Echo

It’s been so long since I’ve written here that WordPress has changed the dashboard a little, and I didn’t even realize until I just logged on. This is a long one, so buckle up in your quarantine nest or wherever these words find you. Nearly three months, the longest break I’ve taken in the ten years I’ve had this space. But for most of us, it’s the last few days that speak the loudest. Life always happens that way, years of a record sailing around and around with a needle tracing a line smoothly, the rhythm predictable. Then scratch, that noise, that halt.

My halt came a couple of months ago, even before COVID-19 landed on America’s shores, but tonight, everything feels magnified.

Just after New Year’s, both of my kids got some nasty respiratory bug and within a few days (first Norah, then Jude) they were both diagnosed with pneumonia. With the right meds, Norah’s healed quickly, but Jude’s did not. It hung on and on and he was on two rounds of antibiotics and oral steroids plus two different inhalers. It was a much heavier handed medical approach than I usually have to take with him, but his breathing was so coarse for weeks. Then on January 29th, he got this odd complication where he started vomiting numerous times a day as his body was healing from the respiratory stuff. It wasn’t exactly typical stomach bug behavior; instead it was almost constant … gagging? retching? dry heaving? From the beginning, I knew it was something odd because in a decade of parenting, I’ve never seen anything like it.

Long story short, after countless pediatrician visits, an ER visit where they swabbed him and gave us a confirmed diagnosis of Rhino-Enterovirus, and two GI specialists, he was misdiagnosed twice and then finally diagnosed with something called post-viral gastroparesis. It’s essentially when the vagus nerve becomes damaged because of a viral infection, and since the vagus nerve wraps all the way around your digestive system, it affects stomach nerves as well. In literal terms, it translates to “stomach paralysis.” In reality, it has meant 6 solid weeks of vomiting. We are on day 50 right now.

Parents, you know what life feels like when a stomach virus hits your kid? Imagine that + 6 weeks of it + a full time job + single parenting + a little sister to also tend to + scary research that told me it could go on and on and on for a very long time, sometimes incurable. Then all the practicalities — homebound instruction for him while I was working, occasional IV fluids, isolation from his friends and activities, carrying vomit bags everywhere, running out of PTO and working a job I only just began in August. To say it has been the hardest few weeks of my life is no understatement. There is nothing worse than worrying for your kid’s health, and I guess I always knew that abstractly in my head, but now I know it in my heart and in my bones in a way I can never forget.

Because it is nerve-centered, there is no reliably effective medicine. We got something from the GI that helped for a few days but wore off. Then about three weeks ago, a student in class asked how he was doing and I explained the diagnosis, and another kid raised his hand to say that he had the same thing in 6th grade and this parents found a chiropractic / injury rehabilitation center nearby that essentially rehabilitated his vagus nerve. This coincidence is pretty crazy (Thank you, God) because it’s a rare thing. I made an appointment that day and I’m happy to say that our protocol there (a combination of chiropractics, craniosacral massage, microcurrent therapy, and a hyperbaric oxygen chamber) almost has Jude back to normal.

About a month before the vomiting began, he had a suspected concussion that the local children’s urgent care cleared us on, but the assessments we’ve done through this injury rehabilitation clinic suggest that perhaps that is where it all began and the virus simply further inflamed the nerve. Who knows? The human body is incredibly amazing and complicated and unpredictable. He is currently down to only occasional episodes when he was vomiting 20+ times a day a few weeks ago. It feels crazy to say that I am seeing a chiropractic practice to treat my kid’s GI condition, but after a wild goose chase for answers, that is exactly what I am doing, and it is working. We are not totally healed yet, but it has improved. There are tests lined up for the coming months to rule out misdiagnosis and new complications and to take a closer look at any nutritional deficiencies that may be left behind after so many days of improper food absorption.

I said to my friend a couple of weeks ago that once my family was past this health complication, I would never again complain about my regular, busy, messy, sometimes overwhelming life.

Then last week came, and I began the week with some abstract worries about Coronavirus and ended it here inside these four walls with the same task that confronts all of us right now, waiting and watching and praying and sitting through this fear and discomfort.

This is such a weird season in my life. I’m just coming out of a dark period of a lot of tears and a lot of frustration with the medical system and a lot of worries about my son’s health only to see the same things playing out on the world’s stage now. Frustration with a system that is failing us and so much worry. I feel like one day I will look back and this timing will make sense and I will see what God was doing, but I do not see it yet.

All of us are learning lessons right now and absorbing this news in different ways, but it feels like for me, the same experience I have already had this year is echoing louder and louder to say Can you hear me? Do you see me? I’m thinking of that Pema Chodron quote again. Nothing goes away until it has taught you what you need to learn.

To be honest, I have mostly been on quarantine since January anyhow. I have been in the midst of a total paradigm shift in my own life, and now the world is requiring all of us to do the same thing. What if all you had right now is the space you are sitting in, the one you call home? What if you had to stop shopping and stop running and stop everything and just be still? What if you had to strip everything down to the basics and sit with all of it? What if the point is not to be productive but just to be here? What if you had to rely on others for help and remember that we are all connected, all of us, all the time?

Jude’s extended illness has forced me to strip everything down to the root, but here I am stripping it even more bare. I cannot shake the feeling that the America on the other side of this is not going to be remotely the same. It is scary now as we look to the unknown, but what if there is something good there? The recognition that public schools are completely necessary to the functioning of a thriving society, the understanding that all service workers need a safety net of insurance and sick time, the realization that maybe families need to be fed when they cannot afford it and not just because their kids are going to school. And look at how we have come together, how we have picked up pieces of this mess to coordinate community efforts from six feet apart and from the reaches of the wide internet. We can do so much more if we choose to. Why haven’t we been doing this already?

Health is such a gift. Nothing else really matters. I think maybe that is what we are all realizing, and what I’m understanding on both the personal and also the national level right now. What was my own little family’s health scare somehow paved the way for this global one to make its path into my life.

I can say with confidence America will be different on the other side of this massive health crisis because that is what crisis does for us. It shifts and moves all the pieces and makes us create something new of our lives. I am not sure what is on the other side of this scare for me, but I am determined to make it something good. And in the meantime as I wait, I am determined to keep chiseling away at what is here — to play board games or read, to clean out that space I have been avoiding in the extra closet upstairs, to write and create, to paint with the kids and take walks and watch movies and maybe remember that we are not what we produce or what we buy or who we are perceived to be when we are out in the world. Just being here is all that we are created to do, and that alone is a gift.

 

scribble a note and hope

I packed my lunch this morning and placed it on the counter as I poured my coffee. And apparently I left it there as I drove away, my mind galloping elsewhere from one idea to another. I cannot seem to focus lately.

Field trip forms and speech therapy appointments. Wash the ballet tights before Tuesday, and sign the reading log on the first of the month. Make time for grading the essays that come in next week, and respond to that email that’s been sitting too long in the inbox. Make dinner, wash the dishes. Listen to the news, turn it off. Read about Washington, feel sick, turn it off.

I’m getting good at compartmentalizing, and I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not. A coping mechanism perhaps. Come Friday evening, I turn it all off. I push it away beneath where it can bother me, and I try to recenter in the best ways I know how. But sometimes it’s hard to turn off the frenzy.

It’s weird how life can hand you good and bad at the same time, isn’t it? I have these moments that are so perfect and so sweet in their passing speed, never to happen again in that same way. But I have a thousand worries at the same time. And it used to feel heavy enough when those worries were only what was in my own home, but the weight of national politics is throwing me off center in a way I didn’t expect.

One thing at a time. Inhale, exhale. Repeat.

Jude lost a tooth at school today. It fell out as he was eating lunch, and then it fell on the ground later and he couldn’t find it. This happened last year, too. Last time his teacher wrote a tiny note on a Post-It explaining to the Tooth Fairy what happened. Today, as we exited the school parking lot and he explained it to me, he insisted the Tooth Fairy surely won’t believe him since it’s now happened twice. I assured him she likely would, and when we got home, he found the school nurse’s hall pass in his backpack explaining he was in the clinic at precisely 11:35am to deal with a lost tooth.

He scribbled on the back of the nurse’s note with his first grade spelling, “Tooth Fairy – I lost my tooth dubble times. Sorry. But this note prooves it.” He slipped it under his pillow tonight, hoping for the best. He’s sleeping soundly as  I type this, and I just tiptoed in his room to exchange the note for a few dollar bills.

Lately, that’s all I feel like I can do, too. Scribble a note and hope it will work. Say a prayer and hope for the best. Smile at a stranger. Help a student with a little extra understanding and patience. Play with my kids and ignore the growing clutter on the kitchen counter. Write when I can, which is not as often as I’d like these days. Try something new every now and then. Quit waiting on the other shoe to drop and just enjoy what’s here now, in spite of all my questions.

An Instagram account I follow was commenting on activism today and reminded us that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s true about all of it, isn’t it? I forget that a lot and try to sprint to whatever goal is within view, but I need to pace myself. This month, I’m giving into the ebb and flow of whatever is here right now. Sometimes that means I’m frenzied and barely hanging on in the busy pace of what has to be done. But sometimes I just sink in to find a comfortable spot to focus on and forget the rest, just for a minute. The good and the bad, the easy and the hard. It all comes eventually anyhow. Here and now is what I know.

Year Six: A Letter

Jude,

Today you turn six, and this has been a huge year for you. Growing, learning, changing everyday. I wake every morning to realize there is a little person in my house. This might seem like a ridiculous observation to make, but when you are a parent one day, you will see. There is a transition that happens when you begin having real conversations with your child and see him through new eyes. You are your very own person with your own wishes and ideas. I love your independent spirit.
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Though you are unique in your own ways, I see so much of myself in you. We understand each other in the easiest way, you and me. Hearing your teacher’s comments on how you approach school work and social settings, watching you interact with other kids, hearing your observations and insights – it all echoes memories for me and strikes a chord of familiarity. I sometimes wonder how I survived 28 years on this planet without you. We get each other without effort and understand each other even without words and explanation. There are different ways to love and relate to people, but I feel incredibly lucky that my firstborn has a soul that mirrors mine so closely.

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I try to listen to you as intently as I can when you speak to me. This year has been the craziest one imaginable, and I’m haunted a little by the closing of my last letter to you when I described my gratitude for the simple, mundane worries that filled my day. In the weeks that followed that letter, our world exploded, and my worries have been anything but mundane this year. But weirdly enough, I am finding gratitude in this experience, too. It has brought us closer together, and I see you finding so much comfort these past few months as we sink into life in our household of three. I’m here to listen and to guide and mostly just to love you as the unique little person you are becoming.

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I am the first to tell you – now and always – that I have nothing figured out. I am far from perfect and certain about next to nothing. But I know that I love you, and I am doing the very best I can. I’m finally realizing that one action alone is enough. There’s so much love between the three of us, and it kept us afloat even in the roughest waters this year. It will always be that way, no matter what lies ahead for us. That’s really the only thing I know for sure.
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You have so many traits I love and admire: a persistent curiosity, an unfiltered joy, a generous heart, and such a fire for intellectual inquiry. You are a seeker in every way. Always looking to know more and to do more and to create something new everyday. Your teachers see this fire in you, and I can’t wait to see where it takes you. We talk a lot with the lights off as I get you and Norah to sleep at night, and you ask me big questions that have no solid answers. — Why does God make bad people, Mama? Where does imagination come from? How do we know we are safe from scary things? What if we aren’t? — Truthfully, I am horribly unprepared to answer these things, so we just talk it out as we lie there in the dark with your long arm thrown across me and your chin on my shoulder. There are some questions that simply don’t have any solid answers, and unlike most kids, you are okay with the ambiguity. You’re a little thinker in the biggest way. I pray you keep seeking and retain your introspective nature. It leads you to truth and beauty eventually, and our inner lives guide us when we let them.

It’s hard sometimes – when you tell me that someone hurt your feelings or I see ways the world seems way too harsh for your little spirit. I want so badly to somehow shield you from all of it, the future disappointment or heartache or the waking up to harsh realities you don’t yet understand. But I’m trying to remember that it is not my job to toughen you up for a hard world but to show you how to stay soft in spite of it.

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I think the thing that keeps surprising me about motherhood is that it keeps giving back to me ten times over what I ever expected. You opened that door for me six years ago when you left my own body to join the rest of us, and it just keeps getting richer. This year especially, you have reminded me each day that I am enough as I am. That loving you and holding space for both of us to feel what we feel without judgment is the only thing I have to do to create the threads that bind our little family. We have years and years ahead of us, Jude. I just hope to continue doing the same thing as time rolls by – giving you space to grow and learn and emerge as your own person.  I’ve watched that happen a bit this year with the new world of kindergarten in front of you. This is the year that you walked bravely forward to a whole new chapter. I feel lucky that I’ve got you beside me as I do the very same thing.

Happy birthday, Jude! Keep questioning, keep learning, keep growing.

Love,

Mama

 

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** As most of my readers know, I write letters for my kids on their birthdays to give them when they are older. This will likely change one day soon as they grow and my letters become more specific when their lives grow more complex and private. But for now, I also post the letters here.

hard things

Today is the day! Jude started kindergarten.  This morning, I put my baby boy on a bus.  I can’t believe it.

 

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Motherhood just changes you at your core, doesn’t it? I was saying earlier this week that it never stops feeling like one big change after another. Having a child who grew in your own body and rocking that baby in a dark, quiet house. Chasing those chubby toddler legs.  Singing ABC’s with a preschooler.  Those days feel SO LONG when you are in them, yet they all run together and race by as you look back. Here we are. Another change. Another new chapter on the horizon.  I’m excited for him, and seeing growth in your children is so fulfilling.  But it also aches a little bit. Being a mother is like forever seeing a piece of your heart running loose in the world, and sometimes you want to protect it and tuck it back deep in your chest where it belongs, but it doesn’t work that way.  

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He’s getting older, and I don’t feel like it’s my job here to comment on his feelings and his perspective.  But I’ll say that he was all the things you’d expect – excited, a little overwhelmed, exhausted, and proud at the end of the day. It was only 8 hours, but it was the longest day of my life. Such a joy to see him step off that school bus with a look of pride and satisfaction.

 

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It’s been a hard week. With all of the emotional intensity of preparing for today, it leaves you feeling unsteady anyhow.  Being human is hard sometimes.  I’ve come so far in the healing process, and I can see that on this journal as I look back at old entries.  But here we are with a new chapter of challenges I didn’t anticipate.  Watching someone who hardly knows my son come to open house events, school functions, teacher meetings, and all that this life entails.  It is HARD to swallow that.  There is so much more I could say, but that is already more detail than I usually write in this space where I try to focus on my own piece of the journey and not someone else’s.  I just don’t want to be hypocritical in my reflections here, so I’m admitting that while I am doing well in many ways and melding somewhat gently into this new life, this was a bad week full of encounters I wish I never had to experience. It makes me angry to see someone push an agenda on my child and me.  Life is full of hard things, I know. And this is hard.

Yesterday my awesome friend, Amanda, posted a fearless reflection on Facebook where she ripped the mask off and was honest about motherhood challenges and all that they entail and how they leave us wondering if we are doing the right things, if we are enough. Reading the responses she received was inspiring to me — just moms being honest about how hard this job is and how much we question if we are doing it right.

I have so many friends who are amazing and are not moms, so I don’t like to make big blanket statements on motherhood, but I’m just going to say that there are some things that you just do not get — you do not even remotely understand them — until you’ve done this. Everyone thinks they know everything about parenting until they actually do it. And those parents that —  even after they have kids or after their kids are grown — walk around saying they are the best parent in the world?  Those are the ones to really worry about and the ones you can be assured screwed up somewhere. It takes humility and authenticity to do difficult jobs, and parenting is difficult for certain.

Jen Pastiloff (who is leading a workshop this Saturday that I’m super excited to attend) posted this recently.  It resonated, and I saved it.

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I’m just going to be honest tonight.

I’m here to say that I am grateful for so many things in my life, but I’m also deeply hurt by some actions that were done to me and more than that by the complete lack of remorse or respect from those involved.

I’m inspired by my children every day, and they are the compass for my decisions and actions, but I still think motherhood is the hardest gig ever and I’m sure I don’t always do everything right.  And sometimes I feel so tired and weary from the heaviness of this job and the responsibility of guiding two little people.

I’m confident and I know I am whole and capable of so many things, but I can also be shaken and broken so quickly by someone’s simple actions or one hurtful comment. It still surprises me how solid I can feel on the inside and yet still be broken so quickly with someone’s simple stab.

But that’s being human, right? Being full of lots of imperfections that you wish didn’t exist but they do.  Thinking things that you shouldn’t take as the absolute truth but sometimes you do. Feeling things that you wish you didn’t feel but you do.

It’s all here – the doubt and the shining moments, the guilt and the satisfaction, the anger and the joy.  There’s a line in an Avett Brothers song that says, “There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light, and I’m frightened by those that don’t see it.”  It pierces me all the way through when I hear that song.  Those who don’t see it – they don’t feel shaken or see both the darkness and the light – are the ones who frighten and intimidate me the most when I’m playing the comparison game. But really if you don’t have moments of self-doubt and hurt, I’m learning you don’t have much to offer.

So here’s my offering tonight. Life is full of hard things.  And sometimes they feel too heavy, but on the other side of that heaviness, there’s always a joy and satisfaction tied to it.

My brave boy stepped on a school bus and began a new journey today, and it was full of fear and self-doubt but also full of joy and pride.  I think I can learn a lot from him.

graduation day

Big news in our house this week!  Jude graduated pre-k yesterday with a little ceremony with his classmates.  I snapped a quick picture of the kids before we got in the car in the morning so that I could compare it with last August’s “first day” photo, and it’s hard to believe how much they’ve grown in the past 9 or so months. It’s been such a tremendous time of growth and change for all of us.  And when I see these smiling faces and happy kids, I feel such a swell of peace and pride.

last day of pre-k

As teachers, I think we approach life through the lens of the academic year a bit. January brings a fresh start for most people, but we run along in an August to May pattern sometimes. So to look back at the insane changes that happened this year and what we had before us (unknown to me) last August, it feels SO GOOD to have it all behind me.  We did it!  I can’t wait to exhale this summer.

I took care of a few last minute things in my office on Friday morning, and then I picked up the kids from school at 2:00 – meaning of course that I walked the tiny distance to get them from my campus’s on-site child development center. We walked around a bit to enjoy the weather, and the kids played with the sculptures near the fine arts building as we waited for family to show up for the big ceremony.

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I could write a novel-length post here about how amazing my job is and how much I value my community there and how insanely and divinely perfect this opportunity was for me in light of my current situation.  But I should also mention that the very best thing about my job is that the kids are plugged in right where I am. I’m grateful that they get to see art exhibits or plays or ballets or whatever is happening on campus at any given moment, but I’m also thankful for caring teachers and the sense of community that exists there. I can pop in whenever I’m needed or want to check on something or help with things.  It is such a gift to see these moments in the middle of my workday – birthday celebrations with classes, reading a favorite book, trick or treating on Halloween.  All of it right there with me.  I never take it for granted.

The ceremony was adorable, and Jude received a diploma and a folder showcasing much of his work for the year.  He has grown so incredibly much this year, and I know he’s still little and it’s only pre-k, but you really can’t help but feel unbelievably proud of your kids as you watch them achieve milestones like this one.  He has so much ahead of him and a bright future waiting. I’m excited to watch it unfold.  But for yesterday, I was also just happy to celebrate what he’s done already. Five is such a great age.  The world is wide open for him.

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On the whole, as I finish this school year and this stage with my oldest, I’m just feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Yes, there are things that seem pretty unfair and certainly unexpected about this past few months, but those details are fading and bothering me less and less every day. I don’t have to fight those thoughts from my head much anymore as I did in the beginning.

There’s too much happiness and promise waiting down the road for me to dwell on anything else for too long. Everyone has her own road to walk, so to speak – her own path and purpose. Mine feels pretty good lately. I love these kids. I love my community. I love my job. And yesterday, I was so grateful for all of those things and how much they are shaping my life as I know it.

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Cheers to summer! To rest and resetting my thoughts and priorities. To celebrating and appreciating these two kids and my little life. It’s a good one.

Birthday at the Farm

Jude’s birthday is still a few days away, but we managed to snag an October Sunday afternoon at a local farm, so we celebrated a little early. The weather has been up and down and often rainy lately, so I worried a little. But Georgia fall delivered in all its splendor, and it was perfect.

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Jude enjoyed the day with cousins and friends, plus lots of wide open spaces and fall fun.

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a corn pit!

The kids got to enjoy a “corn pit” which was basically a sandbox with dried corn instead of sand. There were also a few bounce houses, playgrounds, and a small petting zoo. It made for such a memorable day. (Make the trip to Warbington Farms if you are in metro Atlanta. They are great!)

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The highlight was a tractor ride where the driver had Jude stand up for a birthday serenade and took us on a scenic drive around the farm, stopping to call for and feed the cows.

tractor birthday song.

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mooooooooo.

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We followed that up with some birthday cake under the tent and a little more playtime.

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making a wish!!

sneaky fingers

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It was a perfect fall day to celebrate Jude’s fifth birthday. Five! I can hardly believe it. His actual birthday is another nine days away, so I’m sure the celebrations will continue this month. There’s so much to celebrate this season anyway. Apples, cooler mornings, pumpkin carving, local fairs, and Halloween dress-up around the corner. I am grateful for all of it – and for the people I get to share it with.

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Happy October, friends! Thanks for reading.

First Day of School

We were out the door bright and early on Monday morning, but I managed to take a couple extra minutes to snap some photos of the kids. Norah wanted to tell us she is “TWO!”

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Jude was unbelievably excited about his new backpack (Star Wars!) but also pretty nervous about school, I think.  He was a mess of tears the night before about little things completely unrelated to school.  Then as we pulled in the parking lot on Monday, he said, “Mama, why does my tummy hurt?”  Apparently he is old enough to get nervous and unlucky enough to inherit mom’s intense brain-tummy connection.  It’s enough to make your heart sting when you hear fear in their little voices.

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But the second we walked in the class, he ran to play side-by-side at the blocks table with a friend he’s been missing this summer.  And as I picked them up on Monday, he said it was a “super fun day, Mom!”

 

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It always feels good to see your kids do scary things or hard tasks and come out feeling proud of their work and ready for the next day.  Here’s to a great school year and the thrill of new experiences!