Monthly Archives: May 2018

Littlest Boy Completes Kindergarten

My youngest son graduated from kindergarten today. I have a few observations:

  1. I thought it wouldn’t affect me, because
  2. evidently I’m a pariah among women in that my children getting bigger doesn’t make me sad.
  3. It makes me excited.
  4. Turns out, I was affected emotionally at the ceremony because
  5. kindergarteners are so freaking cute (so so so flipping adorable I love them), also…
  6. a photo of my dad hugging Truman was in the slideshow with the caption “G is for Grandpa,” at which point I was awash in color and feeling and the ironic swelling of loss,
  7. and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole was the soundtrack. I defy you to not cry under these circumstances.
  8. Then we filed like cattle from the classroom into the gym and watched all the kindergarten classes sing songs and tell jokes (Question: What does a cloud wear? Answer: thunderpants; Question: What flies around the kindergarten classroom at night? Answer: an alpha-bat).
  9. I’m also a parenting anomaly in that I don’t care about filming poor-quality videos of my kid singing with dozens of other kids. I just prefer to watch it and be present, and that’s it, which makes me a weirdo.
  10. Don’t ask me.
  11. Clarification: the mom next to me was basically the only other parent not filming either, which is (I suspect) because…
  12. we looked roughly the same age (i.e. seasoned parents, ahem). I’m going to guess that this woman was observing her youngest child’s kindergarten swan song and, like me, knew that the memory of watching it was pretty great, and also that she would never ever watch that video again so what’s the point, Karen?
  13. The other thing that happened as I watched Truman sing was this: I saw him in my mind as a premature infant, who six and a half years ago, could not breathe on his own and was transported after delivery to the big hospital with the giant NICU and the right type of ventilator, where he spent the first month of his life.
  14. In those days, I worried so much about how his delivery at 34 weeks would affect his development.
  15. Today, I looked at his thick red hair, his beanpole legs, his eager face with a pinch of freckles across the nose, and gratitude filled me up, for who he is and how far he has come.
  16. And, they were singing along to Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down,” which reminds me of when all my boys were little, hence MORE WEEPING.
  17. In fact, I cried quite a bit for someone who was not at all sad to be attending the last kindergarten graduation of her parenting career, although…
  18. I’ll probably be back as a grandparent, which sounds completely fluffy and delightful.
  19. Did you know that you can have a spiritual experience at the elementary school on the last week of school?
  20. Because now, I do.

I Wrote a Poem

Selfless Act

I.

The last year, an intermission, passed.

My son lives in a home far away–the right place, the right care.

Peace sits on us both like a skin.

I am no longer mired in my grief-summer, nor my loss-winter.

II.

This is the next act.

What will I do with it?

It is a season for driving with my mother.

For being a bulwark to a friend with a burden.

For writing, and for thinking about writing.

For filling in the ancestor gaps in my family tree.

Losing oneself in unfamiliar work is unnerving—

uncomfortable, in that it bends and folds,

ripping and rebuilding by lengthening,

stretching

III.

The new act demands openness;

eyes–an outward gaze,

feet, walking through the debris,

arms, strong and tired with carrying,

mind, wanting to learn,

heart, pummeled with compassion.

This act doesn’t come naturally to me.

And yet,

I can drive, do research, play with toddlers, cobble at words, look around,

find solutions.

God will tell me the why and the how.

I can learn the Selfless Act

Diet Coke is Dead; Long Live Diet Coke

Dear Reader,

I’m not reliably present here on this blog, which is simply the way it is right now.

My life has changed a great deal in the last year. While I once wrote multiple times a week about the rigors of raising Jack, the goings-on in my world are slower-paced now. Subtler. Stories and the subsequent lessons revealed by those stories aren’t whooshing past me, waiting to be snatched up and expounded on.

Reader, I’m no longer in perpetual crisis mode. This is good, because one can’t sustain crisis living indefinitely. It’s different in that I live a pretty regular life now. Not that being regular is bad. It’s just quieter and less apt to throw handfuls of insights wrought by suffering into one’s daily experience.

It’s funny that I used to long to be a “normal” family. We are much more typical now, though because of Jack, we will always be a little bit special, I guess. And I’m at a crossroads where I’m figuring out what to do with myself. I’m not teaching this summer, but I have a few plans in the works for occupying my mind and my time, in addition to raising ye olde children.

Meanwhile, dear Reader:

Jack is doing really well in his new home. He got a new hose and a sprayer, and is living his best life watering the backyard. He got a haircut this week and looks grown-up and handsome. He continues to have behaviors relating to food, which I suspect may never change. Or at least not until he’s past his teen years. But his caregivers are adept at handling him. The environment is perfect, and the staff are exactly what Jack needs.

And finally, I gave up soda ten days ago.

Your prayers, dear Reader, are appreciated in this difficult time.

It wasn’t something I wanted to do (because I freaking LOVE soda), but was something I was unequivocally inspired to do. Aaaand my back pain has drastically decreased. It’s not entirely gone, but almost.

The whole process of restoring my back to health has been an exercise in listening. And humility.

I’ve listened to the physical therapist and followed his recommendations perfectly, because I am nothing if not an excellent student.

I listened to the Holy Spirit prompting me to address the menstrual cycle component.

I listened to the prompting to give up my beloved, my precious, my sweet, sweet nectar–soda.

By following the bits of inspiration available to me, I’ve received, a piece at a time, answers to my pain question.

I still need to exercise and stretch my back in perpetuity. I may always have an undercurrent of tension and discomfort on the lower right side. But I feel that the pain isn’t controlling me anymore. I have enough strength and the right tools to address and manage it.

It’s really something how being quiet yields answers. My experience has shown me that inspiration requires a conscientious openness: to listening and receiving and following and doing.

Reader, if this post has a point, I suppose it is that so many things are possible, when one decides to abandon hubris and instead seek a divine presence–a divine will–about something specific in one’s life.

And that’s my smattering of thoughts for a Wednesday afternoon.

Cheers,

Megan

Pre-Summer Book Post

Wherein I review books I’ve read:

YA Contemporary:

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

Yes, I gave Green another go after the depress-fest of Looking for Alaska, and I’m glad I did. This book is so good–more like The Fault in Our Stars, (imho) which I loved. It’s about Aza Holmes, a teen living with profound anxiety. Maybe it’s because so many of my students cope with anxiety, maybe it’s because my children have it, maybe it’s because I moderately have it, or maybe it’s because it’s the current plague of humanity (who knows!)–this book gives timely and profound insights into the effects of spiraling thoughts and physical sickness induced by anxiety. While this diagnosis is a huge a big part of who Aza is, it isn’t the only part. Green is so good at exploring teen relationships, while recognizing that just because one isn’t yet an adult doesn’t mean that life is still uncomplicated and carefree.

Literary Fiction:

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

Sarah Perry wrote this contemporary novel in the voice and tone of Victorian writers like Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it’s surprising how effectively she does it. To me, it read like a Victorian novel. It did contain some thematic elements which were decidedly modern (references to gay and lesbian relationships, for instance). It’s about Cora Seabourne, a recent young widow, adrift and somewhat exultant as her marriage was abusive. She retreats from London, with her son, Francis, and companion, Martha, to the Essex countryside, where she hikes and explores, wishing to solve for herself the mystery of the fabled Essex serpent, rumored to emerge, winged and scaled, from the sea to snatch unsuspecting humans and livestock. I liked the depth of exploration of the relationships in this novel. The actual serpent, as well as the way the character’s lives unfold, isn’t what I expected. It was real, and it made me reflect on what it means to love.

Faith Fox by Jane Gardam.

I’m currently reading this book, about a baby girl whose mother, Holly Fox, dies while giving birth. It is set in early 1990’s Yorkshire and Surrey, where the unexpected death of this young, vibrant woman sends her family into a kind of unhinged grief fugue. The first third of the novel explores Holly, her husband Andrew, and her mother Thomasina. Andrew’s brother and parents also figure prominently in the story. Everyone’s character, in fact, is weighted with equal importance, as each person comprises the webbing of the figurative safety-net which catches the motherless infant, Faith. The cast of characters define her background and create the unorthodox backdrop against which she will grow up. Gardam is a deft writer of people and their motivations as she weaves the lives of a great many people together with BIG dose of quirkiness.

Memoir/Near-Death Experience:

The Message by Lance Richardson and his family.

I’m obviously rather into this genre at the moment. This author lived in Idaho and endured years of massive health challenges before breaking his leg one Christmas Day and, while hospitalized, contracting pneumonia and MRSA. He was incredibly sick and in a coma for weeks; his caregivers did not expect him to live. During this time while his body was unresponsive, he experienced a journey into the Spirit World, or Paradise. He describes seeing his loved ones who died before him. He saw people passing through an opaque veil where their family members waited for them, as well as a great many other…lessons, I guess? He learns about the purpose of life and the way to achieve happiness, essentially. He and his wife wrote the book and have a folksy approach to telling their unusual story. At times, it read like a extended LDS testimony meeting, but it never struck me as being insincere. It was quite honest and forthright. I found it quite comforting in its specificity of what life looks like after mortality.

Psychological Thriller:

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke and I have been online friends for several years. She lives in England and teaches creative writing in Glasgow. This is her first book I have read and while this isn’t a genre I typically seek out, I was completely intrigued. It’s a novel about a woman who has washed up on an almost deserted Greek island, with no memory of her life or even her name. Meanwhile, in London, a young mother has gone missing and her husband and the police attempt to piece together her whereabouts. The answers which materialize to these dual conundrums are not at all predictable. In fact, there is a brilliant twist in this story, which oozes moody suspense. I think I need more books like this in my life.

Women’s Fiction:

The Unscripted Life of Lizzy Dillinger by Marianne Hansen

Chick Lit gets a bad rap, which is unfortunate and sexist if you ask me. I don’t read it all the time, but when I do on occasion, I generally really like it. This was the case with Lizzy Dillinger, written by Hansen, who I met at a writing conference several years ago. I was lucky enough to read and respond to a draft of this novel, which is characteristic of Hansen’s distinctive voice. She is FUNNY. And engaging and creative and not at all boring or trope-y. It’s a novel about a thirty-something mother of two, whose autobiographical novel is being turned into a movie, which is set in Mexico, but which is being filmed in Arizona. It’s a story about reflecting on one’s life trajectory, and the “what if’s” we sometimes ask ourselves as we grow up and live with our choices. It’s a fun read, a beach read, a summer-apropos read–for women, and by women. Funny women. Amen.

Beauty in Variation: A Mother’s Day Retrospective

This year my sense of feeling bludgeoned by motherhood has changed into more of a subtle, sad acceptance that my mothering experience is unusual and always will be. It’s not typical. It’s not what I expected. But it’s not awful, either. It just is, and I’m okay with it. There is beauty in variation and I love my people.

I’m recognizing now that many (or most) women have complicated emotions about this day. It’s a day of weird, layered expectations, personal and cultural. It maybe isn’t intended to be that way, but it’s become this.

I don’t see my young teen son much. This used to feel like an amputation. Now I feel kind of a hollow…peace, if that even makes sense.

There is an empty space where I hold onto Jack because he isn’t here.

I’m oddly filled up with a pool of calm, still gratitude for Jack’s caregivers, for the system which exists to give people with disabilities the right supports they need for a happy life. I’m so glad Jack is child of God, who knows what Jacky needs and helps us find the best solutions.

This is my Mother’s Day gift.

Here is my Mother’s Day post from last year. It says everything I’m feeling.

 

Female & Fantastic

Yesterday was the sort of day when autism reared its feral head and flashed its jagged teeth at me, from two different children. Yay, Mondays!

In the morning, Truman didn’t want to comb his hair or pick up his dirty clothes from the floor. He called me a jerk and said he didn’t like me. He scowled and argued and shouted.

The only way past this monster behavior was right through it. He didn’t want me to brush my teeth and do my hair. He wanted me to get in the car in my undies and drive him to the gas station for a treat. NOW. Which I didn’t do, because we don’t reward this sort of demanding, inflexible behavior.

I ignored his ranting while I got ready and listened to 2nd Nephi. Truman remained angry at me. When he saw I wasn’t going to relent, he picked up his dirty clothes, combed his hair, and decided to be calm, at which point, I drove him to the gas station.

Autism, 0. Me, 1.

After school, another kid had a complete and utter meltdown in front of his friends, various other neighbor children, me, and the sibs. It was the sort of epic episode we haven’t seen in some time, with screaming, kicking, running away, and yelling of insults.

I sent the friends and the neighbor kids home (they couldn’t leave fast enough; the awkwardness was palpable). After the shouting relented and the adrenaline ebbed, said child wept in my arms. It was the post-meltdown exhaustion cry.

During both of these episodes, I was internally raging. Why won’t my opinionated little offspring listen to me? Why must they be so rigid in their thinking? Why is autism such a monster at times?

Outwardly, I held it together. I remained calm and projected peace (not the easiest thing with a rabid little person screaming at you). This diffused the situation somewhat and was a sign to me that a) I have been coping with kids and their meltdowns for a long time and in various incarnations, and b) I’m a grown up now. I was able to step back and stay separate from the fury and emotion. While I didn’t know how to solve the situation any faster, I knew it would end and that the meltdown didn’t have to define the rest of the day.

It was pretty exhausting, though.

These sorts of insane motherhood moments have me thinking about what it means to be a woman.

I have, at times, felt anger and bewilderment at the trauma that is part of my life because of menstruation, pregnancy, labor & delivery, postpartum depression, the MANY MANY SO FREAKING MANY relentless rigors of mothering, not to mention the sexism and harassment which all women inevitably face at some point in their lives.

The physical and the emotional toll of being female can be high, and really, really maddening.

As I was driving to Salt Lake to run errands with my mom a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about the parts of my life that are distinctly feminine: mothering, teaching, nurturing, being with, and serving. I thought about how much of my life is spent helping: kids (including kids with disabilities), university students, my mother, and other women (friends/neighbors).

And I recognized that I like it this way.

I like that my life is organized in such a way that I get to be a person who has the distinct opportunity to build up and support people. I really like it.

This doesn’t mean that I’m okay with mansplainers or misogyny.

To paraphrase my nephew, as he recently prayed aloud at bedtime, “We’re grateful for everything in this world, except hippies.” In this scenario and for my purposes, I would swap out “hippies” for “sexist people.” I feel it still works, haha.

Jesus was the greatest champion of women. He was radical in his equal treatment of them for the era and culture in which he lived. He appeared first following his resurrection to a woman. He spoke of his mother’s care as he hung, dying, on the cross. He wept with Martha and Mary when their brother Lazarus died, and then washed away their sorrow when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

I deep down know that Jesus understands what it means to be a woman. I’ve felt his empathy when he has helped me slog through pregnancies, recover from childbirth, grieve at losing Jack to distant care, and cope with the ongoing trauma of being a special-needs mom.

I have felt, recently, that God gave women the opportunity to care for other people not because we are oppressed, but because we are chosen.

While I don’t know what it is, I feel there is some sort of big, beautiful, not-yet-fully-knowable refining power in caregiving, teaching, and nurturing; I’m glad that my life is full of these things.

My favorite scripture from the account of the nativity has always been this one, from Luke 1:28, about Mary. “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

I have always read this as meaning that yes, Mary was special, but also that by association all women are precious and beloved of God and Jesus Christ. Gabriel’s meaning was obvious to me: Mary was hand-picked for a righteous purpose from a pool of equally-loved and cherished daughters of Heavenly Parents. You are free to read it however you wish, but this is how I see it.

I love what it says to me about being a woman: that it is fraught with unique difficulties, as well as unique gifts. My life has taught me that my gender is no barrier to feeling a tenderness, connection, and understanding with my Savior. If anything, I believe being a woman sort of opens a conduit between me and heaven. Having a Mother in Heaven is a big, beautiful truth that, to me, says women are infinitely powerful, divine, and expansive in our purpose and abilities.

All of which is pretty fantastic.

 

Living Can Hurt

I have been in quite a lot of pain the last couple of weeks. My back has been completely spazzing out, plus there was another recurring *wink* issue. (Please note, this post talks about my reproductive system, like a lot. If that is too much for your delicate eyes, I get it. Go ahead and skip it xo)

I don’t like writing when I hurt. I don’t like doing much of anything when I hurt. Talking about it can feel like complaining, when that’s not my intention. But neither do I seek out other people’s alternative healing solutions for my highly personalized pain situation. Basically, I’m just hesitant to talk about these things. And as much as I love everybody’s input, that is not what I am looking for here. I am seeing professionals, who are helping me so this isn’t a cry for help or for ideas. I’m just sharing what I’m learning as a person, thanks to my weirdo back and hip. Thank you for understanding, and please don’t send me any suggestions.

With that preamble, I’ve been thinking about why I am hurting and why it isn’t going away, as well as what I am taking away from this process.

I’ve been working for months in physical therapy to help my core, which IS stronger. But my back pain never really goes away. It spikes at (what I thought were) random times. Jeff gave me a blessing a few months ago when it got really bad. He blessed me that a) the physical therapist would be inspired to know how to help me, and b) that I would be inspired to know what to do to help myself. Somewhere in the recesses of my psyche, I might have cocked my head at this point and wondered why my relatively-straightforward-seeming back issues would need all this hefty inspiration for creative healing.

Yet here I am, weeks and weeks later, and I’m seeing that Jeff’s words were prescient. God knew that all the usual things weren’t going to lead to me feel better anytime soon.

And so, I’ve prayed for help in knowing what I’m missing in this whole pain puzzle. Part of me wondered if I wasn’t going to get an answer. I have dear friends who deal with much more severe chronic pain and health conditions. I even asked the PT if I need to begin accepting that this is simply the way it is going to be for me, going forward.

His answer, “No.”

So that’s hopeful. We are going to keep working on a plan to restore my back to a happier place. This is reassuring to me. But still. No answers, yet.

We knew that my pain spiked during my periods, but after praying for insight, I also started to see that it peaked during ovulation as well. There was nothing random about the pain, after all. With a little bit of input from the Holy Ghost, a clear pattern emerged.

One morning as I drove Charlie to school, I had a spark of an idea: call your OB-GYN’s office and ask about options to avoid that whole monthly thing altogether.

So I called. They immediately agreed that we need to skip the entire misery cycle, considering my current state, and prescribed a continuous birth control pill. Voila! I was ecstatic.

Until. The pills made me feel like I would rather be dead. It was worse than pregnancy. I was a nauseous, miserable zombie mess. And my body didn’t instantaneously skip the cycle, so my resulting back/period pain was, I’m not kidding, a lot like labor, except without the good meds. It was the perfect storm of physically and emotionally barely holding on to the will to live.

A week into this nightmare that didn’t seem to be easing up, I had another little inspired thought: call the OB-GYN’s office again. So I did. They put me on a different pill, and I am slowly returning to the land of the living. This is an enormous blessing.

But there is still the teeny tiny issue of MY BACK STILL HURTS.

The PT modified my exercise routine to avoid overworking and stressing my core, so I have continued with this gentler workout and stretching regime. And now I am at the point where *sigh* I must be patient. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, especially my healing. It’s a convoluted, problem-solving process.

I asked Jeff the other day as I brushed my teeth, “I wonder what I am supposed to learn from this whole experience.”

I then immediately had this thought: to understand what it feels like to constantly, physically hurt, so you can have empathy for people who hurt all the time.

Why do any of us have to go through pain and misery? Why do some of us face prolonged seasons of physical suffering? I don’t have the answers.

But my wonky back has opened up a space in my life where I’m learning to receive instruction: on listening for answers, on understanding my fellow humans, and on the reordering/refining power of pain.

I’ll let you know what I find out.