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.

Standard
Life, Self-Care

Thank you, Target dressing room.

As the mother to ten zillion children, I have never frequented fancy stores to purchase things for myself. We aren’t rich, and even if I was, I’d probably spend a lot of that money on the kids’ activities/needs and still manage to put myself mostly last, such as what mothers normally do (which is, yes, sad).

Also, I’ve never been a big shopper and it is pretty much last on my list of ways to spend time. My default response to the need to purchase anything for the home is to wave goodbye to my husband and children while they drive away from the house so that I can do anything else.

Thus, it had been a good long while since purchasing something which necessitated the use of a changing room for myself. I wanted to buy a new dress for a family event and several of my kids also needed items. I did what any self-respecting Alaskan would do and took the kids to Target, graced by the presence of my amazing sister-in-law who makes everything in life easier and more filled with laughter. We unloaded the kids, piled into the store, treated ourselves to Starbucks, and began the long process of Meeting Everybody’s Needs, my own included this time (for once).

I found a few options and went to the changing rooms. The clerk let me into the largest one with about ten mirrors circling the perimeter of the stall. I stripped down to the bare essentials and looked up, realizing I had this rare opportunity to See It All.

hello friends

There I was. At least 15 versions of myself from every angle, a rather embarrassingly good view of each and every inch of my exposed body.

Ugh. It had been awhile since I had really looked at myself in this way. I do not even have a full-body mirror in my home, and I’m fine with that. I am approaching 40, and I’ve never had to work very hard to maintain a healthy weight, for which I am grateful. But I also haven’t done much to build muscle. Also, the aforementioned kids. Cough, cough. Especially the twins…my massive babies who weighed a combined total of 17 pounds and completely traumatized my abdominal muscles and skin.

I gave myself as much time as I wanted to take in the sight. It was, frankly, eye-opening. I have always had high cholesterol but a very healthy BMI (it’s a genetic thing). In two years, statins will become the default medical recommendation, and I had committed to attempt to fix this issue with exercise and nutrition before taking medication. The exercise had not been happening at all. Not one bit. Frankly, it was much easier to pop a couple tabs of fish oil, slightly easier to eat less crap, yet seemingly impossible to get myself in the habit of regular exercise.

But look. My ass. My legs. Not terrible…but not what I expected, either. I hadn’t realized they were so devolved from their original state. I started thinking out loud to myself, appreciating my husband in a whole new way. Never once has he made me feel that I am not physically attractive or in need of alteration. But he totally could have made that case. It was a humbling moment, realizing that he has only ever focused on bettering his own body, which is muscular and has received the appropriate attention, but never made me feel like I am lacking in that department.

Still, I could see for myself that attention to my physical health would pay off in the form of more resilience, endurance, longevity, and capability in the long run. My grandmother is approaching 100. Barring some accidental death, it is likely that I will have longevity on my side if genetics are any indication. I want to go into this next stage of life in a dramatically better state of health.

Oh, and I can guess you are probably wondering when I am going to tell you about some amazing weight loss program I’ve joined, and oh, by the way, I’m a health coach now, and just message me for details.

Nope. For reals. Just sharing the journey. 🙂 In fact, I realize this is a highly anticlimactic testimony of fitness. If you want to read a REAL account of life transformation par excellence, head on over to my friend Taylor’s blog and follow her story from drug-addicted recording artist to yoga instructor who is getting ready to launch her online yoga studio. She’s amazing.

By the way, a funny thing happened after I got done having a whole conversation with myself in the changing room. It turns out, a work acquaintance was in there at the same time and heard most of this commentary of mine, who also happens to be a competitive bodybuilder. You can’t make this stuff up. It was hilarious. I imagine she did not have much sympathy but she was compassionate. In my defense, I have 900% more children than her. I hereby wield this as my excuse forever.

Anyway, I did manage to get my buns moving. I have started doing aerobic exercise and yoga several times a week. I’d like to do this daily but I haven’t carved out the time and space for that in my life. I’m doing the best I can at the moment. I even went back to Target today to pick up a couple pairs of jeans and deliberately picked the changing room that afforded the most thorough view. I felt encouraged by the change. It turns out, this stuff works. I do, in fact, have muscles, such as what my anatomy textbooks claim. But if I don’t use the darn things, they are not going to accomplish very much or be trim and effective.

It’s still extremely uncomfortable at times to carve that time out for myself. I know I am not alone. It seems most mothers have a lot of guilt about unabashedly doing something purely for their own betterment and self-development. This sense of guilt, and even shame, should not be given much credence. The whole family benefits from its individual members being in better mental and physical health, right? So let’s do this thing.

Standard
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.

Standard
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. 🙂

Standard
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

Standard