Life, Parenting, Self-Care, Self-Medicating

Gratitude is the thought-zapper

Lately, I’ve fantasized about mental flypaper…some sticky substance to grab the ever-present thoughts that pervade my peace, to gather them in one place and keep them under control.

flypaper

Unfortunately for my inner peace, each one of these little thoughts is precious to me somehow. They are fleeting illusions, little what-ifs and I-long-fors and why-nots, tiny tortures. Each and every one. I let them fly about as though anything other than chaos has resulted.

I have an impossible time gathering them up. The swarm settles down and I almost lose sight of them for awhile, but they still dwell in the midst of it all. I’m so comfortable with them now that I can’t imagine life without them, even though they are each tiny exercises in futility.

After bemoaning this to my friend…again…I realized how tiring I’ve become to myself (and probably her, as she is the lucky recipient of all my gut-spillage and has graciously listened to me for hours). I mused about a circuit board of sorts. Have you ever wished your brain had a switchboard, so you could just flip a switch and…zap. Zap, zap, zap. Go away, thoughts. Would I use this if I could?

While cleaning dishes this evening, I reflected upon the blessings of the day. I sacked out on my bed for a few minutes before tackling the next ginormous stack of tasks, and my 13-year-old daughter plopped down next to me, wielding a glue stick (have I mentioned this was on my bed?) and finishing up a school project.

I lay there savoring this ordinary moment. This is life, these are my people. I experienced gratitude and watched my circuit breaker zap my thoughts of that other world into oblivion.

Gratitude is the thought-zapper:

~my four year old son, with his very damaged brain, spending most of his days laughing at everyone and everything;

~my 3 year old daughter, surreptitiously taking an alcohol swab from our drawer and keeping it with her throughout an entire bath (I kid you not–that one little swab afforded her at least an hour of entertainment for her and she was adorable);

~my very saucy 2&1/2 year old pushing me, spitting bubbles at me, biting me, kissing me, flinging herself into my arms, and just generally being the most passionate person in the house;

~a rather outstanding night away in Portland this month with my husband, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Trombone Shorty, and Jack Irons, a much-needed, uplifting, energizing time filled with all sorts of goodness. We even flew back on the same plane as John Cleese, and the flight attendant passed him my thank you note for all the years of laughter and entertainment.

~our upcoming road trip! We are planning to take the big kids on a grand adventure and they can’t stop talking about it. Even just planning a road trip proffers a delicious sense of freedom.

Zap. Gratitude is the thought-zapper. Gratitude is the key to staying in the present, where I absolutely need to stay. There is no other option; it is, frankly, a matter of survival at this point. The swarm is powerful. My will is weak. Zap. Zap, zap, zap.

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Adoption, Life, Nonfiction, Parenting

A sweet dream of repose

Last night afforded a lovely consolation. I dreamed of our little boy Gabriel. (Gabriel, if you don’t already know from previous posts, is our child who passed away last month.)

In real life, Gabriel became very ill very quickly. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it through the night, I gathered him up in my arms.

Considering I’m a nurse, I’ve been around remarkably few dead bodies. Hardly any. I’ve been around dying people, mostly when I worked in the jail. Some of those experiences were beautiful and others were horrifying.

But I’ve never been there at the very moment when a life left a body, such as what happened with my little boy.

When we knew his heart was going to fail–the doctors were clear with me, as it sped away wildly in septic shock, that a sudden drop would indicate the beginning of the end of its functioning–we took off his g-tube and oximeter probe and other things attached to him but I wanted to keep the heart monitor on him…to know the exact moment when it happened. That’s the nurse in me.

And sure enough, his heart rate, which had been speeding away in the 180s, dropped suddenly into the 80s. I knew he was dying. I gathered him up and held him and loved him and said goodbye to him. I cried all over his sweet little self. I felt very privileged to be there with him.

The heart monitor flat-lined…for real. Like in the movies. A flat purple line on the black screen. Intellectually, I knew that would happen, but to see it was wild.

I didn’t know what to expect but what truly amazed me was how quickly his color changed. All the vitality, the energy, the electricity which had emanated from his little living self was gone.

For the longest time, I looked at my vibrant, pink hand on his grey, ashen face. All of my aliveness next to all of his death. But his skin stayed supple and soft. How quickly would his little body become rigid? I’m sure I learned that in the textbooks forever ago in nursing school but it wasn’t a typical encounter for me in my work life so I really didn’t know.

I held him for hours…probably six or seven hours, off and on. My shoulders and back reminded me the next day. He died at 2 in the morning and I wanted my husband and other children to have the chance to see him before he was picked up and taken to the mortuary.

We were visited by a dear priest friend and then one of my closest friends Anastasia, who wrote about her experience here. Aside from the cool temperature of his skin, I lost track at times that he was dead during those special hours because he never moved much at all when he was alive. His brain injury had significantly hindered him; he rarely moved intentionally.

It was a sacred time. I’m very grateful to have had it with him.

So back to my dream. I was holding my sweet Gabriel once again. He was already gone, but in my arms in that same supple, soft, peaceful repose as he had been for so many hours in the early morning.

In my dream, my husband was there, and I knew I should give him a turn to hold our little boy but I didn’t want to give up this chance. And then the dream would occasionally transport me to a well, the kind with a water pump that needs to be cranked up and down. And I’d crank the handle up and down and cup my hands in the spurt of water that would occasionally flow.

I woke up today, grateful for that little living memory of our guy. To be able to feel him physically like that again. Dreams aren’t often pleasant experiences for me, but this one I am cherishing.

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Adoption, Foster Care, Life, Parenting

Tiny stuffed creature of love

stuffed-creature

A little girl joined our family two and a half years ago. (Her super secret internet code name shall be KCup.)

KCup had a rocky start from the very beginning of her existence. Her birth mother drank heavily throughout her pregnancy, and KCup’s brain has damage from that, although it’s hard for most people to see it until they spend extended periods of time with her.

After doing so, it becomes more noticeable that she requires different parenting techniques, that concrete communication and predictable structure reign supreme, and that her emotional responses are more exaggerated and less nuanced than expected.

For a long time, I worried because she didn’t exhibit nearly the same complexity of emotional expression that I would expect for a little girl her age. She was either SUPER HAPPY BOUNCING OFF THE WALLS BLISSED OUT or she was completely despondent and morose, crying in the most pitiable fashion imaginable. There was not a lot of in-between.

As time has passed, her development has accelerated and we get excited about all of it.

Yesterday was a hard day…in the wake of Gabriel’s death, I’m finding it hard to consistently engage in “ordinary life” at every moment.

I wish sometimes that I could press a pause button for a little while, like floating in a pool, ears muffled to the noises around me, pondering the heavens and staring at the stars. (Hmm, this looks to be an outdoor pool…maybe Chena Hot Springs on a quiet night. Swoon.)

Yesterday morning was no exception…I had a mini-meltdown, crying in my husband’s arms before going to work. And KCup approached us and watched me for a moment. With her large, dark, probing eyes, she pointed at my face and said, “Sad. Crying.”

My face broke into a smile, not because I expect my toddlers to comfort me…God help me, I don’t want to be this person at all. Stoicism has my vote, especially when attempting to, oh, function.

But KCup recognized my emotions! She labeled them with her words. She showed the most heartfelt concern with her precious brain. Then she handed me this strange stuffed animal to help me feel better. Amazing!

What a privilege to play any part at all in the cultivation of this young woman’s developing self. It was hard to stay sad when she had just demonstrated a monumental breakthrough in her emotional development. Emotional displays for the win. 🙂

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Adoption, Foster Care, Life, Parenting

A rare and unexpected time

I am exhaling, looking around, crying occasionally.

The purpose of this blog is not to guilt you into action, or inundate you with personal details about myself, my family.

I write this blog to share about writing, the creative process, the endeavors undertaken to bring that needed outlet and expression into my life–professionally, a life which focuses on child trauma.

However, my home life has also had its share of encounters with child trauma, as my husband and I have been foster parents for several years.

And two years ago this week, we brought home a little boy who was otherwise living in the hospital after undergoing horrendous trauma. (I cannot escape entirely from attempting to guilt you into action as there are actual living and breathing children staying at a hospital near you, waiting for someone to engage with and commit to their needs.)

Our state’s child welfare agency agreed to place him in our crazy home. Our family hoped that he would have peace, safety, and comfort. His long-term prognosis was somewhat unknown but not expected to be anywhere near the same as a healthy child. His brain had been gravely injured and he couldn’t do anything a typical child can do.

For two years, he was treated like a prince. We plopped his adorable, fat, 1-year-old self into a living space right in the center of our home so that he wouldn’t be stuck in a bedroom, waiting for attention.

After 15 months, we were blessed to adopt him, an urgent priority because kids like him need actual, legal parents who are invested in their lives and have the authority to make medical decisions. (He didn’t have any.) The process felt like pushing oatmeal up a hill. It took a lot of pressure to finally get all the parts talking to one another so that this could happen sooner rather than later.

He was the regular recipient of drive-by kisses and snuggles. He received nursing care on a daily basis. One nurse, particularly intrepid, took him out daily to the library, local coffee houses, and walks on the trails.

He developed a veritable entourage of folks who would spend time talking to him and appreciating his adorable self. He was deemed “the best listener,” no doubt because he couldn’t interrupt. 😉 I thought about starting a Facebook page to give folks a chance to document his whereabouts because I’d get texts from friends regularly that there had been a sighting of our guy out in the community. I loved getting those because it meant he wasn’t stuck in a hospital or living in a bed.

In short, this little man was loved to the end.

After having remarkably stable health for two years in our home, he woke up one morning extremely ill. His heart rate was high, his oxygen saturation was low, and he was struggling to breathe in a way we had never seen.

And within 18 hours of waking up that morning, our angel had passed away.

His physical decline was rapid and absolute. He thankfully did not suffer for long, and his passing happened peacefully and calmly in my arms while I poured tears over him and caressed his precious face.

So the last two weeks have been the rare kind that happen unexpectedly, even while known to be inevitable sometimes. Middle of the night phone calls. Breaking it to the children. Funeral-planning. Grieving, laughing, remembering. Being at the receiving end of intensely generous love, support, and outreach of our wonderful community.

And yesterday, cleaning. Packing. So many medical supplies, his wheelchair, his personal items and our many memories. We did all that yesterday.

And we would do it again, if it means a child will not live in a hospital or die without a real and actual family.

In fact, we will do it again, someday, when our other adopted son reaches the end of his brave journey, a reality brought into sharp focus in a way that I often blissfully choose to forget.

Rest in peace, our sweet Gabriel. You are dearly missed, although I know with certainty you are living the life right now in a way you never could here on earth.

…they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble. ~Wisdom 3:7

 

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Life, Self-Care

Stupid ice in stupid Alaska

crutches

So I earned myself a pair of these yesterday when I took a reverse swan dive onto my rear end in a parking lot. Thankfully, I didn’t then get run over by automobiles sliding on aforementioned ice, and I hobbled my way to a meeting.

Then the time came to actually stand and move after sitting in the meeting, which didn’t go so well.

Of all the times to do such a thing to one’s self, it makes sense to have this happen at a hospital with an ER conveniently therein. Even better when the meeting has lots of medical types, one of whom is among the kindest on the planet, who stayed with me to make sure I was able to get home.

Things in the ER went well, other than my general loss of dignity accompanying the disrobing process and having to sit around in an ugly gown.

I couldn’t have asked for a more thorough doctor, and he got me through the process rather quickly.

The good news is, my pelvis is not broken per the x-rays (yay!), but that does not mean I can use it yet. So I am hanging out in bed.

Wah.

But yeah, it totally could be worse. I’m very grateful it’s NOT worse…I received the world’s best nursing care last night by my older daughters who were trying to outdo each other in nurturing awesomeness, and my husband is ordering me Thai food. The house is quiet. And there’s plenty to do right here in my bed such as drink coffee and read books and write blogs and stuff.

I really should do more of this relaxation stuff, minus the ER.

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Life, Nonfiction

In the wake of Christmas

Weeping at the beauty of this.

Today, I take inventory of Christmas.

My husband and I had a conversation about this song—how he prefers this version while I will forever remain a fan of the original. And I send condolences to Leonard Cohen, who may be turning in his grave to hear this more neatly Christian version of his offering.

Regardless, I tend to experience Christmas in a state of regret. I have incredibly fond memories of the experience, which consisted of two doting parents at one house, faithfully preserving traditions year after year while showering me, the only child, with presents. And then, later that day, a visit to my other doting parents, who would also shower me with presents. I had a stepbrother in that house, a pesky detail that I didn’t let detract from the ultimate focus on yours truly.

This was all a completely secular and utterly wonderful experience. However, akin to how my brain was already primed to pray the rosary from so many Los Angeles encounters with beads swinging from rear view mirrors and tattooed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I was spending a month of every year immersed in the lyrics of Silent Night and O Come All Ye Faithful and other traditional carols. They were everywhere: the radio, my bedside music box, our school’s Christmas presentation. While my family never claimed to be Christian and did not attend church (on Christmas, Easter, or any other day) I feel certain the spiritual underpinnings of Christmas were communicated nonetheless.

Fast forward a few decades and here we are with our own children and all the build-up. The focus paid to a single child in a home is impossible when there are 8 times that many, and a 9th one living on his own for the first year. My husband and I spent the month of December with me working more than usual due to the demands of my academic program, trusting blindly that my husband will pull off Christmas the way he usually does, and him sending me texted pictures from this or that store while he does his usual Santa magic.

In the last dying hours, I feel certain the point of it all has been lost.

Our traditions manage to persist. We gather each night for dinner, lighting the candles of our Advent wreath and singing “O Come Emmanuel.” My faith sputters currently like how the matches are lit so tentatively by the children.

Then we come together on Christmas morning (read that: the parents stumble down the stairs, the children bound excitedly). Bleary-eyed from Midnight Mass, we marvel year after year at how our children will wake up at 6:30 a.m., regardless of having stayed up until 2 in the morning. Every single year I know for certain they will sleep in this time. It never, ever happens.

But one moment from Christmas morning stands out. I have a little video clip of it, to prove we are not breeding a bunch of self-centered minions. The toddlers have just pulled off the final shreds of the wrapping paper around the huge box that holds their new, toddler-sized slide. And then my older kids start handing presents around and arguing playfully about which of them will open the next gift. And yet, they are not advocating for themselves—they are arguing for the other.

“It’s your turn now.” “No, it’s your turn!”

All is not lost.

hello-everybody

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