Thursday, October 30, 2008

Not My Week

What a week.

Ei took nap Sunday afternoon. I should have known something was up then. Around midnight Sunday he woke up wheezing and gasping for air. I wrapped him in a blanket and took him outside. We sat there for about 10 minutes until he complained that he was cold. I brought him in. He was still having a hard time breathing, so I called the doctor who told us to bring him to the ER. Mike put him in the shower while I got ready to go. We got to the ER around 1:30. They gave him a breathing treatment and oral steroids and said we could probably go home in 2 hours. At 4:00 they gave him another treatment and said he would be admitted to the hospital. Tuesday, 5 breathing treatments and 2 days later, we finally got to go home.

Monday morning Mike's stepfather began a series of 7 days of continuous chemotherapy. The idea is to kill off all of his bone marrow. Hopefully it will then begin to slowly regenerate. Most likely it will not, and we will not have him with us by Thanksgiving.

So, yeah, it's not been a good week.

But here's what I learned:

1. Some things are not in my control. As badly as I would like to, I cannot stop bad things from happening, and I don't have a solution for every problem.

2. The world does not fall out of orbit if I am away for a few days. Other mothers can host a Halloween party. The other parent can care for a grumpy baby.

3. I have an amazing support system. My phone didn't stop ringing the entire time I was in the hospital. We had a steady stream of visitors. Family members canceled plans to pitch in and help with Jackson and Aaron. Friends made meals for us after we got home.

I have several thoughts swirling around in my head after all this, and maybe some day they will make it into full posts. For now, my house is messier than it's ever been (I'm not exaggerating). Fortunately, I don't have to cook tonight because of aforementioned friends. So, to everyone who called, visited, babysat, made a meal, sent a balloon, or said a silent prayer for us--THANK YOU.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lost and Found

A devotional I wrote for the MOPS meeting this morning:

A lady at my church shared with me a scary but true story. S he was running late one morning as she pulled to the stop sign at the entrance of her neighborhood (at the intersection of a busy road). She looked over and saw a little boy around 2 years old standing in the grass in his pajamas by the side of the road. She looked around and couldn't see any parents. She got out of her car and approached the boy. He looked frightened. She asked him if he was lost, where his house was, where his Mama was, if he needed help. He didn't answer but just looked at her with fear in his eyes. She looked at her car, knowing that she was going to be hopelessly late for work, then took the little boy's hand and started walking with him. At each house she stopped and asked, "Is that your house?" hoping that he would recognize a house and nod or speak or smile or somehow show her that she was on the right track. He never looked up but just kept walking silently beside her clutching her hand tightly. After several minutes she noticed a house with the garage door up and lights on inside. Since it was still quite early, most of the other houses were not yet stirring. She led the boy to the front porch and rang the bell. A woman answered the door, looked at her, then looked down at the little boy, and got a panicky look on her face. She began to cry. "Where? How? When?" She couldn't even finish her questions. She later explained that her husband had left the garage door up by mistake, and she hadn't known there was a door open to the outside. She was embarrassed to admit that she hadn't even missed the little boy yet because she was so busy getting ready for the day.

I am a mom. Immediately I began to sympathize with this poor lady. An honest mistake--we all make them. Mommy Guilt--it's the worst. I wonder what she told her husband. I wonder if she tried to share the guilt with him for leaving the door open. I wonder if she canceled her morning plans and just sat and held her son and cried for fear of what could have happened. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I'm more like the little boy than the mom. Let me retell the story from his perspective.

Mom is getting ready for work. She's in a bad mood and keeps telling me to get out of her way. I'm hungry for bananas, but she said, "In a minute." I am bored but she won't play a game with me. Daddy has gone to work. He said he'll play ball with me when he gets home. I opened the garage door to tell him good-bye again, but he was already gone. He forgot to close the door. I'm not allowed outside by myself. Mom says it's dangerous. I wonder what's so scary about going outside. It's still dark out, but I think I can see the sun coming up over the trees. I'll just step outside and see if I can see it. Ooh, a squirrel just crossed the road. I wonder where it is going. Mom will be mad if she knows I'm gone, but surely she would understand that you don't get to chase a real squirrel every day. It's nice outside by myself. It's quiet, and I can hear the birds singing. It feels good out here. I see the birds fly over a house. I follow them. I have walked a long way, and I can't see my house anymore. The cars are so close now. There are lots of them. They are driving very fast. I am scared of them. I know I should go home, but I don't know which way it is. I wish the birds would fly back to my house so I could follow them. It's pretty cold. I don't have shoes on, and the grass is wet. I want my Mommy. A lady is getting out of her car. She's talking to me. I don't know how to answer her. She wants to take me home. I don't know how to get there. I need help. She is holding out her hand. I'm scared, but I put my hand in hers. She's going to help me.

We live like this little guy every day. God gave us the gift of free will. He left the garage door open, if you will indulge my metaphor. He makes it quite clear that we are to stay inside, but He doesn't force us to do so. Sometimes we just mean to look outside, not to actually take a step. We mean to keep a foot in the door so it won't close behind us. But little by little, we move away from Him. Sometimes we realize that we're sinning, but it feels so good we just keep moving farther away from God. By the time we decide to turn around, we are hopelessly lost.

Fortunately, God understands that we are like curious children. He knows our sinful natures, and He sent us Jesus to show us the way back. Sometimes we are so paralyzed with fear--or so wrapped up in our sinning--that we can't or don't ask for help. Jesus holds out His hand. Take it. That's all you have to do. Just reach out and accept the grace of Jesus Christ and allow Him to lead you home. He doesn't want you to explain why you left. He just wants you to admit you can't get back home without Him. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Consult a map. Wander aimlessly. Leave a trail of breadcrumbs. You just won't find your way home unless you take His hand and let Him lead you. And when you do, I can promise you that God will be there to throw His arms around you, hold you tight, and say, "This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found" (Luke 15:24).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Peas and Manna

Today is Blog Action Day. Across the globe, bloggers are writing about poverty and hunger. I think I'll join them.

Last week my MOPS group collected canned and nonperishable foods for a local food bank. I took my kids to the store and let them each pick out a canned vegetable that they would like to give to someone who didn't have any food. (They both picked out peas, the only canned vegetable they'll even allow near their plates.) In the store, our conversation went something like this:

Mama: Boys, let's all pick out a vegetable for the MOPS food drive. It's for families who don't have any food in their kitchens.

Jackson: Why don't they have any food?

Ei: Can I have some candy?

Mama: Some people are not as lucky as we are. They don't have money to buy groceries.

Jackson: Well, what do they eat then?

Ei: Can I buy cookies?

Mama: People like us who have plenty of food help out by giving them some.

Jackson: Don't they need more than 2 cans of peas?

Ei: Can I ride in the cart?

Mama: Yes, they will need more than 2 cans of peas. We'll pick out a couple of things and give them. And everyone else in the group will give some things too. We have to work together to help people.

Jackson: Will the people come to church and get the food?

Ei: Can I hold the peas?

Mama: No, they won't come to the church. Someone from our church will take all the food to a big place where they keep all the extra food. And then they will pass it out to people who need it later.

Jackson: Why can't they just come to the store to get it?

Ei: Can I get out of the cart?

Mama: They don't have enough money to buy it.

Jackson: Why can't the store give them food if they need it?

And there you have it. A simple solution to a very difficult problem. My 4 year old could look around the huge grocery store at the stocked aisles and bulging displays and see that there's plenty of food for everyone. That's a fact. There's enough food for every person on this earth. The issue clearly isn't quantity. No, the problem is that we just don't share very well.

My children have been learning the story of Moses and the Exodus for the last couple of months. We've been talking about the years that Moses and the Israelites wandered the desert and how they had to trust in God for their needs to be met. The people were hungry, so God sent Manna. Every morning their meals were, quite literally, dropped right in front of their feet. There was a catch: God told them to only gather what they needed for the day and no more. Of course, because they were human, they attempted to hoard the Manna, just in case God forgot them one day. The excess Manna decayed and became inedible. God just wouldn't stand for greed and mistrust in Him. I feel like we are living like the Israelites. How much excess do we store up "for a rainy day?" How often do we go to the pantry and whine that there isn't anything to eat when, in reality, our kitchens are bulging with enough food to feed us for weeks (or even months)? God has provided enough for everyone. If we hoard it up, it can't reach those who need it, and God will surely not stand for this greed.

I'm afraid I don't really have a solution for world hunger or poverty. I'm sure that it all boils down to being a good sharer. Jackson's right: it's going to take a lot more than 2 cans of peas.

Monday, October 13, 2008

'Til Death Do Us Part

I'm taking Pastoral Care right now. In our last class we were doing an exercise on loss. Our instructor asked us to list these things: the 4 most important living people to us, the 4 most important roles we fill, the 4 most important abilities we possess, and the 4 most important material objects in our lives. Then, as he read a scenario, we were asked to cross off some of the items to represent losing those people/things. We were allowed to choose which things we crossed off, but we had to choose from the list. Early on, it was pretty easy. Although I would not voluntarily surrender my house, car, computer, or piano (the 4 objects I decided were most important to me), I didn't have to think very hard to decide that I would much rather give those things up that one of my children. No sweat. But he kept going. I was asked to cross off more things. Before long I had crossed off all my abilities (nurturing, listening, teaching, and making music) and two of my roles (daughter and friend). He announced that we had to mark off just one more item and we would be finished. I looked over my remaining choices: my people (Mike, Jackson, Ei, Aaron) and my roles (wife and mother). I cringed and marked off wife.

I am fortunate that this was only an exercise. It is not necessary for me to actually choose what things are most important in my life because I have room enough for all my people, roles, abilities, even material possessions. Or do I? Several months ago I wrote about all the balls I had up in the air and how I can't possibly catch them all at the same time (HERE). Individually, no problem. But all at the same time? No way. And it's still true. I haven't figured out any magic solutions recently. So, the truth is that I don't have enough time for everything and everyone. Some decisions are easy (I'll forfeit a day on the computer for a day at the zoo with my kids any day). Some are not. I realize that, without really meaning to, I've neglected my marriage. I crossed off "wife" for the purpose of keeping "mother" on the list. It's not that I'm having marital troubles. Far from it. My husband and I are perfectly happy together (well, at least I think we are). But in thinking about this I began to worry that we'll be one of those couples that drops their kids off at college and looks at each other like, "Who are you and where did you come from?" If I were giving someone else advice I would suggest a regular date night (monthly, at least) and setting aside time in the evenings for each other. It always seems like I'm having to make that big choice though (wife or mother?), and mother wins every time. It's so stressful for me to leave the baby (and the big boys, for that matter), so date night sounds scary. And the evenings are devoted to laundry and packing diaper bags and homework for our classes. There's just never enough time. So, wife gets crossed off. "Someday," I think. Someday I'll have time for everything that's on my plate. How? I assume more hours will be added to the day. Or I'll give up sleeping. Probably not realistic. So, it's back to the juggling act. I've got to get better at this. Someone keeps throwing new balls into the routine. Me, you say? Why would I add to my already chaotic schedule? I see. I have got to cross off a few items to save the rest. Okay. Back to square one. Some are easy. Others are not. I get it. This isn't helping. But what if I just lightly crossed over one item, so that I could erase the scratch mark later? Would it be such a betrayal of my children to put them on the back burner on occasion so that I could focus on wife for a moment? And, I wonder, wouldn't it benefit my children if my marriage got some extra attention?

I know my husband reads my blog. He mentions it occasionally. He even once commented. If you didn't read it, you should. It was so very sweet. So, Mikey, bear with me. I know that I cross you off when I'm forced to choose. I know that I can't be easy to live with. But I love you. You are the best father I have ever known, the most amazing provider for us, and the person with whom I want to spend forever (even when you're a cranky old man). I'm lucky to have you. I'm trying. I am.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thou Shalt Not

Thursday evening I was invited to a dinner meeting for the board of directors of the nonprofit for which I write grants. I'm on staff, not on the board, but they wanted the staff members and the board members to get to know each other. Wow. I so did not belong there. Driving to the house, I realized I was in a different world. The road on which she lives is one of the fanciest in the area--one full of old money. The houses were huge, the cars were expensive, and the properties back up against the lake. I parked my very basic, non-loaded minivan on the street and walked up the path to the house. I was met in the driveway by one of the board members, a lady I've met a few times but wouldn't necessarily consider a friend. She and the hostess are friends, and she had obviously been here before. She walked in the front door without even stopping to ring the bell. We entered a huge foyer and into a big beautiful home. Inside I saw some faces that I recognized and two that I did not. I was immediately introduced to one lady I did not know, but another gentleman just stood in the corner not talking to anyone. I thought it was odd, but, well, I'm just too shy to run up to someone and thrust my hand out in introduction. It was a little uncomfortable though. Someone should really introduce this guy to someone so he doesn't have to stand there alone. Anyone? The hostess announced that we were all present and should make our way to the dining area to eat. The man from the corner offers to get me something to drink. Weird. No one even introduced us, and now he is getting my drink? "No, thanks!" I said. I poured myself a glass of water. Then I notice that the man is getting other people drinks. Oh, crap. He's the freaking waiter. There are 8 of us here, and we have a waiter. Seriously? Oh, yes. The meal has been catered, and there is a waiter.

Suddenly I become very self-conscious. I look down at my Target shirt and Wal-Mart pants and feel a surge of embarrassment. I am instantly grateful that I bought those shoes at the consignment store. Even though they weren't new, they're at least a name brand. I wish there was some way to wear the shoes higher on my body. I considered dangling them from my ears. Why, oh why, didn't I wear my big fake diamond earrings tonight? I began to scan the other guests--3 carat diamond ring, expensive leather handbag, designer clothes, trendy haircut. Even the men were well-dressed and clean-cut. I scan the house. Beautiful pool overlooking the lake which runs right along the backyard. Ridiculously high ceilings. So many doors I forgot which one I came in. Fancy drapes which match the fancy furniture. Professionally decorated everything. Everything is beautiful, fancy, expensive. I imagined what it would be like to live here. What would this life be like? I assume that they have a perfect life to go along with this perfect house. And I want it. I'm just being honest here. I wanted the sparkly pool and the lakeside property and the Cherokee Boulevard address. I wanted the face lift and the big diamonds and the artificial laugh for jokes that aren't funny. I wanted it the whole night. I wished my handbag wasn't old and worn out. I wished my shoes weren't scuffed. I wish my clothes weren't from a discount store. I wished my diamonds weren't fake. I wished my house wasn't amateurly decorated and landscaped. Even as I walked to my car I wasn't done. I wished my car wasn't the cheapest minivan on the market. I wished it started when I pushed a button on my key chain. I wished my dinner tomorrow would be served by waiter. I got to my car and opened my embarrassing purse to pull out the keys to my embarrassing car and suddenly felt...well, embarrassed. But this time for a different reason. Inside my purse I saw a spit rag, a rattle, and a pacifier. See, I wouldn't trade purses with anyone in that house. While it may not contain loads of cash and cards with high limits, mine contains cracker crumbs and other artifacts from the most wonderful people I know. I am wealthy. My bank statement may not agree, but I am wealthy. My dictionary says that wealthy means "characterized by abundance." That's me. I have so much. I have a beautiful house (on a much smaller scale than the one I visited). I have a car that I love (because it meets all of our needs and has never given me an ounce of trouble). I have clothes for all occasions (purchased mostly from Wal-Mart and Target and consignment stores). But most of all I have a husband who loves me, and I have 3 children who are amazing. I could very well have spent my whole night focused on what I don't have. There are certainly enough things to fill a night thinking over them. Opening my purse and seeing my baby's belongings helped me to remember what God says about all this. Exodus 20:17. Click on that. Read it; I'll wait. Did you read it? There it is. God's 10th commandment in plain English. And I broke it. I didn't just break it--I shattered it. Envy is one of The Enemy's most powerful tools. I let him into my life a little bit Thursday evening. I let him take up residence in my heart and fill me with greed and discontentment. I let him cloud my judgement and turn me into someone I didn't even recognize. And I'm embarrassed. And I'm sorry.

I won't lie to you and say that I haven't thought about that evening with the smallest (er, maybe not smallest) bit of jealousy since that night. I won't lie to you and tell you that I won't ever look at what I don't have and feel greedy. I won't lie to you and tell you that contentment comes naturally to me. But I will tell you that I'm in prayer about this. I'm asking God to help me with it. I'm asking God to help me remember how lucky I am. I'm asking God to keep my eyes on my wealth and not on others'. I'm asking God to fill my heart so full with His love that there isn't room for the other guy. It's hard. But it's so worth it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Kindergarten Debate

My oldest son is 4. In August he will be eligible for kindergarten. Eligible, mind you, does not mean ready. So, let me invite you into my worry for a moment. If you have enough problems of your own, please hit the red X at the top right hand of your screen.

For quite some time, Mike and I have been discussing whether or not to start Jackson in school next year. He will be 5, but barely. He would be one of the youngest in his class and would graduate from high school when he was 17 years old. If we hold him a year, he will be the oldest in his class (giving him another year of life experience and a lot more confidence) and will graduate at 18. Plus, I'm told, it gives him an advantage should he choose to play sports in high school (being 1 year older and bigger than the other kids). This is not a factor in my decision, but I'm just laying it all out on the table here. So, with all those things in mind, it seemed a fairly easy decision to hold him an extra year and start kindergarten in the fall of 2010, just after his 6th birthday.

Now, my Jackson is very smart. He can write the alphabet (uppercase and lowercase) and understands phonics (as well as any English-speaking child can) and has about 20 sight words. He can count to 40 (with a little bit of prompting after 20) and can add sums up to 10. He can make a graph and then analyze it. He can cut with scissors well. He follows directions and takes turns with other children. He knows the days of the week. He dresses himself, combs his own hair, and brushes his own teeth. He takes cello lessons and plays piano and practices both. So, it would seem, he's kindergarten-ready today as far as skills go. Of course, this leads me to wonder what life will be like for him in 2 years when he begins kindergarten and goes back to square-one, learning letters and numbers. I'm currently taking a class which is a very watered-down version of my own major in college. And I'm bored stiff. The work keeps me busy, sure, but that's all it is: busy-work. I hate it. Of course, I don't hold the teacher responsible. He's teaching the material that needs to be covered. And it is necessary material. I've just already learned this stuff and know it well. The point is, I don't want him to experience this same problem when he goes to school. He's going to be bored and he'll be wasting time that he could be learning new skills and moving forward rather than standing still.

So, I began to consider two alternatives: private school and homeschooling. Now, this is my blog, so if you have any beef with either of those, take it elsewhere. Create your own blog called "Down with Homeschooling" or something, because I don't want to hear it. If you're still with me, read on. Okay, the obvious problem with this is cost. At minimum we're talking fifteen hundred bucks or so each month for all 3 kids (and we're not separating them--I'm not evening delving into that), and most of them are much more. So, that eliminates the possibility of my being Room Mother or even a stay-at-home mom to the preschoolers still at home. Then I have to consider the fact that I'm raising a kid to be a snob. Yeah, that's a little bit of a stereotype. Not all kids from private schools are snobs. But they don't get the chance to mingle with children from all walks of life and learn to get along, a skill which I think is really important. So, the world becomes this fairy-tale-like setting where everyone is middle or upper-class and all kids either get with the program or get kicked out. I'm just not sure I'm really explaining my concerns well, but surely you get the general idea.

Okay, the second possibility I started thinking about was homeschooling. Currently, I'm "homeschooling" preschool with both of the older boys. I am a little bit more structured with Jackson than Ei (because he's just 3), but I make both of them sit down and work with me a little bit every day. We do some seatwork (during which time they are not allowed to get up without asking and are not permitted to have toys at the table) and then do a project together (like graphing or crafts). We go to the library every week and check out books that we want to read and explore new concepts from our books. It's going really well, and we all love it. All of the skills I mentioned earlier Jackson has because I taught him (with the exception of cello, I guess). So, it seems that something is working. I joined a homeschool coop for some support with all this, and we plan to start going to the group so the boys can take classes in January. So, this seemed like a good option (not necessarily the only option) to consider. But, of course, it's not that easy.

My Jackson is also painfully shy. I don't even think shy is really the right word here. He's really--[gulp]--antisocial. Okay, now some of you are reading this and saying, "No, he's not! He plays with my kid just fine." Well, that might be true. But, I assure you, if I left his sight, he would become a nervous wreck. He cries every single week in his Wednesday night class (and that's with his brother there, in the church where we've been going since before he was born), and Mike has to go sit in the room with him. I can't even describe how he behaves in cello lessons (although I made an effort to HERE). So, I have to consider that, perhaps, being around other kids to "socialize" him would be beneficial. But I'm just not sold. I mean, we're around other kids almost every day. He goes to MOPS, Mommy & Me, library, Sunday School, Enrichment, and his Wednesday night class. He does fine with playdates and with kids his age when I'm present. But even with all this exposure, he still acts...well...weird. I just don't think it's lack of socialization. I really think it's anxiety. And I think this because I was the same way. I distinctly remember in 2nd grade we got a flyer for Brownies. There was this tiny part of me that wanted to join (all the other girls were going to!), so I brought it home to my mom. She said I could join. I panicked. Suddenly I began to picture myself in this group with a bunch of kids I didn't know and my family far away, and I didn't want to do it anymore. I couldn't tell my mom I changed my mind (Why? I have no idea. I was an anxious kid, I tell you.) so I dropped the registration form behind the bookcase where it would surely never be found. And this was not the only example of my overwhelming anxiety. My mom had to sit in my 1st grade class forever while I adjusted to the new school (we had just moved to Tennessee from Oklahoma). And sometime ask me about the paper backpack story. Geez. I was a nut. I was so anxious about social interaction and being away from my comfort zone that I stayed in tears. I was miserable. And I'm not about to let Jackson have the same kind of childhood. So, I wonder if maybe homeschooling would be a very kind thing to do for him. He could get a good education without all the anxiety that goes along with leaving home. Nope, there wouldn't be a basketball team. Nope, there wouldn't be a band. But there are coops and community orchestras and plenty of ways to get those kinds of experiences.

Oh, wouldn't it be great if it was that easy? I could just say, "I think this is what's best for my kid," and be done with it. I joined the homeschool coop and my husband's radar went up. He's completely opposed to the idea. So, it's causing some friction at home. And I know he wouldn't be the only one. It would be a tough sell. And that's if I tried to sell it at all. I'm just not sure if that's where I think we should be headed.

So, for now I pray. I feel pretty sure that we're not doing kindergarten (wherever that might take place) next year anyway, so we have some time. I wish the stars would spell out a message from God, but even if they did I would probably still find a way to question if I was doing the right thing. This is huge, right? Or is it? Is it just cut and paste and letter people and who cares where he goes anyway? And how can you tell if you got it right until it's all said and done? I guess anxiety doesn't go away with age. If you are so inclined, say a little prayer for us. And, by all means, join me in The Great Kindergarten Debate. Goodness knows I can't do this alone. I leave you with the picture Jackson drew in response to the book Barn Dance. He's so wonderful.