stains and lacquers better than most - the workhorse of wood.  But oak, like my husband must be cared for properly.  

After being left out in the elements, my great oak has become dry, brittle and in need of conditioning.
This great broken oak will be beautiful again but has been forever changed.  Once the support beam of our family he now needs to let others brace him.  He rests some of the weight on those who love him. The initial adjustment was scary, uncomfortable and uncertain but the new structure is exciting and unique - and most of all, stronger than ever.  

My love is as sturdy as an oak.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Paralyzing Fear

I find myself again, awake.  My mind whirls.  Visiting the "worst case" place.  Somewhere that I have no business being. 

In the waking hours it is easy to stay away. 

But here in the dark, in the night, listening to the rhythmic breathing of my love beside me...multiple monkeys between, I am drawn to the room full of what-if's.

This all started four days ago.  Perhaps I should back up.  It really started years before.  For me it was the moment that I met him.  I knew in a way that you feel in your bones that my life would never be the same.  That he would be my forever and we would be an always.

But back to this week.  The Monkey Maker called me on Tuesday morning at work.  His voice was tight and thin, "I think I'm dying...." followed by nervous laughter.  He had due reason to worry.  It seemed that his face had become partially paralyzed. 

I calmly suggested a call to our family physician.  His quick agreement made my stomach drop.  It generally requires an act of Congress to get him to go to the doctor.  He was scared.  I became brave.

I called the doctor and explained his symptoms which I believed, in my vast medical experience, were related to an ear infection that he had been treated for a week prior.  The doctor was not so sure. 

"He needs to go to the" 

Wait, what? 

They proceeded to tell me that his symptoms could be that of a stroke and they would not see him in the office.  He needed to go to the ER.

I called him to relay the message.  I was scared.  He became annoyed. 

He called himself to confirm this was true, and with no other recourse to assess the fact that only half of his face was moving he begrudgingly agreed to meet me at the ER.

I drove dangerously to Holy Spirit hospital, Googling "stroke signs and symptoms" and "causes of facial paralysis."  I frantically called my sister, who had Bells Palsy herself and asked for her assessment.  She assured me that it was 99% likely that he was not experiencing a stroke and as I walked into the waiting room and saw his face, I became calm, he stayed annoyed.

Over the next six hours his diagnosed changed like that of the latest snow forecast.  Stroke, bells palsy, Lymes disease and finally it settled in the neighborhood of aggressive inner ear infection that could attack his brain and require a medivac trip to Penn State Geisinger for emergency surgery.

Oh.  Sure.

He freaked out.  I became the boss. 

CT scans, IV antibiotics and multiple versions of "what could be happening"  -- I read reports and Googled terminology.  I called in my best boots on the ground who monitored his medications and recommended dosages from remote locations keeping me abreast of what I should be asking. 

A tumor, they said.  Deep in the inner structure of his ear.  Unrelated to the ear infection.  Could be nothing.  Probably benign,  Will likely be removed.  Need to get more information.  Proximity to brain is a concern. 

Days later.  Appointments scheduled, new tests ordered, many questions still left unanswered. 

He is sleeping.  I am terrified.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In Life & Baking - One Hot Mess

I fancy myself a baker.  Not in the brave, "little of this, little of that" variety.  Rather I am the kind who carefully follows a recipe, down to the smallest detail, and finds success inside my pre-heated oven. 

My self-proclaimed, family approved speciality is chocolate chip cookies.

But baking, really good baking, is more than just simply having the right ingredients. 

It is merging the ingredients together at the right time, the right temperature, in the correct order. The speed and intensity with which the ingredients are merged also plays a role. Sort of like life. 

The phrase, "the devil is in the details" comes to mind.
I learned this first hand when making chocolate chip cookies, my personal favorite.  It is imperative that you first properly cream the butter and sugar.  The results look something like this. Light, fluffy, finger-licking good. 

Next you add the eggs and so forth.

Now you ask yourself, how much of a difference can the "order of ingredients" really make? 

Finding myself on the business end of a egg and butter "soup" - - having not properly creamed the butter first BEFORE adding the eggs, I am here to tell you the difference is HUGE.  (side note...I tried to find a picture to show you what the result of this error looked like...but Google had nothing for's that bad)

And there is little way to right the wrong. But I have tried. 

Heating the soupy mess, adding other ingredients, mixing and mixing, stopping to swear, mixing, Googling, and mixing some more.  All this in an effort to salvage something of the assets I put in, two-sticks of butter and my last two eggs.

In the end, I had to scrap the mess and start over.  Learning from my mistakes.  Following the directions more  closely, the advice of those who had gone before me.

But that's the thing about life and baking.  There are the two kinds of people, the leaders and the followers. 

The leaders, the pioneers who forge out on their own, by either desire or necessity and pave the way for those to follow.  Documenting their trials and errors, sometimes in great detail, learning more from their failures than any cookbook could ever teach them.

The leaders don't always know as they venture forth into the uncharted waters that others will follow in their wake.  Waiting to see their next move, watching to see what happens. 

But in life, as in baking,  I guess we are all a little of both. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Moving Forward

When I was a sophomore in college the transmission dropped in my 1979 Ford LTD station wagon.  I heard a thunk but didn't notice a thing until I tried to go in reverse.  The engine revved but we went nowhere.  "Well, that's new," I thought.

Unfazed, I put the car in drive and off we went.  Forward.

My mother, always seeking the silver lining, decided that this would be a perfect life lesson.  Never go backwards.  Live your life in a way that you are always moving forward.

So for months I did just that.  I planned ahead with regards to parking, dead end streets and obviously three point turns became out of the question.  It was challenging at times but just in the way that you learn to get up somehow for that 8:00AM class, I did it.

Until one day, I pulled into the lot in front of my apartment building and I couldn't find a spot.  Someone had parked in the fire lane and I had no through-way.  There was no wiggle room.  No way to turn around.  I was stuck.

In true college-drama fashion, I FREAKED out.  Ranting and raving like a lunatic about the unfairness of the  situation.  Screaming and crying about how late I was going to be and the devastation that this particular inconvenience was causing in my already very stressful college life. (^read^sarcasm^here^)

I called my mother.  "That is it!!!" I wailed into the phone, "I have to get my car fixed.  This is crazy!  A person can't just always go forward?!?!?  You have to go backwards sometimes!!!!"

"I have every faith that you'll work it out." Was her calm reply.

And you know what, I did.

I knocked on doors and sought help from friends. It took a long time but we finally did get my car out of the wedge.

I think back to those months that I spent without reverse.  I remember them fondly.  They built a little character.  Gave me some great stories.  But most of all they really did teach me a good lesson about moving forward.  
Going backwards is the easy fix.  Anyone can throw it in reverse to get themselves out of a jam.  It takes patience to seek out the other solutions to a problem.  To move through a situation, slowly, deliberately, to right the wrong.  And most often you can't do it alone.

We are all quick to turn around and point out all the mistakes, all the hurts, the wrongs, that brought you to the place you are in.  Monday morning quarterbacking is easy, it's showing for the next practice that takes all the guts.

Moving forward.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Special Guest: Reluctant Momma's Momma

Today it is my great pleasure to offer a guest post authored by my mother. She is a talented and prolific writer.  She is the most generous and life-affirming person that I have ever met. Everything that I am, everything about me that is good, I learned from her.  I love you, Mom!

The Pitcher

I was given a white bone china pitcher for a wedding present more than 30 years ago by a classy, dear friend of my mother’s.  At the time I was not a fan of either bone china or classy pitchers but I did admire and respect my mother’s friend and was well aware of how much my mom loved and valued that pitcher.  Therefore I took to buying flowers weekly, showcasing them in my fine pitcher.  Often I would wipe away the dust with my forearm, replace the stray Lego pieces from the end table with the flowers and know how proud my mother would be when she came to visit.

Soon I began to appreciate the joy of having something fresh and beautiful in the room and weekly flowers were a must for me.  Regardless of what the house looked like, if there were fresh flowers—I was on top of things. Although I have since acquired more beloved vases, the white pitcher holds a special place in my heart. 

As I carefully cleaned it out today I took notice to all the damage that has befallen this thing of beauty.  I marvel at the delicate glue mark where my father-in-law repaired the handle with the skill of a surgeon.  I note the fine crack lines which no doubt occurs when expensive bone china is exposed to heavy use.  Inside there are spots which appear to be mildew, obviously resulting from continually supporting woody stems soaked in water.  There is a film which cannot be removed and probably should remain as it is probably what is holding the pitcher together. 

I ponder what my mother would think if she were to see the item today which some might say is ruined.  But I think she would be thrilled that it served me and my family so well and was a link to the beauty that results when art meets nature.  All I have to do is look at the empty pitcher and I can imagine the fragrance of lilacs or lily’s filling the room and it makes me happy.

I think of my children and I imagine they would think of this raggedy old pitcher as one of the most cherished and valued possessions I own.  Thirty-something years ago, I had a wedding registry, the pitcher was not on it or even on my radar as something I would have appreciated receiving and I’m sure I sent a requisite thank you note saying something like, yada yada yada.  But I would like to send a new thank you note to Mary Kelly in which I would say…How can I thank you enough for giving me a lifetime of joy that I may not otherwise have known?  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sounds Like Sanctuary

It is a beautiful cream colored brocade chaise. Top of the line piece of furniture gifted to me by one of my fabulous aunts.  I eagerly awaited its arrival as it was going to be the cornerstone of the bedroom sanctuary I was going to create.  Visions of leisurely book reading and coffee sipping filled my head while enjoying the photo wall I was going to create.  It was the stuff that Pinterest posts are made of.

But then life happened.

The chaise is now draped in a well worn Transformer's printed twin sheet.  It seems that it doubles perfectly for a sick bed for the Monkey afflicted with whatever whatnot is causing the sickness in my house.  Now flanked on one side by a trashcan in case of emergency, it is far less lovely and much more functional. 

I haven't had opportunity to spend much time in the chaise myself.  I did sit on it three times last week to fold laundry and leaned against it while sitting on the floor watching the latest dances choreographed by Mini-Monkey.  And once this week I even laid on it for about an hour while comforting the sick Monkey of that moment. 

I am thinking of the chaise as I stand in the shower and rinse off the last of the latest round of barf that was spewed upon my by Middle Monkey.

Certainly not the stuff that "sanctuaries" are made of....or is it? 

This might not be how I envisioned my sanctuary but it is my place of refuge.  My safe space. 

Here in this chair I am a comforter.  I am always in high demand, always needed.  I am far away from the pain of unsettled relations with important people. Far away from people and things that make me sad.  People and things that make me cry.

Here my focus is on my beautiful brood.  I scoop them up one by one as the night wears on and snuggle each into my bed.  Here with them nestled between me and the Monkey Maker, things are good, things are right, things are calm. 

Sounds like "sanctuary" to me.