Welcome to Living in Left Field, where living with chronic illness, raising three boys, having a child with Asperger's Syndrome, and raising children in general, means that I'm seldom on the same playing field as everyone else!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Where is Your God Now?


We've all seen the news.

Another shooting.  

More children are dead.

Politicos using a mother's dead child for their platforms.  Celebrities-turned-self-proclaimed-advocates sparking Twitter wars.  Hatred being spewed, factions choosing their sides, fingers being pointed.  The parents who can, holding their kids a little tighter, a little longer.  No, please don't let go yet.   

Heads are shaking.  Tears are falling.  Hearts are breaking.  Mothers' arms are empty.

Perhaps the most poignant questions being flung at Christians--again--

Where was your God?
Why didn't your mighty God stop this?  
How are those thoughts and prayers working now?

I don't know (m)any of the answers, but I do know this:  
God was there.  

God was there, holding the hands of the frightened parents and their children, who were literally running for their lives.  He was there, comforting those who lay dying, and welcoming them as they entered into Heaven.  He was there in the guise of the first responders and the staff members, saving lives and keeping more from being hurt.  He was present in the prayers reaching Florida from around the world.

God was there, shaking his fist in anguish at human fallacy, arrogance and free will. He was there as the world wondered at His abandonment.  God was there as Jesus wept.  

God was there with the parents whose children were not there at the end of the day.  

In the coming days, we will hear stories of heroic acts and lives saved.  We will hear stories of God in action.

Yes, I'm telling you--God was there.  

I cannot explain the mind of a young man hellbent on terror and killing, a young man who made an angry, tragic choice.  But as I sit here at 2:30 am in tears, unable to sleep, completely wrecked by this, please don't tell me my God doesn't exist.  Please don't tell me my prayers don't matter.  You do you, and I'll do me.

God is still here.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Simply, I Love You

This one has been rolling around in my head for a while.  Valentine's week seemed like a good time to finally let it out.

The christian radio station we listen to gives listeners the opportunity to dedicate air time to loved ones.  Many times, I hear parents dedicating air time to their children, saying, "I love you," and "I'm proud of you."  I think it's wonderful--until the parent goes on to list the child's many accolades, as though they are the reasons for the parent's love.

My hope is this is not how it is meant, but having once been a child, I know this is often how it is understood.  Too frequently it seems, I hear "I love you because (fill in the blank)."

It saddens me!  It frustrates me!  It upsets me.

It really frosts my cupcakes (with extra frosting), and usually results in me dragging my soapbox out.

God does not list our achievements when He says He loves us.  He loves us because we are His.  God's love for us is unconditional and limitless.  When God smiles at you with parental pride, it is not because you received a promotion at work or you are mother of the year, it is because you are His child!  It really is that simple.  He loves us when we're lying in the dirtiest gutter, unclean in every way imaginable, and when we've come clean at the altar.  Our Father rejoices over us!

If my children learn nothing else from me, I want them to learn my love for them is unconditional.  My pride in them is not a result of their successes.  Do I congratulate them and make a big deal out of their accomplishments?  Of course I do.  I'm their biggest cheerleader.  But is my love, or my pride, based on anything they do in life?  Absolutely not.

So, when I look at my children, when I smile at them, when I rejoice over them, when I am proud of them, when I express my love for them, it is simply because they are my sons.  There are so many things I love about them, but the plain and simple reason I love them is because they are mine.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

There's a Duck in My House

You don't really plan on falling in love with a duck.

Elijah, and her three sibling eggs, were just supposed to be a science project for Avery.  Something for the two of us to bond over.  We'd always wanted to hatch eggs, and we finally had someone willing to give us the eggs, and take the birds back once they were old enough.

You certainly don't plan on having one live in your home.

I've always been the mother who responds, "NO!  They're dirty, gross and noisy!", when my eight year old looked longingly at the birds in the pet store. I mean--have you ever seen those things???? My grandmother loved her outdoor birds, and because of her I love them, but--indoor birds?  Inside my house?  Ew.  No. We have more than our fair share of animals living in our home, and I have to help Shawn draw the line somewhere.

And now...  There's a duck living in my house.

An actual duck.

Have I mentioned yet that I'm nominating my husband for sainthood?

Elijah's egg was the only one that hatched.  Right on time, exactly on day 28. As we walked in the door from church that afternoon, there was a tiny little crack forming down her egg.  We couldn't believe it!  The excitement from all the days before--the little ducky sonograms we'd performed with flashlights ("candling"), watching all the babies swim around in their eggs, was finally peaking.

We were having a baby!

Elijah slowly emerged, first a leg, then finally the rest of her, until she was completely out, that following Tuesday.

We anxiously awaited the other eggs, David, Esther and Samuel.  Sadly, they were not to be.  Never in my life did I think my own miscarriage would help me explain loss of life to my son, but there we were, huddled under the kitchen table, talking about how sometimes babies are just too sick and God spares them pain.  We saw them swimming around in their eggs, we know they were alive at some point.  It's a difficult thing for a child to wrap his head around.  Hell, it's a difficult thing for an adult to wrap her head around. We don't really know why, but it's something we can ask Him when we meet Him.  It hurts us, and it's okay to be sad, and it's okay to miss them, but we know God is taking care of them.  

So, we had a baby duck!  What's next?  Oh--post tons of pictures to Instagram, of course!

We moved Elijah into a plastic tub, which we placed in our--my--luxury tub in our master bathroom (the only room we could close off to protect her from the cats and dog), complete with her heat lamp, special lovies and mirror (to simulate siblings), food and water.  Lots of water.  

For weeks we cleaned up pine shavings throughout the house as Avery cleaned Elijah's plastic tub and cared for her and bleached my tub each time she swam in it (ohhhh, the sacrifices a mother makes for her children!). We also made plans to return Elijah to the farm her egg came from.

And we fell in love.  It suddenly became perfectly normal to have a duck in our house.  I became used to having Elijah chat at me as I showered and dressed in the morning, and got ready for bed at night.  Being who I am, I talked back.  Her evening chatter became my bedtime white noise.  Elijah imprinted on Avery, following him everywhere when we let her out of the bathroom. A duck and her boy.  Like glue.  Melting hearts left and right. I never considered a duck could be so affectionate, but watching her with Avery, she's just such a sweetheart!  She gives kisses, she hugs, she sits in his lap and snuggles, and even preens him.  She calls to him, and responds to his voice.  Avery took to sleeping on our bathroom floor, and spending his free time in there when Elijah couldn't be out. She found ways to entertain herself, like pushing Ezra's matchbox cars around with her beak. Both younger boys loved to read to her, and we had regular duck/boy races occurring in our home.  We spoiled her rotten, discovering her affinity for peas and Cheerios, teaching her to eat right out of our hands.  Elijah had become a member of our family.

Instagram rioted the day we took Elijah to her farm.  Avery cried.  Elijah cried.  I cried.  Shawn took it hard.  Ezra didn't understand.  Noah went easy on Avery for the day. 

It was downright awful.  Our house was so quiet.  Too quiet.  Every time I looked at her plastic tub where we left it until trash day ("Never again, this is too hard on everyone, there will never be another Elijah anyway" Shawn and I declared), and the incubator where we left it until we could give it away ("Never again, it was too much like being pregnant again, and it was just too hard on us," Shawn and I declared), I cried.  Avery's behavior, moody and prone to rollercoaster-like fluctuations on a good day, was off the charts.  Even though we knew we could still visit Elijah, it was as though a death had occurred in our family. I framed two pictures of Elijah for Avery, putting them on his dresser, hoping they would help him cope.  Shawn and I had decided it would be best for both Avery and Elijah if Avery didn't visit for a few days, even though Avery was eager to go back the very next day.

Then I got the phone call, not even a full three days after we'd taken her to her farm.  The long and short of it was, Elijah wasn't adjusting well to farm life, and if we wanted her, we could come get her.   I knew the answer, but with respect to marriage, I explained (trying to hide the giddiness in my voice from Avery) I would have to discuss it with my husband.  I called back the next day with a resounding YES, and the following day, Elijah was back home, where she belongs.

Instagram celebrated!  I cried when I saw our girl.  Avery couldn't stop laughing.  Shawn smiled.  Noah shook his head and rolled his teenage eyes.  Ezra was a giddy little toddler.  And Elijah--she knew she was home and wouldn't stop quacking at us.  She put her little face right in Avery's lap when he sat down for her at the farm.  She ran to our car with him.  A reunion never looked so good!

Life is back to what qualifies as normal around here.  It's the way it should be. Avery does his schoolwork curled up with his duck, and both littles are happy to have their reading buddy back.  She is enormously good for Avery.  The effect she has on him--I can't describe it.  They need each other.    Elijah has explored her backyard a bit, and we learned that a duck attempting flight and a Border Collie do not make a good outdoor mix.  That nearly ended badly.  She nibbles on our toes during dinner, settling under the table near Avery.  We've adjusted a few things--no more wood shavings, for example.  Elijah has a little apartment in our bedroom, some cute little digs that make things easier for everyone.  She has a bed next to the fireplace, just like the cats do. And with duck diapers (yep--but the question on all of our minds as we shopped for the maxi-pad inserts, do ducks need pads with wings???), she is free to roam the house when we're home.  I've drawn the line at allowing her on the furniture, but I have a very willful boy, and a duck who rests her beak on the couch, staring at her boy, wondering why he isn't on the floor with her, so it's just a matter of time, right?  Everyone gets along, the cats think she's one weird looking cat, she thinks they're one weird looking duck, and the dog--well, Lilly is Lilly.  She's never sure what she thinks.

So yeah, there's a duck in our home.  And she's family.




Thursday, January 25, 2018

Suicide

"Hey boys?"

"Yeah, Mom?"

"You know I love you, right?"

"Yeah, Mom."

"Not just because I tell you, but I show it, too, right?"

"Yeah, Mom.  It's okay, Mom.  We know."

It's been a rough week here.

First, I want you to grab your kids up and hug them.  Tight.  Squeeze a little harder.  A little harder.  Have they complained yet they can't breathe?  Good.  Now, whisper to them how much you love them.

Say a prayer of gratitude you are able to do this.  

Last week, a friend of Noah's took his life.

Protect your children with your life, then a little more.  Watch them carefully.

There were so many cracks this young man fell through, and I'm angry.

I'm angry for him.  I'm angry about his circumstances.

This young man deserved better than he got in life.

Precious boy, I pray those gates were opened wide and welcoming for you, Abba's arms ready to hold you.  I pray you are now at peace, that you are now finding what you could not find here on earth. Oh, sweet boy.

I'm frustrated and sad for those left behind.

I'm frustrated and sad for those who don't have answers to the inevitable questions.

I'm sad for his friends who don't understand, for those who say, "I wish I had known, I wish I had done more."

I pray peace for those left behind.  I pray healing for them.  I pray, as they struggle within their own hearts and minds, they can forgive themselves.  I pray these, and no more, blessed loves will not fall through the cracks, or lose hope.

I'm angry and sad this young man did not have hope, that he could not see one foot in front of the other.

I'm angry that life just goes on.  As a mom, I've wanted to plant my feet solidly, hand out in STOP position, and scream, "NO!" A child has died!  A tragedy has occurred!  The world needs to stop and pay attention!  This does not have to happen again!

It will be a while, a long while, before I stop grabbing up my kids spontaneously and holding them so tight they can scarcely breathe, tears in my eyes, a hitch in my chest, remembering this young man as I do so.

The vigil for this young man was last night, and I saw so many teens dropped off by their parents, or arriving in their own vehicles.  It boggles me still.  Do these parents not understand suicide is a communicable disease?  Do these parents not understand NOW is when their children need them the most?  Teens do not always ask us, but we need to be there--we need to be HERE.  I just wanted to scream into the night.

Selfishly, I'm sad at the irony of celebrating my own son's birthday, when another mother will never celebrate hers again.  All the plans I had for Noah seem so--awkward.  Selfish.  Awkward.

Please, PLEASE--I'm begging you.  Look after your friends and loved ones.  Look after your children's friends.  Even look after those you pass by, the strangers on the street.  When you ask, "How are you," MEAN. IT.  Do not use it in passing.  I always ask, "No, really, how are you REALLY?"  It could save a life.  YOU could save a life.  Pay attention to mannerisms, to changes in appearance, to anything that looks different.  Know the signs of depression and potential suicide. On top of this, remember that teens and children are impulsive. You may not even see the signs. Talk with your children about who they can go to if they feel they can't, or don't want, to talk to you.  Trusted adults.  Talk about hope and peace.  Be an open, safe sounding board for their friends.

This young man's death, this tragedy, should never have happened.  I don't know why it did.  I don't know why this young man felt so hopeless.  One of the things you must understand about depression, one of the things we, those of us with depression are told--people say, "reach out when you're down!"  It's not that simple.  We can't.  So yes, the onus is on the rest of you to reach out instead.  And, think of this--so often, when someone does reach out, it is passed off as attention seeking.  Please don't do that.

You have the power to do more.  Every day, you can do more, in the life of every person you encounter.  Reach out.  Please.

Give hope.

Save a life.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This is Christmas

Growing up, one of my favorite things about Christmas was receiving that huge box in the mail from our family in Maine.  It would arrive from my two aunts and my grandmother, packed to the gills with gifts.

One of the things my sister and I could count on would be a little gift bag or two we could open right then and there when the box arrived.  There would be some chocolate, a chapstick, maybe some hand lotion, something special from my aunt's salon, or an ornament, maybe something our grandmother had knit or our aunts had sewn.  Just some things that would delight us, a few things to hold us over as we wondered what the other gifts held.

Those little things were that extra bit of love--the extra time it took our aunts and grandmother, the extra thought, the extra everything, above and beyond the original gifts--just to tell us how special we were, how much they were thinking of us, and how much we meant to them, how much we were missed.

Looking back, that is one of the biggest lessons my aunts and grandmother taught me: Include the extra love.

Go the extra mile.

I sent two packages this year for Christmas, and yes, they had the extra love gifts in them.

OPEN NOW!  I love you.  I miss you.  I care about you.  I'm thinking about you.  You're special to me.  You are important.

When my friends told me about the joy those little things brought to their girls, and when I heard the happiness that brought to my friends--this is my Christmas.

This Christmas, please go that extra mile for someone.  Show that extra love, show someone how special they are, and let them know you're thinking of them.

THIS is Christmas.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Brave

"Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out honestly I wanna see you be brave with what you want to say and let the words fall out honestly I wanna see you be brave..."  (Sara Bareilles, Brave)

I popped the bathroom door open just enough to see Avery singing into his hairbrush in front of his mirror, belting out our new anthem for his invisible audience.  I was caught between tears and laughter.  It was one of those moments.

I've always loved this song by Sara Bareilles, but recently it's taken on a new meaning for us.  I was singing it in the car a few weeks ago, and something made me turn it up.  This is our anthem!  Then I started casting funny face glances at Avery (he's my funny face boy--when we take selfies together, we make funny faces), who was sitting in the backseat.  I started dancing a little in my seat as I drove (this embarrasses my children to no end, "MOOMMMM!!!  Other drivers are going to SEEEEEE you!"), and twirling my finger at him as I pointed and continued my funny faces.  I want to see YOU be brave!  Show me how big YOUR brave is!

Naturally, being 8 years old, he rolled his eyes, crossed his arms, looked out his window, refusing to even look at me, and just could not believe his mother would behave this way.  What-ever.

For the record, I have no idea where my children get their sass from.  But, I digress.

To my maternal delight, I knew I had gotten through to him when I heard him in the bathroom that night.  YES!

You see, Avery's had a rough patch this year.  Through testing for something else, we inadvertently discovered he's having "no see-um" seizures (official diagnosis is right side temporal lobe seizures).  Because we were not expecting a seizure diagnosis, I made them check the paperwork three times to be certain they were telling me about my child, and not someone else's.  I was horrified when they told me in front of Avery.  Isn't this something a parent should hear on her own?  After the appointment, I sent my oldest son to the car with his little brothers, and fell apart in the lobby, right there on the floor.  It was horrible; I vaguely remember two women, strangers to me, and to each other, coming to my aid.  One prayed over me, and both held me as I sobbed.  The second shocking call came while I was getting my hair cut, from one of the neurologist's interns, who was later disciplined for the way he handled the call.  When we first saw the neurologist, based on the exam, the EEG from the sleep study, and family history, he didn't think we had much to worry about.  After the first EEG the neurologist did, we found out we had a lot to worry about, and that was the phone call I received--again, in front of all three children.  Keeping it together in front of my kids is not my forte; I sent my oldest next door with the littles for frozen yogurt, and again, fell apart.  The stylist received an extra large tip that evening.

We call Avery's seizures "no see-ums" because he does not exhibit symptoms, so we don't know when, or even if, he's having them.  I cannot see this enemy, and I do not know how to fight it.  I've been angry, bitter and frustrated.  I've cried and yelled.  I have sobbed during worship, and prayed on my knees at the altar with my pastor's wife and husband at my side.  I have laid on the floor, wailing with maternal agony, gripping my husband as he held me, scared out of my mind before we received the official diagnosis, wondering how bad it was going to be.  There are nights I'm afraid to go to sleep because I don't know what is happening to Avery.  I watch him like a hawk.  Every activity he's asked to be part of, I overthink because of this new diagnosis.  My child already has ADHD, anxiety and is on the Autism Spectrum--isn't that enough???  He's begun having migraines, which is not a good sign for a child with seizures--can we please just stop????  When is enough, enough?  As Avery's mom, this has been the most frightening thing for me to go through.  As a family, we've seen too much--too much God--to look elsewhere, to lean on Anyone else, to believe anything else, so we are relying heavily on Him in this.  I've wanted to yell at the doctors: "FIX.  MY.  CHILD."  I know it will do no good.  Instead, I yell at the One whose shoulders I know can handle it, and, in His time, will fix my--our--child, as He sees fit.  There is so much the doctors cannot tell us because of Avery's lack of symptoms.  They cannot treat him due to the lack of symptoms.  There has been one thing they have been able to tell us, though:  Our son will get worse.

And there's one thing we tell Avery's doctors:  Our son has God.  Our son's conception was God's miracle, and God is not just going to walk out on him.

In all of my fear, I have watched Avery hold his shoulders high, as I have tried to not let him see my own panic.  Through all of the testing, he walked bravely.  His only fear of the MRI was the needle that would help him sleep through it.  I, however, sat in the waiting room with my husband, grasping his hand until he not longer had any feeling, while he did his best to stay strong for me, struggling with his own feelings and emotions, as I sniffled either into my tissue or his shirt.  Avery complained a few times about the itchy EEGs, but you would too if you had to wear them for 24 hours, and carry a video monitor around with you.  I was the one who had to take period breaks in my 'crying closet' so my son wouldn't see me break down, unable to handle what he was having to deal with.  One morning, he announced, with complete confidence, "When God heals me, I want the world to know, because I want everyone to know to that God still does miracles, and I want people to believe in God."  Just like that, out of the blue.  We hadn't even been talking about God.  The car had been completely, unusually quiet, and after Avery's pronouncement, it remained that way, a stunned silence.  

We've researched the brain until we're both blue in our faces.  Avery knows everything you could possibly ask him.  I think he wants to know the "why" in the why his brain is sick.  What, when, and how it happened.  Why he doesn't exhibit symptoms (we're finding this type of "no see-um" seizure is being seen as more and more typical in kids like him on the spectrum).  The truth is, there aren't any answers right now.  I asked him one morning how he feels about all this seizure stuff, because he doesn't always have to be brave.  He explained to me, shattering my heart into pieces, that he wants to be brave so I won't be scared.  If he's scared, then I will be scared (isn't this supposed to be the other way around?).  So we agreed it's okay for him to be scared, and even angry.  We fist-bumped, and agreed to try to be brave together, but to remember we don't always have to be brave.  He didn't ask for this.  But the important thing is to move on from the anger, and learn to carry it with grace.  He may not have asked for it, but he has it now, and there's not much we can do about that part, aside from praying for healing, understanding and God's will.  Even though we do not understand it, there is a reason for this diagnosis.  I have to believe that, or I won't survive this.

I know in my heart everything is going to be okay.  Getting there is the long, hard journey.  But Avery is going to be okay.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veteran's Day

Today is a day to celebrate our many amazing veterans, their wonderful service to our great country, and their incredible sacrifices. As a military brat though, I struggle with "Happy" Veteran's Day.  It actually makes me physically cringe.  I understand that most people revert to that term for lack of anything else to say, and because we, society, have been saying it this way for years.  But, as I said, it's something I really struggle with.

My house growing up, was anything but happy.  My father suffered hell, in part due to his years in Vietnam.  We know what to call it now--PTSD.  As a society, we are thankfully becoming kinder about it than we were back in the 80's and 90's.  Back then, he had to buck up and be a man, whatever that's supposed to mean.  My father was a suicidal, functional alcoholic who suffered from a great depression. Even when he was physically present, he was emotionally absent.  God only knew the battle going on in his head.  Our entire family suffered.  That makes him sound like some horrible, abusive person.  He wasn't.  He did his best.  He provided well for his family, but he was a broken man.  My mother frequently admonished me to not ask my father about his years in Vietnam. I have so many other memories from that particular area, but I would only be digressing.  He retired from the USMC when I was in my mid-teens, just shy of his 25 years, just before Desert Storm, and I remember my profound fear when they began recalling recent retirees for that 'skirmish'.  We were lucky, unlike so many of my friends, whose parents were either active duty, or more recently retired than my father.

It may not sound like it, but I really am proud of my father's service.  I'm grateful for our armed forces.  My father and I didn't see eye to eye on many things later on in life, but one thing he did teach me was respect for our military, and respect for office.  I have a profound respect and gratitude for our military.  It's possible that because of what my father went through, my respect and gratitude is even more profound.  Bird's eye view, and all.  It's something Shawn and I are passing on to our children.

For so many families today, there are wars still being fought here at home.  Veteran's Day is not always a happy reminder of service.  Our veterans struggle daily, hourly.  The suicide rate is astronomical.  The divorce rate is through the roof.  Families and lives are destroyed, even when our servicemen and women make it home.

For these reasons, and for many other reasons for so many families, I don't say "Happy Veteran's Day."  Instead, I say "Thank you so much for your service and sacrifice, my family and I are grateful."

*To the gentleman playing with Ezra in Walmart yesterday, who suddenly couldn't look me in the eyes when I thanked him for his service, "Thank you for your service, sir."
*To Noah's youth leader, our family friend and my fellow missions/disaster response team member, "Thank you for your service, sir."
*To my precious friend, who is retired USMC, "Thank you for your service, ma'am."
*To the USMC veteran whose home we had the privilege of working on in Texas: "Thank you for your service, sir."
*To the USN veteran I worked alongside in Texas: "Thank you for your service, sir."
*To our neighbor, "Thank you for your service, sir."
*To my many friends on Instagram, "Thank you for service, sirs and ma'ams."
*To our homeless veterans who deserve better: "Thank you for service."
*To our K9 veterans: "Thank you for your service," and belly rubs, and Kongs forever.

To all of you, thank you.  Your service and sacrifice, and that of your family, do not go unnoticed to this family.  YOU are not unnoticed to this family.  You are precious, and you count.  Your service counts.  "Thank you" will never be enough, but it is all we have.