Monday, January 28, 2013

A Day in the Life

Last Thursday started like this:

Please note that the maniacal laughter is not mine. It is my dear friend who does not have cats and does not witness such vicious antics on a regular basis. I have to say, I was a bit surprised by Mabel, though. She is only about 6 months old and she had to drag that dang squirrel through 2 cat doors to have her way with it in the comfort of the warm house.

My day didn't really begin with squirrel killing. My weekdays start with getting my 3 older children to 3 different schools. Simple enough. We know the drill. But today my surly 16 year old decided to miss his ride. That means we have to stop what we are doing and go out into the sub-zero temperatures and transport our darling. No biggie. Deep breath. Its all good. My husband is home this morning, so it simplifies matters. He goes out into the cold and pulls the car out of the garage. The same garage my son hit last night going 45 mph (or so it seemed) as he attempted to pull the car in for the first time.

I turn my attention back to the two remaining school-aged children. Kelly decides he is late for school and I cannot convince him otherwise. He gets ready and heads out the door. We are having an extreme cold snap and it is -5 degrees without the windchill. He starts heading down the street.

Problem is, Kelly takes the bus. It picks him up right in front of the house. I'm not sure where the hell this child is going. Having a teenager with Down Syndrome is always full of adventure. Sometimes it truly is like having an alien living with us. What is this person thinking? Is he really going to try to walk to school? I yell to him, hoping I don't wake the neighbors. He stops, but only because one of our other cats (we have 3) crosses the road to greet him. Phew. Mittens saves the day.

I shift back to Grethe who has to be at school in 5 minutes. Luckily, we live next door, but we still struggle to be there on time. So much fun to be had in the mornings! It is hard to pull away. And this morning Grethe adds a twist: she tells me at 7:56 about the latest teasing episode. Two girls from her class have been giving her a hard time all year. It's typical, catty 10 year old girl crap, and I usually make light of it, but its been going on consistently for months and Mama Bear is getting tired of it. Another deep breath and I tell her to be kind to her friends, even when it is hard. What I am thinking at the moment is "WTF is that little brat's problem? She's just jealous of you because you are so cute and nice! Tell Miss Nasty to shut her yap".  I hope she listens to my verbal advice, not what I am emanating from my pores, and becomes a better person than her mother. I ignore my internal conflict and usher my child out the door.

Kelly is still with the kitty as his bus pulls up. This is the short bus and it is mayhem in there. If we put this scene in a movie, no one would believe it, it would be too over the top. The bus driver, William, has crazy, wiry hair that sticks up straight from his head. He hollers a cheery, "Hi Kelly!" as he swings open the door. The noise coming from the bus is extreme. Kids are yelling, one is running down the aisle and one is whooping while swinging his coat over his head. William is unfazed. Kelly is too. I have asked him before if he wants me to drive him instead of taking the bus. He emphatically says, "Bus!".  If he is happy, who am I to rock the boat?

Now here's where things can get a bit stressful. The red lights of the bus flash on our busy street and traffic stops both ways. Kelly takes his time getting on the bus. Once on the bus, he s-l-o-w-l-y selects the perfect seat. Then he carefully removes his backpack and places it just so.  He has to unravel the seat belt, but wait!  he can't do the seat belt with his gloves on... Cars are lined up for what seems miles because William has not turned off his flashers. I used to take Kelly onto the bus to expedite the process, but he will no longer allow me to do that. Like a coward, I now hide from  inside my house and watch the show from afar. Earlier this week, a car actually ran out of gas idling behind the bus. I asked Kelly's afternoon bus driver if having all those people waiting ever felt stressful to her (the same long procedure happens at the end of the day, with the addition of goodbye hugs). She just waved her hand in the air and said, "Nah, people are in too much of a hurry anyway. It's good for all of us to learn to wait."  No wonder Kelly wants to take his bus.

When they finally all leave and my twins are happily playing, I am desperate to just sit and drink a cup of coffee. I get a few blissful sips into it, while enjoying a visit from my friend, when the squirrel arrives. I make my laughing friend help me dispose of the corpse. Then in comes a text from my highschooler explaining some very poor grades on two of his finals.

Oh, for god's sake.

My 16 year old is doing damage control. He knows this is unacceptable because he has been mailing it in: doing the bare minimum to stay afloat. I have no problem with a couple of shitty grades if he he giving it his all, but this kid is not giving it his all. He's doing just enough and then watching shows on his iphone and playing video games-all supplied by his loving parents. Granted, we made him get a job to pay for the phone and he buys the games with his own money, but we allowed all of it into our home. We are ultimately the ones responsible as long as he lives in this house. Damn. This parenting gig is a lot of work.

I decide not to answer the text. Leave him hanging. I call Jeb and we decide to meet for lunch to discuss our strategy.

Most days I love my job. It is always very full and after 19 years of running a busy house, I've pretty much got it down. It is certainly not all work.  Usually, I get to do something fun like this:

But this cold snap has thrown me. My morning routine is off. I'm not about to go running at 5:30 in the morning when the windchill is 16 below. I know my brother in Alaska would probably tell me to suck it up, but we just aren't used to these crazy temperatures in NH. 16 above zero, fine, I'm out the door. But 16 below? I ain't going nowhere.

So I'm feeling it. Physically and emotionally. The house is a mess and the kids are a tad stir crazy too. So we invite a friend over and pretend to be pirates.

I get to sit by and soak up 5 year old phrases like,"Who wants to get shotten?!" or "I'm wearing my hat backwards, so I'm a dude" and "My ship can fly over the world".  Delightful.

All is calm, so I turn to my computer. I find this message waiting on Facebook:

Our 18 year old son, Luke, is on exchange in Brazil for a year. He did Skype with us last night, so we knew he hurt his foot, but a mother worries nonetheless. Even though I know his host family is fabulous and he's most likely getting more attention 5000 miles away than in his own busy home, it still makes me sad that he his is hurt and away from me. It is a totally unrealistic emotion, because he would probably be a pain in the ass, but I can't help feeling blue. 

After our fill of pirates, a productive strategy session over soup and the friend has gone home, we head to our local fun place...the grocery store. As pathetic as it sounds, my boys love going grocery shopping. They like to drive the carts that look like cars and tell me what I should buy. There are also free cookies and a potential ice cream purchase. If you add all of those things up, you can see the appeal to a 5-year old. They convince me to buy ice cream cones to put cake batter in. They saw a recipe in a kid's cookbook we have. What the hell? I think. We all need a little pick-me-up.

We get in the house, after dropping my weekly 250 bucks at the store, and we all get cozy. Big sis comes home and Kelly gets off the bus. We get snacks and settle in, just as Mr. Surly comes down and announces he is late for a driver's ed class he never told me about. Grrrr! I have to announce that everyone has to put on their winter garb immediately and get in the car. This is of course met by resistance and even tears: "We just got home!"  "We just started playing!".  I bribe them with the idea of cake cones. They reluctantly get in the car. We drive Mr. "I-got-two-D's" to his class and drive back home. Now it is time to start dinner, but I have promised the damn cones. Shit. I so do not want to make the cake cones. It has been a long day and I have not been childless for one second. 

They do not care. I have promised. We make the cones, but I take the fun out of it by snapping at everyone. My daughter calmly suggests that "maybe you should do a meditation, Mama". Oh, this girl is so wise! That is exactly what I need, but I have cake cones to finish, dammit! They are finally in the oven and I start dinner (will this day ever end?!). 

The timer finally beeps and VIOLA!

You're kidding me, right? Not only have my cake cones thrown up all over themselves, but there is cake batter burning all over the bottom of my oven. The white flag is thrown into the air.

I didn't realize the Baileys was in the picture until I showed the photo to a friend. Now my secret is out. Yes, Mother had a little nip to take the edge off.  In hindsight, maybe I should have added some to the cake batter.

My husband comes home, dinner is served and the nighttime rituals begin. The day is done.

Even as frustrating as things can be, the glory and privilege of my life is not lost on me. If my biggest problems are a dead squirrel and overflowing cake cones, I'll take it. It is easy to get caught up in the small dramas, but also just as easy not to take my life too seriously. Tomorrow is another day, full of new adventures.

And if the going gets tough, hopefully next time I will make the wise choice of meditation over the Baileys. 

But honestly, both work wonders.

"It's not the load that breaks you down but the way you carry it."   ~Lena Horn

"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."    ~ Martha Washington

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Gift of Perspective

Thirteen years ago I got my ass kicked.

Looking back, I needed a good swift one and I will be forever thankful that it happened.

Thirteen years ago, I was a stay at home mother of two healthy, beautiful boys. I had a lovely home and a fabulous husband. I also spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I truly felt that my my life was HARD. Did you hear me? Things were really, really hard! I had a lot of laundry to do, I wasn't getting much quality sleep and I had to do a lot of grocery shopping. These children demanded three square meals! and constant snacks! Christ! Did I really volunteer for this?

Then along came the boot in the form of baby number 3: Kelly.

My sweet Kelly joined our family and gave us the fundamental gift of perspective. He was born with Down Syndrome and we had no idea of this before he arrived. Our world as we knew it ended.

13 years and one week ago

 We spent a few days feeling stunned, but quickly Kelly found his way into our hearts. He was in the hospital for six days for a suspected heart condition (that resolved on its own) and then we went home and started life as a family of five.

Fast forward to January 2013. For the past couple of weeks I've been having a bit of a pity party.
Once again, here I sit in my warm, comfortable home with my bright and healthy kids and all I can do is feel sorry for myself. I'm not exactly sure what gets me to this place (falling out of routine, winter blues, hormones, or any combination of the three...) but I get caught up in my own shit. I'm ashamed to admit I even uttered the word "bored".

I got a little nudge out of it on Kelly's birthday party. We were reminiscing on what we were doing 13 years ago. What we were doing was struggling. I had just released an 8 1/2 pound baby from my body and immediately had to leave the comfort of my home (where he was born) to have him checked out at the closest teaching hospital over an hour away. At the hospital, he was abruptly taken from me and we were soon given the news: Down Syndrome. After spending a few hours together in shock and mourning, my husband left to take care of our then 3 and 6 year old boys at home. I was left to wander the halls of the hospital alone, dazed and exhausted. I remember finding an isolated hallway and actually lying on the floor, hoping for sleep to come transport me from my nightmare.

Its amazing how our human brain works. We move past these intense experiences and we blessedly heal. If we do things "right", the experiences are stored away and used for growth. But life has a way of rocking us into indifference. We move though our day-to-day and we forget to appreciated the miracles bursting all around us because we are too focused on getting the bills paid or the dinner on the table (again!).

At Kelly's party, I looked at my darling teenage boy and appreciated every glorious piece of him. Thirteen years ago we were terrified of what the future might bring, but we took a step back and lived only for the moment and fell quickly in love. We realized that Kelly's future was no more uncertain than the future of our two other boys, so we stopped worrying and just loved him. The love that we receive back is the purest, most delicious gift and we can not believe how fortunate we are that he chose to come to us.

The day after Kelly's party, I was scrolling through Facebook and discovered that a friend I knew several years ago is currently going through a very difficult time. One of her young children was just diagnosed with a life threatening illness. Slam. That knocked some sense into me real quick. What the hell was I doing complaining? After all our family has been through, I know better!

This little boy whom I don't even know was just my teacher. He will teach his family more than they ever wanted to know and the lessons will be intense and hopefully, miraculous.

So I take a deep breath and shake the foolishness from my brain. I look around me at the same things and situations and people that were right there in front of me the day before and everything looks completely different. Nothing has changed but my attitude, yet it has made all of the difference. I have shifted my perspective. The fabric of my daily existence suddenly seems to come into focus and I now can decipher between the trivial and the essential. This simple shift allows the mundane to fade into the background and I am able to focus on what matters, what brings joy. I make this critical shift more easily because of the difficult times our family has experienced.  These hard life lessons have given our life contrast: the light and the dark. Without the dark, can we really appreciate the true beauty of the the light?

Eckhart Tolle wrote: "If you have not suffered as you have, there would be no depth to you, no humility, no compassion."

Kelly started our journey into depth.  A journey that, in my ignorance, I definitely would have refused if given the option. A journey that has led us to one of our greatest treasures.

Happy Birthday, Kelly!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


It's Christmas vacation. Everyone has been off for a week and we are out of our normal routine. Only two kids have thrown up so far, so I guess that's pretty good odds for us; only 25% of our population has succumbed.

We've gotten a couple of nice snowfalls and it is beautiful out. I feel awful, though. I, too, am out of my routine. Most winters I run. Not a lot, just 10-15 miles a week: enough to make me feel alive. In winters past, I would go out in the mornings when it is still dark. I love the solitude and the silence. This winter I haven't been able to pull myself out of my warm bed and I am feeling the effects, physically and emotionally.

Today I popped into a clothing store and tried on a few tops. Oh my. Damn those 3 way mirrors!

When I got home I put on my winter running gear and headed out. Thirty seconds into the run I felt that familiar "what the hell is wrong with you?" Feeling. I felt fantastic. Alive. Joyous. Why would I avoid this? I went on my favorite daytime run, though it was well past dark. This route is in a beautiful cemetery less than a mile from my house. I love this place because it is right in town, yet quiet, with paved roads, hills, a brook and extensive wetlands throughout its 15 acres. My 16 year old thinks I'm nuts to go here, even in the light of day. He calls me Igor. He tells me it should creep me out to be with a bunch of dead people. I don't look at it that way at all. Sure, bodies have been buried here, but I don't believe for a second that their spirits are still here. I'm sure they have better things to do.

It is this belief that allows me to enter my cemetery at night. I've never gone in the dark, but it was such a lovely night and I wanted to be alone with no cars about.

It was spectacular. The full moon was giving off just enough light and the trees where covered in snow. The only sound was the brook running through the field. I ran my usual route, but stopped at the top of the hill where there is a lovely old chapel.

I closed my eyes and took some deep cleansing breaths. I decided to talk to my angels a bit.

I do this. I know it may sound a bit wack-a-doodle, but it works for me. It makes me feel connected. I guess it's my version of praying. I realized I hadn't done it in a few weeks and suddenly thought that maybe that was one of the reasons why I was feeling a little bit off.

I asked them to help me get my butt outside more-get me out of bed in the mornings so I can experience this exquisite alone time. I finished, opened my eyes and started running again. In the distance, I saw a small glow of light. I was still deep in the cemetery. I felt a flicker of fear rise up. Here I was, all alone in the dark where no one could hear me yell. What if it was some psycho smoking his cigarette? What if it was a gang of thugs smoking some drug waiting for a victim? Before I let the crazy thoughts settle, I reasoned my angels wouldn't let that happen. Shit, I just talked to them! I was not going to let fear drive me out of this lovely place. I pushed on.

As I got closer, I realized it was indeed a flame. A single, white candle sat atop an old gravestone, buried deep in snow on all sides. There it was, flickering silently in the night, so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.

I looked all around me and tilted my head to hear if anyone was about. No one.


I realized I had my cell phone in my pocket and took a few poor photos. I just wanted to document (to myself) that this angelic thing was indeed here, shimmering alone on this winter night.

The next morning, I woke just as the sun was coming up. I left the warmth of my bed, eager to visit the site of the candle. Was it still there?

I walked outside and was greeted with a blast of cold air. I inhaled deep and filled my lungs. Glorious.

The silent cemetery greeted me, her beauty different from the night before, but no less dramatic.

I ran my route and eventually came to the site of the candle. I was curious to see if it was a recent grave and someone placed the candle there last night, paying their respects.

The candle was still there, but the gravestone itself was completely blank. I had never seen one like it before in the cemetery (and Igor does, in fact, like to read the stones). The large marker behind it was inscribed for a soldier that died in 1881.


Had someone walked into the dark, cold, snowy cemetery and randomly placed a candle on an unmarked grave just for the beauty of it, or was it another angelic message for me?

I dunno.

But I do know the experience of it filled me with light.

I jogged away and thanked my angels, whether they were guilty or not.