Monthly Archives: November 2016

Day in the life

It has snowed off and on throughout the day.

I swept the floor.

The boys went back to school following the break.

I talked to Jack’s support coordinator.

I did the paperwork for Jack’s new respite people.

I prepped my ENGL 1010 lesson.

I responded to email.

I made my bed.

I did laundry.

I finished baking the peanut butter cookie dough that was left over in the fridge.

I finished up the Christmas cards.

I did the dishes, twice.

I sat by the fire for ten minutes.

I gave Truman a bath, for the express purpose of letting him play with the colander in the running water.

The bus brought the boys home.

I texted the carpool moms for Henry’s basketball practice.

I ate two warm PB cookies with a mug of cold milk.

I picked up random vacuum parts from around the house.

I thought about the way my life has changed in the last five years. I thought about the four boys and the multiple diagnoses and the place we are now versus where we were then. I thought about ABA therapy, respite care, my writing classes, our improved sense of well-being.

Things have not gotten easier with my children. In many ways, the older they get, the more complex they become. What has changed is our anxiety level. And our ability to trust in the process of finding solutions to our child-related problems.

I have more faith.

This is a good change.


Dream Writing: Psychiatric Stay

Early this morning I dreamt I had just woken from a deep drug-induced sleep in a psychiatric hospital. I had been admitted for reasons unknown to me. From what people were telling me, I gathered I’d had a mental breakdown. A woman helped me dress and gather my things.

Someone had dropped off a pair of vibrant green Toms for me to wear home. I don’t own green Tom’s. I looked at them sitting on the floor beside a chair and thought a) green is my favorite color, and b) Tom’s are a comfortable, logical choice of footwear for leaving a psych ward to return to “normal.”

My sister, Amber, came to pick me up. I felt tired, hazy, and weak. She talked to me as I was wheeled outside. I asked her where we were. She told me it was the psych ward of the University of Phoenix (don’t all for-profit universities for working adults have psychiatric units? Dreams are weird). She said she’d called everywhere to find the only opening available when I was in need.

I was still unclear on the why of all of this.

The dream shifted, and I was now sitting on a sofa as my sisters bustled around, handling things. I wasn’t at my home, but in someone else’s home. Jeff and my children didn’t seem to be in the picture. Nor were my parents. It was just my sisters and me and they were taking care of business around me.

In the dream, I felt bleary, dependent, and not in control. I couldn’t remember why all of this was happening.

Today I keep returning to this strange dream, because my dreams traditionally have taught me on a subconscious, spiritual level.

What does it all mean?

While my interpretations clearly don’t have a central thesis, here are a few musings:

  • My sisters rallied around me and helped me when I needed it. Despite our different lives, my sisters and I have an undercurrent of concern and support.
  • I am a person, distinct from my role as a mother or wife. I am me. I’m an individual with emotional core that at times feels tough, at times fragile.
  • People cared about me enough to help when I couldn’t.
  • My usual role was switched. I am typically one who calls, explores, Googles, reads, takes care, organizes, arranges. This time I was on the receiving end.
  • Jack quite possibly always feels the frustrating weakness of dependency that I felt in my dream. This is an eye-opening thought.
  • Someone left me a pair of comfy shoes in my favorite, life-giving color, to wear home. I think this means I am loved.
  • Also, I’m intrigued that I think about shoes subconsciously. I don’t know what this says about me. Maybe I don’t want to know.
  • I didn’t like my inability to remember. Perhaps I feel emotional dissonance at times (like life on earth) where I can’t remember the beginning, where I often feel weak and dependent.
  • I was never alone in my dream. I think this is true of mortality, even when we (I) feel alone. There are always helpers. But even if there aren’t, God sees and Jesus knows, and they both choose me.

It’s a mystery to untangle my dream life.

I like mysteries.

Thanksgiving Eve

This morning Jeff drove a truckload of crap to the dump. The basement no longer has the couch that Jack broke, nor the giant beanbags, one of which Jack tore open, spilling 6 million foam bits all over the garage, driveway, and front yard.

As he was driving, Jeff noticed a plume of said bits billowing behind him. People on the highway were honking. Jeff took an extra thirty minutes to cover the pile of crap before dumping it and returning home.

If there is a classier way to begin the Thanksgiving holiday, I can’t think of it.

Meanwhile, Jack was rampaging at home with me. He was filled with transition anxiety—I was packing things for the cabin and he wanted to leave that very minute. I told him to sit in the van while we waited for Jeff. He threw a drink across the garage. He got in the van, closed the door, and began to bash his head against the car window.

Jack’s anxiety becomes my anxiety.

I envisioned him breaking the car window, thus wrecking the Thanksgiving trip. We were already delayed leaving because of the truckload of crap and the zillions of foam bits Jack released from the beanbags.

By the time Jeff returned, Jack and I were both tense. I was convinced the disastrous behaviors would follow us to Idaho. Jack was ready to smash all the things if we didn’t leave instantly.

Jeff said, “Jack is not driving the bus.”

“Oh really?” I replied. “I think he is.”

This is the eternal life cycle of anxiety. It starts in my children’s minds and consumes the rest of us as their behaviors become increasingly uptight, demanding, screechy, destructive.

Jack has another ear infection. We are starting the long holiday weekend with this strike against us, but with antibiotics on our side, so there is that.

And thus, my state of mind entering the holiday weekend was dark and stormy. Gale force winds and thunderclouds. This also happened to be the actual weather building around us.

Where was my gratitude? Where was my sense of thanksgiving? Why couldn’t I access anything other than gloom?

I tried to nap in the car, around Jack’s chirps and yips. I prayed for help in being grateful. Is that a weird thing to ask God? “Help me be grateful to you for everything, because right now I am not feeling it.” It might be weird. But I was a thundercloud with few other options.

Now we are at the cabin. It’s snowing fat wet flakes outside. Inside, there is a dull roar of baking, gaming, and Charlie Brown Thanksgiving-watching. Jack has spent ninety minutes playing happily with a cord on the floor.

My bratty attitude improved as Jack settled down. When both our minds stopped with the death spiral, I noticed things that make me grateful.

This is what I’m thankful for:

  1. A cabin in the snow.
  2. Cousins for my boys.
  3. My parents.
  4. Jack being chill.
  5. The pediatrician squeezing us in yesterday afternoon and fixing us up with the Rx.
  6. The pharmacy. And Omnicef. Also ibuprofen.
  7. Jesus, for swallowing up my desolation. For being the ballast that stopped me from spinning into a fully opaque depression.

Guys, I’m ready to give thanks.


Ode to my Firstborn

Fifteen years ago, I was nearing the end of my first pregnancy. People at church were prone to tell me, ruefully, that my life was about to change forever. “I know!” I would stupidly chirp, even though I had no actual clue what lay ahead.

Motherhood, I figured, was utterly universal. Women through all generations of time were mothers. Babies were second nature, I assumed.

I assumed wrong.

I had yearned for motherhood throughout college and graduate school. My last semester of graduate school, I was happily, nauseously pregnant. When I successfully defended my master’s thesis, my committee suggested various venues for publication. I nodded politely, secretly not caring a whit about the comp and rhetoric journals who might or might not want to publish my work.

“I have checked this box,” I thought, “And the world of mommy-hood is soon to be my oyster. Suck it, academia.” Or something like that. I adored the professors on my thesis committee, and I loved school. But that phase of my life was finished. Booyah.

My new life would be as a mom to a baby boy in a tiny old house on a wide, tree-draped street in a neighborhood where I’d always wanted to live. This would be the culmination of my education. I would use my learning and innate motherliness to create a warm, nurturing, child-focused environment built on an implicit structure of learning, love, and success.

My mind projected an image of an ideal home life. I was determined to do a bang-up job of raising children. Jeff and I were proactive, accomplished people. Parenthood? No problem!

On a blustery night, late that November, I was initiated into the world of pain unlike anything I’d experienced previously, and Henry was born.

He was a perfect little human, who screamed most of the time.

“I never had a baby who screamed like this,” my mother told me once, earnestly, as she sat in the backseat of my car next to a purple, wailing Henry.

I was the first of my sisters, sisters-in-law, or friends to have a baby. When breastfeeding became daily torture, I thought this is how it was for everyone. Four months later, when I figured out that it wasn’t this way for everyone, I had a sad new realization: the fact that it was killing me revealed my ineptitude at feeding a baby, the most basic of human survival practices.

My baby never slept longer than forty-five minute stretches, day or night, which wore the veneer of capability right off me. I was left a dead-eyed zombie. Even the undead can be guilt-laced over their inability to have a baby who sleeps  sixteen hours a day, like the pamphlets they give you upon discharge from Labor & Delivery say babies should.

“My baby doesn’t sleep,” I said over the phone a few weeks later to the nurse at the pediatrician’s office. “It says here that newborns sleep sixteen to eighteen hours a day. Mine sleeps maybe half that, and only in short bursts.”

The nurse responded, “All babies have different sleep habits. Some babies just don’t need a lot of sleep.”

I wanted to snarl, “Yes he does need a lot of sleep, because when he’s awake he is a screaming banshee. Also, I NEED TO SLEEP.”

I hung up the phone and felt like a failure. Sleep deprivation doesn’t help with existential dilemmas such as, am I even capable of raising a human child?

The first year was like this, with breast infections, 24-7 breast pain, depression, and anxiety, all to the tune of screaming.

“Why does anyone ever choose to have a baby?” I wondered, my eye twitching.

When I stopped nursing after Henry’s first birthday, the constant breast pain went away. If you’re wondering why I didn’t stop sooner, I can only say that I had been indoctrinated by the militant cult of lactation zealots who assured me that giving my baby formula was essentially like feeding him liquid sewage. I only wish this were hyperbole.

One night, during my forty-five-minute “rest” while Henry napped between blood-curdling nursing sessions, I scoured the internet for some words of advice—something to help me know if giving up breast-feeding wouldn’t make me a child abuser. I followed a link to a famous pediatrician’s blog about parenting topics, and perked up at the title of a post, “Breastfeeding and Guilt.”

I clicked on it eagerly. Here was a respected doctor of tiny people, and he was going to talk about how guilt is driving the resurgence of breastfeeding, to the point that mothers who can’t or won’t, are shamed from all sides.

But the article was about how health professionals and everyone everywhere should be using guilt TO SHAME new mothers into breastfeeding. I was defeated. The bastards got me down.

In related news, I never swore before I started nursing. Now, every breastfeeding session featured me cursing my way through the pain. Literally.

I’d seen a number of experts and we had tried everything: gentian violet, various antibiotics, a different nursing latch, lanolin, a specially compounded prescription nipple paste— none solved my pain.

After months of prescribing everything she could think of, one doctor said, “Inexplicably, it could be your red hair.” I silently gave her side eye.

She continued, “No really, there are Victorian midwifery manuals that warn never to employ a redhead as a wet nurse.” She shrugged. I wanted to throw bricks through the windows of the nearest La Leche League.

For the record, my baby wasn’t starving. I was pumping and producing gallons of “liquid gold.”

When Henry was big enough to sit up in a carseat, rather than recline in his baby bucket, suddenly he stopped screaming in the car. When I learned that he like to be held upright, facing out, at all times, my baby started to be pleasant for periods of time. When I fed him solid foods at six months, we started to like each other. When I figured out that Henry would sleep through the night if I placed him on his tummy (baby murderer! Haven’t you ever heard of SIDS?), we both started getting a nightly eight solid hours of sleep.

Eight hours of sleep every night is the difference between positive thinking and psychosis.

By eighteen months of age, Henry was as happy and precocious a toddler, as he had been an unhappy and scream-y baby.

He was sociable, articulate, adorable, with strawberry blond curls and a serious case of joie de vivre. When we would approach my parents’ or Jeff’s parents’ houses, Henry would call from the backseat, “When I say ‘Grandma’s house,’ you say ‘Yay!'”

Jeff and I would wait for him to yell, “Grandma’s house!” We responded in unison, “Yay!”

I understood now that he was unhappy as a baby because he wanted to get on with living his life. He wanted to see and experience everything, not recline in the dark cave of his infant carseat. He wanted independence and opportunity. He wanted to go, be, and do.

He is the quintessential big brother. He teases his little brothers and they follow him like the Pied Piper. He loves babies. He inherited some sort of anomalous recessive gene for athleticism and lives for basketball. He is obsessed with cheesecake. He calms Jack down when he gets rowdy in the car. He helps Truman put on his shoes. He plays xbox with Charlie. He is kind to people who are different. In fact, he genuinely sees them as the people they are–not as a set of issues or disabilities.

I sat in the middle school library today with Henry, listening to a presentation on career and college readiness, and this thought crashed into my mind: Henry gave me the chance to practice difficult parenting. He prepared me for his special brothers, who followed him. And when they arrived and they challenged my whole self every day, Henry stood by me and helped me, willingly, through all of it.

So here’s to you, H, for being my guinea pig, my first born, my self-proclaimed Mr. Horse.

God sent you to me, and you taught me how to be a mom to a boy with a will and a vivid, magnetic personality.

You love your brothers and you show them what it means to be good.

Oh, Henry. Thank you.

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I Need a Crown

Jack has recovered from yet another strep infection. The difference between Healthy Jack and Sick Jack is the difference between a train humming down the track, and a smoking pile of mangled rail cars, mixed with bloodied carcasses of cattle.

Healthy Jack is goofy, giggly, amiable.

Sick Jack breaks things, shreds things, hits people. Sick Jack means calling all ships, all hands on deck, all stations manned. Sick Jack demands all the attention and all the energy.

Our good intentions to use our time well fizzles when Jack is sick. We can’t get anything done other than be with Jack, running interference and doing damage control. Cleaning up the messes he makes. Giving him medicine. Taking him on rides. Wondering how long it will take for the meds to work.

But Jack wasn’t sick this weekend, which meant we got all sorts of raking, pruning, oil-changing, rear brakes replacing, Christmas card writing, and date night replenishing done. It feels so nice to have a weekend that isn’t solely comprised of clearing the wreckage from the house Jack has broken.

Life is manageable when we aren’t frozen in the thrall of another illness.

Never mind the fact that our garage is full of the furniture that Jack broke. It’s full up. And he ripped open one of the giant beanbags so 8,000 foam pieces are floating around too. Jack is a full time job, my friends.

Jeff and I are watching the Netflix series, The Crown, and I keep thinking, wistfully, of all the people who work for Queen Elizabeth II. She has platoons of people buzzing around Buckingham Palace, helping helping helping.

This is what Jack needs, or rather I need on behalf of Jack. An army of support staff. I understand that neither Jack nor I are sovereigns. We are not royals, in the literal sense. But come on. If anyone needs vast numbers of people simply always ready to serve, it’s Jack. And by extension, me.

Currently the power is out. My enterprising men have fired up the generator and are watching a football game. Charlie’s on youtube kids. I’m writing, thanks to my laptop battery and a fully charged hot spot. And Jack is menacing the generator. He straight up can’t leave it alone. Henry is prone to wigging out because the game keeps going away thanks to Jack pulling the extension cord and toppling the generator.

If this were The Crown, a liveried butler would redirect Jack with a gentle touch of his white-gloved hands. “Pardon me, Sir. May I accompany you away from the generator? Very good, Your Majesty.”

Of course, royals do not have a generator hooked up to the television of a Sunday evening to watch American football games when the power goes out.

But if they did, you better believe they would assign a well-appointed personal secretary (or twelve) to manage Jack’s whereabouts.

Royals aren’t stupid. They consider all the options and make informed decisions. They use their minds and their extensive education to find solutions. They’re just like me, only anointed in Westminster Abbey and commanding an air force and a navy and a treasury.

Jack commands me.

Please send liveried butlers.



Several close friends have confided in me in recent months, all saying something like this, “I am in the deepest pit of my life and God is completely silent.”

These friends have widely differing roadblocks causing various sorts of havoc in their lives. They’ve told me they believe that God is there, but it’s as though there is a wall between them and him. They are suffering, deeply, and they feel alone.

I grieve with my friends. If there is anything worse than life kicking your trash, it’s the feeling of being alone in the state of being beaten to a pulp. Where’s the mercy, the help? Where is God when you need him the most?

I empathize, as these conversations have brought back distinct memories of a period in my life when I felt exactly the same way.

It was a season of endless days where we were stuck at home, unable to go places because my son Jack was overwhelmed, screamed, dismantled things, or kicked children in the head on the playground.

I can still see myself sitting on the floor of the upstairs hallway every afternoon, watching preschooler Jack take one of his three daily baths. I bathed him, though he was already clean, because we were both going stir crazy. Water = sensory goodness. I’d lean against the wall and think, “There’s no one to help me. We are stuck and losing our minds and I’m alone.”

I prayed for wisdom, for help, for the ability to figure out what to do for Jack. I prayed from a place of hurt. It seemed that my efforts at being obedient were met with nothing. There was no change. I felt that God was listening and judging me silently, which I guessed could only mean he was disappointed in my lack-luster performance.

My feeling of separation from God persisted for several years. I went to church and struggled there with Jack’s behavior, as well as the deep-seated anxiety of my two youngest boys. I taught youth Sunday school classes. I taught gospel doctrine. I taught the young women. I worked in the nursery.

Weekdays were rodeos. Saturdays were endless. Sundays were my death march.

“Please don’t ask me to give a talk on obedience,” I frequently thought during this era of darkness. I didn’t know what I would say. How awkward would that be? “Keep the commandments and your life will get harder and sadder, people. I know from experience.” Oh gosh. No.

I knew God was there. I knew at a cellular level that he loved me. I also knew that for reasons I couldn’t grasp, he wasn’t going to change things at that point in time. For whatever reason, the difficulties were staying. No matter how much I served at church, or how many dinners I cooked for my neighbors having babies, or how many structured playgroups and therapy sessions and doctors appointments I slogged through with Jack, God was not forthcoming. Every hour was a struggle.

Once I said to my husband, Jeff, “God isn’t helping me. Why isn’t he helping me?”

Jeff said, “Maybe he is helping you, but you aren’t aware of how.”

As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. I thought about how we have survived 100% of the horrible days. We’ve always found our way through. The people we have needed have always eventually materialized. Answers for the most imminent disaster, or at least the strength to keep trudging on—we seem to find it, even when the disaster doesn’t go away. This is the pattern.

I do not feel this pattern happens due to my wit and wiles.

When I began my non-ironic spiritual journey earlier this year, I decided to let go of skepticism. I felt that to find healing, I had to be open to whatever God wanted to tell me. Because doing life without God’s help is a freaking nightmare.

I was ready to let go of reluctance and misguided self-sufficiency and whatever pride I had that had tossed up the wall between us. I determined to start listening.

Being humble, it turns out, was my answer.

It was the thing that dismantled the wall; suddenly, there was this conduit of revelation flowing into my life. God spoke to me, repeatedly, through dreams and insights. I didn’t feel alone at all, or that God was disappointed in me. I felt that he knew everything about my troubles, including how hard I was trying to face them.

God hadn’t stopped speaking during the period of silence. I just hadn’t been able to hear him.

That was the first epiphany. The second was this: You don’t earn God’s love or Jesus’s healing, because that’s not how it works. Thankfully.

The love and the healing simply exist, a wellspring of support. Ever-springing. Always available. Every day, but especially on days like today when Jack broke my last remaining lamp, his bedroom door, a glass light fixture, and one of the kitchen bar stools.

I found love and healing when parenthood leveled my life to rubble.

Being broken and bereft were necessary stepping stones for me to feel the abiding love that is the driving force behind life on earth.

Once I couldn’t do it by myself anymore, I was ready to listen.

That’s when God filled me up with a profound understanding and the unexpected satisfaction that my fractured life is exactly the thing that would let me know Jesus.




Reasons Why I’m Glad it isn’t Five Years Ago

  1. This morning I did NOT wake up at 3:00 am, a split second before my water broke, 6 weeks before my due date.
  2. Because I am NOT pregnant.
  3. Nor am I about to begin labor. Sing praises!
  4. I did NOT drive myself to the hospital nor check myself in at labor and delivery while Jeff got everyone off to school.
  5. Today I did NOT give birth to a preemie, who had to be transported to a bigger hospital.
  6. I didn’t hang out at a separate hospital from my baby for the better part of a week.
  7. This November 3rd, I didn’t have to divide my time between my baby in the NICU and the rest of the guys at home 45 minutes away.
  8. Instead, I wrapped presents and bought a cake.
  9. And treats for the preschool class.
  10. I smiled at my littlest boy, who once lived in the NICU for a month as he learned how to first breathe, and then eat without falling asleep (I have never had this problem).
  11. He isn’t a baby anymore.
  12. He’s building elaborate forts, train tracks, and pipe systems.
  13. He’s matching things and practicing sitting on the potty with the help of Hannah, his ABA therapist.
  14. He’s a smart, fast little talker who knows exactly what he wants.
  15. I’m glad it’s not 2011, because in 2016, Truman is five. And five is good.


Weighted Cloak

Jeff and I have returned from our desert oasis. It has reminded me how I am different from most people, at least the people who post on social media about how there is no place like home, once they are home from vacation.

Coming home is downright painful for me.

This is sad, but it’s a fact. The closer we got to our house, the tighter the constriction in my chest. The weight of parenting everyone fell back on my shoulders. My weighted cloak.

I love my children. But coming home from a rare getaway is hard. Parenting them is HARD.

I came inside and did four loads of laundry. None of it was mine or Jeff’s. I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. I took out the trash. Three times.  I helped with teeth-brushing, pj’s, prayers. I unpacked. I talked to Henry.

I climbed in bed and thought, “Children are precious.”

Then I thought, “Raising them isn’t something you do in your spare time. It’s what we are given space and time on this earth to do.” This is going to be my mantra, until it sticks and I feel it.

Diving back into the wreck. That’s what happening.

Jeff suggested we take our calm, detached perspective and shine it on our family, looking for ways we can make positive changes.

We came up with a plan. Will it work?


I declare it.