Getting away from it all: Don’t forget Respite!

The night I sat on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and started the first episode of the first season of the “Gilmour Girls” and felt guilty that I wasn’t on my computer doing “work” at ten o’clock at night was the night I realized I really really needed a break.

It was also the week before I flew to Seattle and drove north for a couple hours before crossing over to a small island by ferry for a few days of respite. My aunt’s sister had just purchased a house on the island and offered a weekend away and I jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in over ten years, I slept in a queen-sized bed all by myself for TWELVE HOURS without the possible interruption of small two-footed or four-footed creatures. It was amazing!

My friends asked, “What did you do while you were away?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied, “and it was glorious! I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and watched the clouds blow off the peaks of the neighboring island and examined the fishing boats and ferries as they passed by.”

That’s it. Sleep. Rest. Good conversation. Coffee. Food. Two books that had a higher ratio of words to pictures in them (okay, they didn’t actually have any pictures in them and that was fine).

For the first time in over ten years, I spent three days as me. Just me. Not as a parent getting boys ready for school or bathed and into bed at night. Not picking up Legos and dirty clothes from the floor. Not at work making decisions on grant writing or presentations or people’s health. The only decisions I had to make were whether I was hungry or not and what I wanted to eat.

I’m a firm believer in “respite.” I spent my entire college, grad school, and medical school years taking every Sunday “off” as respite. I consistently counsel new parents to build in respite to get away with each other, and I have many times watched children for the weekend for parents to get away. I also co-founded a “crisis nursery” in our community a few years ago to provide respite for every and any parent who needs it. And yet, it took me ten years and near exhaustion and a wonderful person to say, “Can someone watch the boys for a few days? I’m serious” to get me to apply my philosophy to myself and get on a plane.

guemes1I have absolutely no regrets. I actually relished having six hours on a plane where no one could reach me and all I needed to do was read a book and munch on some pretzels. I woke up on the second day feeling rested and refreshed. When a winter storm blowing in caused us to push back our flights by a day, I fretted for a while about how my eldest (and least flexible) son would handle another day without mom, but soon realized that clearly I was the one who needed that extra day to sit on the couch and watch the boats go by.

My mom is my joy. She willingly moved into my little home for a few days to juggle the boys, get them to basketball games, handle the push-back of not wanting to go to church, deal with the major emotional complete melt-down of Super Tall Guy before school on Monday morning, keep the dog alive, coordinate the babysitter and my sister’s kids’ after school care, all with a smile and grace and love. And my sister lovingly filled in to give the boys a few extra hugs and attention while I was away. I am so grateful for the support of family and friends to make this happen and the chance to meet new friends on my trip.

If there’s one thing I learned – it won’t be ten years before I take my next break. In fact, it’s been rolling in my head for years to get away with some other moms on a regular basis in January or February. This experience reinforced the importance of making sure that idea becomes a reality. Parenting is exhausting even when you are getting sleep. Sanity is maintained by getting breaks!

Who’s with me in 2018?

 

 

 

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Advent Candle of Hope

Sunday was the first day of Advent. My boys don’t really care about the “anticipation” and the “waiting” for Jesus. They care about the wreath on the dining table that has candles on it. Candles can only mean one thing – the chance to fight about who gets to light the candles and who gets to blow them out. That’s what Advent is to them. Though they did learn last year that Mommy means what she says – keep fighting, keep arguing, keep driving me nuts, and that wreath disappears!!

So we sit down to a fine dinner of spaghetti and meatballs Sunday evening and light the first candle – the candle of Hope. I ask each one what they are hopeful for – and no, that particular Christmas gift does not count.

A couple hours later, during a typical wrestling match, Mr. Ornery apparently delivered a well-executed sweep kick that crashed the five-year-old to the floor. I did not witness said move as I was in the kitchen, doing what all single moms do after a meal – hiding and praying for a moment of quiet. But no, the Little Guy is screams in pain, and his unempathetic mom gives him a kiss and an elbow rub and a “get over it” look and we’re ready for bed, guys! After all, it is bedtime and sleep heals all wounds.

And what I realize in that moment is that all I’m hoping for this Advent Season is a moment of peace….which is not to be.

So here’s this year’s list of Advent Hope.

  1. Hope for just a few evenings of quiet to sit on the couch and stare at the tree lights.
  2. Hope that the hurt elbow heals up by the morning. This Hope, however,sam-cast2wp was replaced with Monday evening at Express Care and Tuesday afternoon spent in the Emergency Room for a lovely HUGE cast! (Mind you, on the same day, Super Tall Guy finished his 3rd week of boot-wearing after 3 weeks of casting. One out of a cast and one into a cast! Delightful.)
  3. Hope that this fracture train will end and the third boy keeps his bones intact! (He seems to hold the opposite hope, as these casts apparently to draw pretty cool attention according to his logic!)
  4. Hope that the dog will never ever ever again bark from her crate in the morning and wake me up on my golden morning of sleeping in as she did last Sunday! Really, dog?!?
  5. Hope that the boys will develop a much better aim for bodily fluids because I’m in-toiletgetting pretty tired of being the janitor (or else their hands are going to be cramping with writing assignments! “It’s 50 this time but it’s going to be 200 next time!”)
  6. Hope that we get a few more nice evenings to enjoy my early Christmas gift of a fire pit on the front patio (and again, not struggle with “behaviors” related to messing with fire!).
  7. Hope that there will be more dull moments this season – when the to-do list isn’t rumbling around in the back of my skull and the hype isn’t stirring up the boys’ inability to control impulses – and that we actually enjoy the days and each other (I know, too much to hope for, but I’m going to try).
  8. Hope that I can instill some meaningful traditions into this season where the boys catch a glimpse of the true meaning of Christmas and think about others for a few seconds; I’m only asking for a couple seconds.
  9. Hope for the world and all its people to find some peace and know that Christ is the Light of the world that disperses darkness.
  10. Hope for continued love and support of family and friends, and for patience….lots of patience….I need lots of patience…..

Hanging out in the “Accident Zone”

I’m pretty sure Children’s Hospital Express Care should know our names by now. If you’re parenting three boys, you’re just going to be engaging the health care system…a lot!

Looking around the waiting room on a Friday night, it felt good to be getting out of the fever, cough, cold, respiratory stage of needing a doctor. But we seem to have moved into the “accident” stage of life. Last week, it was a 1 inch dog bite under The Little Guy’s eye from his aunt’s busy-with-my-bone dog. We spent the next ten days with some antibiotics.

Two weeks before that it was a painful swollen ankle of Super Tall Guy mat-xrayafter he twisted it jumping on a bounce-house type jump pad. Not wanting to deal with crutches and school the next morning, I finally convinced him to go with me to get it checked out. Expecting an ankle aircast for a “sprain,” we walked out with a boot and an appointment for orthopedics.

A couple days later when the orthopedist suggested a cast instead of the walking boot, I agreed whole-heartedly. I know boys. Anything removable will be removed. Clothes. Soiled diapers during nap time. Seat belts in the middle of a long highway journey. And velcro-fastened walking boots.foot-boot

I also know that there’s no stopping my boys. Two days after the cast was applied, my sister texted to ask if Super Tall Guy could jump on the trampoline with the cast. “Um, no.”  “That’s what I told him, but he said his mom said he could.” He still rides a bike and a scooter through the neighborhood. I’ve called him down off the roof of the tree-house. Other than maybe shortening the trick or treat time from 2 hours to one hour and forty-five minutes, I haven’t seen much change in this boy (except to ask for glasses of water and dinners to be brought to the couch!).

Injury only has two days of “coolness,” though. mat-castThe first day is an opportunity to show off the green-casted foot to all the kids in the neighborhood. Ohhh. Ahhh. The next day is the sympathy at school and the offer to be at the head of the lunch line.

But on day two, the anger sets in. The annoyance at the itch down deep inside (“you must go buy me a hair dryer now, Mom. She said to use a hair dryer.” It’s nine o’clock at night, buddy. We’re going to bed.). The frustrated tantrum of wanting it off and banging the cast against the wall in an effort to shatter the plaster.  I consider the $85 cost of replacing the waterproof liner if we have to redo this cast and the damage to the wall as I angrily respond; that is, until I pause and remember that it’s day two. Day Two is nightmare zone, whether it’s during vacation at the beach or the start of a long recovery process. Day Two is when the excitement comes to a screeching halt. Always be prepared for Day Two.

And yet, two days moved into two weeks and then three weeks and the cast came off. The nurse practitioner smiled and said, “Keep it in the walking boot for 3 weeks and then see how it is.” See how it is? The kid just took off the walking boot off 10 days later to “skate” at the indoor slide-skate park!! Remember, “removable” splints and bandaids and velcro boots and so much more are, in fact, removable!

I’m not sure who is more miserable when a kid breaks a bone, but I can assure you that we’d all like to get out of the “accident zone” of medical visits.

 

 

Then he bled….

Every few months I settle into my bed a little before exhausted-brain time and write a short “letter” to the boys in a journal for them. I know that I’m not going to remember everything that they do. I know that I will forget so many details of their lives and will regret that. So I try to chronicle some of the “momentous” moments. (Naturally, boy number three keeps getting the short end of the straw….same way that there are fewer professional photos of him!  Why are some clichés so real?!).

Last night I picked up the pen to tell Mr. Ornery how exciting it is that he finished his “season” at the day care center. He has been there almost every single week of his life since the age of three months. There were times that he waved good-bye to me, times that he needed just one more kiss, times that he needed to run and jump into my arms, and times that I thrust him into Miss Kathy’s arms, knowing that her embrace would soothe him and he’d soon be on with his day. But there were many days that I walked out of the door with tears in my eyes, pausing before I could drive on. Being a working mom with my precious children with someone else every day was not something I had dreamed of. And yet, I also knew that they were well-loved, well-cared for and that they were growing and learning and thriving. And so….I would whisper comforting words to other mothers as they walked out with glistening eyes as well.

Last night I also wanted to write to Super Tall Guy to tell him in his own private journal (rather than the Open Letter) about his experience over the past two weeks. Yet as I chronicled the events and glowed about his bravery and how much I had been worried about him, I realized that I just couldn’t put the emotions into words. For almost two weeks, I have been wound so tense. I have lived with a baseline level of worry and stress and anxiety about my boy’s recovery.

How could I describe the panicked look upon his face when he bolted upright in bed at 9:02 pm last Monday? How could I tell him my fear when streaks of blood stained the tissues that he spit into? The shake of his head when I told him we were going to the hospital? The wide-eyed gazes of his younger brothers who had aroused with the sudden change in energy level in the room? The concern in my heart as I chatted with his ENT doctor during my almost red-light-running rush to the hospital? The determination in my voice as I announced to the Emergency Room attendant that he was bleeding after his T&A and we needed to go straight back?

The panic in my stomach as I watched him spit out clots of blood and saliva? The fear as they wheeled him into the operating room even though the on-call attending physician hadn’t made it to the building yet? The beat of my steps pacing an empty surgical waiting room at 11:15 at night? The silence in my response to the cleaning staff’s amicable question, “How are you?” (I had no answer….I had no idea how I was….).

The tears that eventually escaped in staccato bursts as I tried to pull myself together. The texts sent into the air to reach out to family and friends for prayers. Sister and mother who stayed awake throughout the night for electronic updates. The kind response from a friend over an hour away willing to come to the hospital (“You shouldn’t be alone now.”)  The warmth of the hug from a nearby friend who did jump in her car and sat with me for a bit….catching up on family happenings as if we had just met up for a cup of coffee.  Plain joy and gratefulness to once again look down at my son, my boy, my angelpost bleed….sleeping once again in the recovery room.

All of that and more, I just couldn’t write for him. Not last night. Not in his journal.

But maybe….someday…..he might read the writings of his mother who sends out her heart to friends and family across the void. Because it is through connecting that we are real and through loving each other that we carry on.

For now, I hug him every moment I can and whisper “I love you” so much more than I did.

And I rejoice in the cheeseburger that broke his 11 day fast and the smile that skirts his face as he jumps on his bike once more. Every day stronger. Every day more alive.

Every day more lovely and surrounded in love.

 

An Open Letter to my 8-year-old on his 6th day after tonsil surgery

Dear Super Tall Guy,

I’m actually not surprised by your anger this morning. I’m not surprised that you kicked out at me with your 80 pound body (now 7 pounds lighter than it was a week ago). I completely understand when you then curled into my lap and tearfully whispered in my ear, “Why did you let them take my tonsils out?” I felt your pain, the warmth of the tears, the wet of the drool.

You had no idea it would be like this. You had no idea how much pain there would be….that you wouldn’t be able to swallow anything for days….not even your own saliva. You were not fully informed. Oh, just a little day at the hospital while you sleep and then all TV-watching, ice-cream-eating bliss for a couple days is what you were told. You did not sign up for all of this.surgery

You should be angry in the middle of the night when you feel like you are going to choke. You should be angry that your brothers are running around having fun and you don’t have the strength to get up off the couch. You should be mad that even the offer of unrestricted ice-cream, popsicles, jello, or any kind of liquid including soda has no appeal to you at all. It stinks.

I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was going to be like this either. I watched the video sent out by the hospital. I read all the handouts given. “Keep the pain medications going around the clock for the first couple of days.”  “Offer cold liquids and transition to a soft diet as tolerated.” “Head to the emergency room if there’s any bleeding.” It seemed straightforward.  I had no idea the pain would be so bad overnight that you would stop swallowing completely. I had no idea we’d be back in the emergency room two days later for some IV fluids as I watched your lips and tears dry up and you couldn’t even take the pain medications for over 24 hours. I didn’t know you would have absolutely no food of any kind for six days.  Your moaning in the middle of the night breaks my heart. The tears well when you turn to me at 1:00 am and say, “Mommy, say a prayer for me please.”  I see your hurt.

I’m so sorry for yelling at you when you combined apple juice, koolaid, and the melted freezer pop liquid and then spilled it all over the table and floor. I’m sorry for snapping at you when you kicked out at a passing brother who brushed your foot. I’m sorry for being impatient and demanding that you just swallow!! You’re right….I “don’t know how it feels.” I don’t know how much it hurts. I don’t know how it feels to think that you’re constantly about to choke and die. I don’t know what drives the panicked look in your face in the middle of the night.

But I do know that we needed to do this to get you sleeping better and healthier in the long run. I do know that two weeks may seem like forever in your mind, but they are actually such as short window in your wonderful life as it plays out.

And I do know that I love you. I do know that I’m incredibly proud of you for hanging in there. I do know that I’m amazed by your brave face as the nurse tries to get an IV into small dehydrated veins. I do know that you have shown such amazing strength and courage over this past week. You have surprised me. You are no longer my little baby….you are becoming my big man.

But thankfully you still fit in my lap….because I still need to hold you.

I still need to kiss you.

And say, “I’m sorry.”

I love you, my big guy.

Mommy

Same Day Surgery

Scanning the surgical waiting room, I know that every parent here has just done the same heart-wrenching thing I did….turned and walked away from one of the most precious things in their life….their child strapped to a narrow Operating Room bed.

I had my hand on his arm as his eyes closed from the “magic air” flowing through the mask on his face. “Sometimes they do just drift off so quietly like that,” the anesthesiologist offers. “Now kiss his hand good-bye.”  “No wait!” I wanted to scream ….from that tiny voice in the back of your heart that always wants to scream and warn “this may be the very last time you see your child. This may be the image forever burned into your soul. This could be it. Cherish the moment.” But the moment is fast. When you need just a few more seconds, they usher you out of the cold, efficient, sterile room as the surgeon, nurses and techs stand poised ready to spring into action – willing you to leave their domain.

The tech makes pleasant conversation as you join her to “follow the green squares on the floor” that lead to the waiting room. Her rattling tries to push your fears aside. You walk alongside, numb to her words. You check in with the waiting room attendant but can’t remember her instructions; you’re too busy memorizing your child’s “number” so you can jump up every few minutes to check the “board.” It doesn’t change. “11788: OR in.” You wait. “11788: OR in.” Wait.

A couple sits side by side, absorbed in their respective iPads. A pinkified two-year old skips circles around the man playing solitaire and another couple hiding in their magazines. Parents pop up and down to check the board. Phone calls beckon families back to the recovery rooms. Surgeons gather families to talk in the “consult” rooms. A constant hum, constant motion, constant and welcome distracting dance of people’s lives. I put my book down. I can’t read anyway. I wait.

On this day, there’s no greater joy than in seeing your baby’s face again – even if he is 4-foot-7 and 87 pounds. He’s still my baby. But the alligator tears that spill from his eyes at the sight of me pierce my heart. His bravado, his cool, his composure melts at my touch, at the warmth of my arms around him, and the gentle kiss. This is when the tongue really hurts and the tears flow. I search briefly for a tissue, but wipe the wetness away with his blanket. I ache to soothe him, but my words and touch are of little comfort. Within minutes, another bit of medication through the IV site sends him back into sleep. My baby snores. I stroke his face.

Knowing that he’s safe again, I sit back and cuddle into the warmed blanket offered by the gentle nurse. I pause to be thankful that my touches of the “health care system” have all fallen within “the normal kid stuff” – the tonsils, the stitches, the corneal abrasion, rashes, sprains. I can cope with this normal. Yet my heart aches for the families who sit in the waiting room for the ninth or tenth time for their child. For the parents who never hear the surgeons say, “It was all routine. No problems. He’ll be just fine.” For the ones who walk away from their “sleeping” child on that cold table and never hold them again.

There are deep dark fears in loving and parenting. There are deep dark moments that remind us to cherish each breath and each smile and even each time the boys hit each other. As my heart swirls and thunders and catches itself today, I look upon my baby and lift up a prayer for him….and for all the other families.

Let the images be burned into my soul forever.

I shall cherish the love.

Stress fracture = boot = big adjustment

A local community advocate that I know from running the non-profit circles suggested that I embellish my story a bit rather than my version – “I was wrestling around with Super Tall Guy trying a little stuffed-animal soccer when my foot hit the bed frame.” It seemed mild enough. In fact, I was shocked to find a little bruise in the morning and it took a minute to figure out why it was there. But when the foot was still hurting 2 weeks later, I visited a very friendly sports medicine doc (and might have talked her into becoming a foster parent! I mean, why not? I’m always encouraging!).

She looked at the x-ray. She looked at my foot. She pushed on the bones – “does this hurt?” – “well, yes!” She looked at me. “Uh, what were you planning to be doing for the next few weeks?” Well….I was planning to run the JP5K for the crisis nursery we just opened up (and I wrote a little piece for)! Ahhh!the boot

Instead, I now hear:

“Mommy, you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you got a boot?”

“Mommy, why you not carrying me down the steps?”

“Mommy, where’s my boot?”

“Mommy, you got a boot?”

“Mommy, CARRY ME DOWN THE STEPS!!!!”

Pain-free, functional use of both my feet is certainly something I’ve taken for granted for, well, my whole life. And the ability to run after my boys is something that I’ve just assumed for the past almost 8 years….which means I’ve had to learn a few lessons this week.

1. Slow down – actually, it’s okay to sit on the couch a moment longer and put your foot up.

2. Do not kick immobile large metal objects.

3. Be patient – and try to answer the 2-year-old’s same questions over and over.

4. Take care of yourself – such an age-old mothering challenge and a huge struggle for me, despite how often I’ve heard the advice given. By day 4 of the boot, I was ready to kick it off and move on. Then I reminded myself how important it is to make sure that I heal as much as possible so that I would be healthy again for my boys.

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy....might still not be the best idea!

Even if the 5-year-old does want to win against Mommy….might still not be the best idea!

So, how to “Take care of yourself”….

1. Exercise – keep the body healthy and limber and strong and has excellent benefits for mental health as well (but running to the point of stress fracture is not necessary).

2. Eat a varied and balanced diet – food intake affects more than weight, it affects mood and health.

3. Sleep – it’s okay to nap and get to bed shortly after the kids do (rather than stay up into the wee hours blogging …).

4. Schedule and go to appointments for your own health – not just those of the kids.

5. Let people help you, especially if they offer….and use the kids if no one has (“hey, Mr. Ornery, can you please run upstairs and get…”).

6. Keep up with a hobby or something you enjoy.

7. Smile often, laugh more.

8. Be present in as many moments as you can and enjoy them.

9. Love matters – so don’t just give it, receive it as well.

10. And before you fall asleep each night, tell yourself “You did good!” (and if necessary, stop worrying….. for tomorrow is another day).