Monday, August 22, 2016

Carrying Around Hope

If you've read my blog before, you might know my friend Stephanie.  She was diagnosed with cancer almost 5 years ago.  Nine months before she was diagnosed, she agreed (reluctantly) to run my 1st ever marathon with me.  It was 26.2 miles over mountain terrain.  Oof.  We were to run 14 miles up the beast of a mountain and then 12 miles down rocky trails.  We didn't know it at the time, but our training turned into a metaphor for her upcoming battle against the poison in her body.  She used the ridiculous training regime and ridiculous race (FOURTEEN MILES UP A MOUNTAIN PEOPLE, I DON'T KNOW WHAT WE WERE THINKING) as her "I can do hard things" mantra.

We trained on hills and trails.  We finished that race.  We have the hardware to prove it.  When my family moved to the east coast, promises were made to celebrate that year.  We wanted to commemorate, remember and keep our friendship alive through our relationship we made with those mountain trails. So we decided we would have a 5 year anniversary hike.  Five years after we conquered that mountain, five years after she conquered cancer.  


















So on our family trip back to Utah, we made plans, met at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon and gave each other a massive hug that made the years apart fill in within moments.  We hopped in her car and drove to the trailhead together.  As we hiked, we caught up.  We talked about our kids.  Our husbands.  Good times.  Hard times.  We talked about aging parents and growing pains.  We talked about what her new normal was after the chemo and years of being on drugs to keep the cancer away.  We talked about Jesus and grace and faith and all the lessons that come from having access to these things.



So our hike through the wildflowers with empty ski lifts above our heads became our quiet celebration of hope.  We paused at the top  to take in the still lake. (Quick pause.  Mosquitos were eating us alive.)  We spontaneously paused in the middle of the trail on the way down and embraced, overcome with gratitude.  We soaked in the view and each other's love.  It was a perfect morning to celebrate.

It also gave me time to think about the grace and faith it takes to face something like cancer.  Because Steph is one of those that is a living beacon of what it means to carry hope around.  But I know women in my life who have lost loved ones, yet the faith, grace, hope and love is still carried around in them.  I've seen it carried around in births of children.  Joyful, exciting times where I know the pain of missing their person must have been so palpable it was an emotion that they never knew existed.  Such joy with such aching. (I actually can't even imagine, I'm feeling inadequate writing about it.) 

I've seen it in wedding plans being made and missing their person so much, sometimes choosing shoes for a rehearsal dinner turns into welling tears of longing, never mind thinking about the actual ceremony.  But still,  hope, grace and love are carried around.  They are choosing those things in life that matter.  That really matter.  They are choosing to create those very bonds of love and life and family that was so very painful to lose.  Knowing the crater of loss, they still choose to fill it up with love.  That's hope.  That's grace--knowing that we can't always choose when we get to say goodbye, but we also know we don't have to do it alone and have access to that Divine Love all around us.

These are the things I thought about as I drove home.  We celebrated life.  The same way we all do whenever we choose to open our hearts to all the beautiful, painful, and exquisitely wonderful parts of loving and living.  

So cheers to you Stephanie!  Cheers to you and cheers to us all who love with our whole hearts, holding nothing back.  Life is beautiful.










Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Whole Heart Parenting...Kind Of

I have been heavily immersed in the Brene Brown University lately.  She writes about shame, vulnerability, empathy, courage and a bunch of other emotions that are sometimes hard to access or look in the eye.

She writes about the adults she's interviewed who live in a whole hearted way.  Whole hearted people, according to her research are those that choose to live and love with their whole hearts.  That sounds nice.  I'd like to do that.

I'd also like to raise little people who do that too.

Her research has uncovered that adults who don't always live and love with their whole hearts, very often experienced shame as children surrounding their creativity.  Song, dance, art.  These little kids told in some way whatever they did was bad or embarrassing, or not good enough.

This anecdote was fresh in my head after an afternoon of my 6 year olds painting rocks.  They've reached this age where I can be a quasi-facilitator with some of their activities.  Painting rocks.  How much supervision do they need?  So I flitted in and out of the room while doing domestic mom stuff.

"Mom!  I'm done!"  Sunny yelled.  They announced their creations were ready for the fairy garden they had been talking about during the paint fest.  I walked into the room, ready to praise and adore.

Ahhh! I screamed in my head.  Paint everywhere.

Drippy, gooey, puddles of paint all over the table. Paint so thick the newspaper isn't even necessary.  It's soaked through.  Don't shame, don't yell, don't belittle.  They're being creative. I repeated in my head, eyes wide.

"That's niiiiice honey." I managed through a forced smile.  "Umm, maybe next time you can use a little more newspaper," as a I pointed to the puddle of paint nearly dripping to the floor.


"Oh.  Right.  Sorry mom." She laughed it off and busily started explaining her color choices.  I praised and admired and oohed and ahhed at all of their rock creations.

The paint came off the table. It took a little extra elbow grease, but it did come off.  Before you pat me on the back and say, "Huzzah good woman! You did it! One set of whole hearted children coming right up!"  Because the paint was brought out again 24 hours later without my consent and definitely without newspaper.  (Face palm.)  I didn't yell.  But I didn't praise and adore.  I handed them wet rags and stomped out of the room.

So it's a process.  So what?

I'm a process. But I am grateful (another super important attribute/quality/emotion/state of being Dr. Brown says is necessary for living with your whole heart).  Because that painted rock, which was actually a really cool looking, was gathered on this beach.  With this crew.  On this sunny day.





   

Monday, May 11, 2015

Spencer Walked While I Ate Guac

Spencer took his first steps the other day.  We've been waiting for this a long time.  He'll be turning three years old in 2 1/2 months.  He has a hearty appetite and although his motor skills are behind, his growth isn't.  So not only have I been wanting him to learn to walk so he could have the freedom to roam and have a whole new world open up at 3 feet tall, he is just plain heavy!  So getting his little legs going has been on our list of "Goals for Spencer" for a really long time.

So he walked!  He took about 4 steps on his own, then plunked down and crawled the rest of the way to the gate he was headed for.  Doors, hinges, anything that swings open, he is obsessed with.  And that day in the park, when he took his first steps, he was headed for that gate.  

When I saw it, I was so proud I could burst.  I clapped my hands over my mouth and my eyes got teary.  I was emotional with pride and excitement.  The milestones Spencer reaches have a little bit more gravitas than a typical child.  The first time he fed himself, the first time he said "mama," all these little things have the added weight of doing them nearly 18 months after his peers, so it's just extra special.  

I was also emotional because I was watching it through my phone.  My babysitter sent me the two second clip of his first steps.  I wasn't there.  I wasn't there to scoop him up and shower him with congratulatory kisses.  I wasn't there to clap with him or tell him what a big boy he was.  I was in the parking lot of Chipotle.  

A lot of thoughts remained in my head for a few moments.  They mingled together.  Stewed and sat as I took a moment to process this weird feeling of elation over his accomplishments and guilt for not being there.  I mean, I've never regretted the non-GMO guac and extra carnitas with a splash of chipotle tabasco, but HIS FIRST STEPS.  And I missed it.  It should've been me in the park that afternoon.

But here's what my thought stew turned into:

1) I am one woman
 I simply can't be everything to everyone in my family.  I already knew this.  I just had to remind myself of this supernal truth that has saved me these years of being mom to triplets and a special needs little boy.  If I was everywhere, all the time, at all the important moments and milestones and never missed ONE THING...I'd be a wreck.  This is my truth.  I can't speak for all moms, but this is me.  I need that alone time where I can eat one meal a week without little people climbing in my lap or needing to shovel food in as fast as possible because x,y and z is waiting to be cleaned, folded, put away, swept up, wiped down, packed, whatever.  I need that time to just be.  And that's what I was doing that day.  I was taking time to order extra guacamole, get some pants hemmed I bought for my birthday last month and listen to an audio book between errands.  I don't regret any of those things I chose to do for myself. (I'll never regret guac.)

2) Spencer needs other people to grow.  
Spencer and I have a unique bond.  I am his world.  If I am in the room, he becomes my magnet.  He doesn't sit with me the same way he does with his dad.  If Chris is holding him, or laying in bed with him, he will perch comfortably in his arms and appear content.  If I am next to him, he nuzzles his tiny face into mine however he can.  He presses so hard into my cheeks.  He doesn't want to lay next to me, he wants to unzip my skin and crawl inside me.  It's like he can't get close enough.  When we first started therapy, (like physical and occupational--but I'm sure we'll both need the emotional kind someday, you know for the guac guilt and face smashing) it became pretty clear that he would do more with his therapists if I left the room.  I was some kind of emotional crutch for pushing past those barriers of discomfort.  So when therapy is in session, I step away.  I pop in every now and then if I can hear that he needs some motivation to keep moving down the hallway or is getting extra grumpy with his honey sweet therapists.  I remembered this in the parking lot, as I quietly wiped a tear from my cheek.  Spencer will always need other people in his life to grow.  As much as we both want it to be a two man show between the two of us, I have to step away.  This is our truth.  I can't speak for all mothers with special needs children, but this is us.

So Spencer walked the other day while I was eating a carnitas salad.  He hasn't had a repeat performance, even with me trying to recreate the exact same scenario.  But I have watched that clip about 80 times, with 10 of those being with him.  We sat and watched his wobbly steps, one, two, three, four, plunk.  He smiled and I clapped for him, gave him a kiss and told him what a big boy he was.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

That One Time We Were On Food Stamps

Recently, I met the director of the food pantry here in Gloucester.  One thing led to another, and I wrote a true story they used in their most recent newsletter.  It's a little crazy to reflect on what we had then and what we have now.  I hope with all my heart that I was just as grateful for my life then as I am now.  Because I've always had so much, just in different ways.

Anyway, here is my true story about that one time we were on food stamps...



We have enough. My husband has a great job. He can advance and grow; the well is deep with possibility. We feel fortunate. So feeding our family is something that is just part of the muscle memory of our family life. We never have to think about it too hard. We just do it.

But, this hasn’t always been the case.

Four years ago, my husband Chris was swept up in the excitement of a start-up company. The company had a wide market in a nation of golfers and some fantastic software. The vision of what this company was going to do was grand. We are grand thinking, optimistic people, so we took the plunge. Sure it would be tight for a little while, but the business model seemed solid and it really was a great product.

But weeks of fledgling start-up pay turned into months, and we suddenly found ourselves with four maxed out credit cards and bills piling up and overdue. It’s amazing how quickly it happened. The frustrating part was Chris was working. So. Hard. He was putting in hours of time and making the sales, but the company was a baby and had severe growing pains about how to adequately pay the people contributing.

One Monday morning, after a text from Chris to “not use the card until Friday,” I had had enough. I was pregnant and had three toddlers at my feet and our fridge and cupboards were nearly empty. I had done some miraculous things as a mother, but I couldn’t make the food we had last until Friday. I made the decision to go after resources I knew were available. I called him and told him I was going to apply for food stamps. He was not happy at first, but in that moment, with our cupboards nearly empty and half a gallon of milk, he reluctantly agreed.

"I had done some miraculous things as a mother, but I couldn’t make the food we had last until Friday."

I also lived in a community where being on “food stamps” was sometimes synonymous with being a “freeloader” or “lazy” person. My Facebook newsfeed had angry posts once in a while of someone who had been behind someone in line paying for their potato chips and cookies with food stamps. The messages were clear: “If you’re going to be eating food with MY tax money, you should be buying carrots and broccoli.” Or, “Quit being so lazy.” And, “Why don’t you just get a job?”

The disgust came through my screen and the fact that I had applied, been approved and would be on food stamps for an entire year was something I never thought I would ever talk about. Ever.

But today being removed from a situation gives you a lot of clarity and time to reflect. I’m grateful we were in that place as a family. I’m thankful I’ve been at that door of desperation so I recognize it in others when I see it. Not to pity, not to condescend, but to share hope and empathy.

"I’m thankful I’ve been at that door of desperation so I recognize it in others when I see it."

I’ll never assume someone on food stamps is just too lazy to look for work. I’ll never be annoyed if I see someone buying chips with an EBT card. I’ll never throw those stones. I know the kind of day someone might have dealing with the stresses of not having enough to make the rent, pay the electric bill and care for their children, all the while keeping a smile on their face. Hiding the pain so no one knows. Low income hurts.

Because what people don’t talk about is how using food stamps for food helped stretch the rest of our budget to pay our heating bill, our water bill, the car payment, the rent, our phone bill, put gas in the car, buy diapers. It wasn’t just food, it was life.

And did we need an entire year? Yes. Because you are suddenly in this hole and it takes a while to get out. He switched jobs of course, found something that matched our needs, something more stable. But the credit card debt didn’t go away overnight. Overdue bills take months to get caught up when you’re paying the current month plus more. There is always “plus” when coming out of that low income hole.

So nearly four years removed, I’m just grateful. I never would’ve predicted needing a “handout.” We never fit that mold. Which is why I’m grateful. Because now I know there is no mold. According to Feeding America, 1 in 6 people in the U.S. faces hunger. Your neighbor, sister, daughter, or friend could be on food stamps right now, hoping no one knows, to avoid the shame broadcast in political rants and half-thought out Facebook posts or rolled eyes of someone behind them in the grocery store line. They could just be grateful to be able to feed their kids AND pay the bills. Years later, when their basket is bounteous, they’ll remember the lean years and share what they have, they’ll probably give of their excess with an open heart. And someday they may even speak up about what it meant to have help in the desperate times--the kind of help that also brought hope of better days.


Today, Kara lives in Gloucester with her husband Chris, and their four children. Kara volunteers at The Open Door as a SNAP Advocate.


  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

He Is Just Spencer

Does anyone else get antsy about the end of the year?  Like the end of the year is also going to be the end of the world?  Every year?  Just me? Okay.  

I just put two years of my blog into book form.  This is of course, because the world is ending soon, and when the world ends, there is no internet.  I've got to keep my words alive for my posterity to read as they walk around the apocalyptic wasteland that will be.

I also made some Instagram books.  Same reason.  World ending, gotta have those square prints in tangible form.

Making part of my blog into a book has caused me to read parts of my blog.  And think about parts of my blog.  And wonder why it is I've stopped blogging.  And if I were being perfectly honest (brutal honesty is what you need when dealing with end of the world scenarios) I would have to say it's because of Spencer.

Spencer has been my enigma.  He was and IS this happy, beautiful, perfect little baby boy in our family.  He has been a joyous and beautiful blessing to us for 2 1/2 years, since day one.  But Spencer isn't that toddling little one you might think of when you think of a two year old.  He doesn't walk.  He doesn't talk.  He is far behind his peers.  He crawls and babbles and is so, so, so (I could add a LOT of so's here) happy.

I knew he was behind when he was 6 months and I kept wanting to talk about it.  I wanted to write about it. But I didn't want to label him.  I didn't want people reading my blog (people that know me) or family and friends to see Spencer and just think: behind.  I wanted Spencer to be Spencer and I wanted the joy and happiness that he carries with him at all times to be what people see.

I've had this blog about milestones my preemie triplets have made.  I've blogged about when they started crawling, and eating solid foods and with Spencer, there were no updates or progress reports for a long time.  I wasn't sure how to introduce him in the story arc of our family.  I didn't want to make excuses or try and give reasons WHY he wasn't rolling over, or crawling or grabbing toys with his hands.  Isn't that silly? Why do I need to preface who he is?  He is JUST Spencer!

A lot of family and friends ask about Spencer's diagnosis.  This is totally natural, and I might do the same thing in their shoes.  The truth is, Spencer doesn't have a diagnosis yet.  It's not because doctors can't figure it out and we've been searching and searching for 2 years.  It's because just last month is when I had a simple blood test done to test his genes to look for abnormalities.  I didn't have to wait.  I chose to.  I've never had a urgent need to "find out what's wrong with him."  Spencer is happy.  He is loved by his brothers and sister.  He is his dad's buddy and his mom is his world, not unlike any other 2 year old.  He hasn't regressed since he's been born.  Only progressed.  Slowly.  Painfully slow.  But he is happy and he is healthy and that is all I care about.  I think Spencer has taught me about patience even more than his older siblings have. (I KNOW! THAT'S A LOT OF PATIENCE FOR ONE WOMAN TO LEARN.)  I've had to really trust myself as his mom to follow this course we've been on.  I've had to follow that quiet whispering that it will all be ok.  Don't panic.  He is JUST Spencer. 

So I don't panic.  I trust and I wait.  I set aside the outside voices of "what's wrong with him?"  The ones I've been hearing for nearly 2 years.

I will continue to trudge through the system of specialists and doctors because it's what's best for him.  We will eventually solve the puzzle of why Spencer has global delays.  I'll go to the genetic specialist and the ENT specialist and the orthotic specialist, and urology specialist and neurology specialist  and we will continue to have physical, speech and occupational therapy for him every week.  But I am going to stop with the pause button on the story of our family.  Because Spencer is our happiest hero.  He saves me everyday and came to us with the most beautiful plot line.

It's time I shared it.











Wednesday, February 26, 2014

In Love

The heart is a funny thing.  It yearns, and swells and breaks and opens.

I fell in love a few months ago.  I fell hard.  It wasn't like the last time.  Last time it was that slow, approachable, don't know what you got until it's gone type of love.  But this last time.  BAM.  Right in my gut and it hasn't let up since.

We moved into this rental house that is near the Annisquam River in Massachusetts.  One recent Saturday morning, I happened to hear a radio story that mentioned a millionaire, who before he became one, had a sister that drown in the river near the turn of the century and once he made his millions, he dedicated most of his time and resources to creating an anti-gravity device, because he was convinced that is why she drown.  Because of gravity.  

I remember looking out my window that Saturday morning, watching the ice caps flow with the current tide.  I watched the river for a few moments and thought about that man over a hundred years ago.  I smirked.  Not at his heartache or loss.  I can't imagine.  But because my bones tingled a little.  I felt like gravity--a force of nature--is the exact thing that brought me to this town.  My new love.

I married an adventurer.  I've already acquiesced to the fact that we will always be that family making plans, trying new things and "settling down" may be a relative term I will have make up my own definition to.  It's taken me a while to say this comfortably and without exasperation and hands tossed in the air like a frustrated shop keeper looking for a lost key.  This is my lot.  This is our lot.  And it's a good one.

We have somehow ended up in this old fishing town north of Boston, Gloucester, Massachusetts.  (2 things. #1: it pronounced glos-ter if you're not from here, glos-tah if you're a native.  #2: I'm still working on trying to spell Massachusetts without using spell check.  Don't tell my 4th grade teacher...or my mom.  Hi mom!)

Cheap winter rent and the lure of the ocean is how we found it.  It wasn't on our radar when making plans for our trek east.  I trusted Chris when he picked a spot to bring the rest of our brood on one of his solo trips here.  We arrive, unpack a few suitcases, try to get as settled as you can when you've just sold 75% of your belongings and are sleeping in something of a summer vacation rental.  In the winter.

Our first Sunday here, we took a drive.  "You have to see the coast line," he tells me.  With everyone piled in the van, we wander past shops and old homes.  We talk about the fishing history, the Perfect Storm history, the oldest seaport in North America history.  It's a cool place to be if you like history.

Then we come around this bend.  And my heart stopped.  badaBeat, badaBeat, badaBeat, badaBOOM. And without warning, tears flowed quietly and quickly down my cheeks.  Everything clicked.  Everything was clear.  If anyone tells you they don't believe in love striking unexpectedly, you can tell them this story.  Because I fell in love with this old, cranky town On. The. Spot.  I don't know what biological thing occurred or neurons fired or strange pheromones of the ocean air got a hold of me.  But I'm telling you I love this place.  Love.  It's old.  Real old.  Like 1623 and 1973 mixed up old.  The roads are terrible.  There are abandoned fisheries right in middle of town, which is also in the middle of the beach.  Nearly every grocery store employee I've met here either hates me, or their job, I can't decide which.  The local movie theatre is, umm, dilapidated, run down quaint?  It's been winter ever since we got here.  Not just winter.  But the town has run out of funds to plow the roads and keep them salted kind of winter.  Like, it feels 10 degrees below zero because the wind won't stop blowing winter.  But I don't care.  Because I am in love.

I still laugh a little when I think that perfect San Diego was also in the running for this new job.  Did I mention that?  San Diego!  Summer year round San Diego! Poppin sunsets like candy San Diego!  Temps below 60 degrees require sweaters and hot chocolate San Diego!  We could have picked let's go the beach in swimsuits and swim in the water while the turkey cooks during Thanksgiving San Diego!  But the western current wasn't meant for us.  We were lured, pulled, beckoned to this cold, easterly, storm ridden peak of the state.

And after two days of living in it, I found love.  So this is where we stay.

Until the next, continental shift.







Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Fox Story

Maybe it's that awful song that accidentally got popular, because, well, internet.  But I keep thinking of this fox I saw on one of the last days we were in Utah.

In my old neighborhood, I had this gully right by my house that I would run through a lot.  It was a park that had a playground and grass on one end, but the entire rest of it, close to 10 acres was natural trees and a lovely path and it was very out of place in the middle of this suburban jungle, so I loved it.

Our first week in that Cottonwood Heights neighborhood is when I found the park.  It was early in the morning as I came around a corner and there on the trail was this beautiful fox.  Big red tail, pointy, sharp ears and it stopped when it heard me and looked my way.  I stopped too and for a brief moment, we locked gazes, both caught a little off guard.  Then it turned and ran towards the brush.  I saw this little fox 5 or 6 times during that first summer there.  It was always around that same spot.


It became a habit to slow down and walk when I reached a certain point so I wasn't so noisy coming around that area.  I wanted to see her again, especially if it was that same early hour. Catch her off guard again.  But as it got colder, I saw her less and less.  In springtime, I was quite pregnant with baby #4 and I didn't make it down to the ravine ever as often as I wanted.  In summer,  I HAD baby #4, so it wasn't until October that I came back to running and back to my park.

Of course I still slowed down in that spot and still hoped I would see the fox, but I never did the rest of the year.  It was another spring, and still no sightings.  Summer passed with beautiful, already hot at 7 am mornings, and still I never saw my fox.  Then fall, with the news that we were moving.  I went for a handful of runs that last week in our neighborhood.  The mountains were more glorious than ever.  I stopped more often and snapped pictures with my phone, happy that I never really took for granted the spectacular view of those grand watch guards of our little valley.

One morning, I was making my way down into the park, my mind on this landscape and community that I loved so much, leaving connections I had made, friends I loved seeing, family I relied on, family I needed, family I loved so much--getting choked up about leaving it all.  Having to start over.  These thoughts were on my mind that morning.  

Then, I looked up and saw her.  Standing a little bit off the trail, a few yards in front of me was my fox.  Beautiful, full tail, propped ears, alert at my presence.  I stopped dead.  My heart skipped a little and then she was gone.  I ran ahead, and looked where she had darted into the bushes.  I saw her again.  She was running parallel to the path I was on.  I kept stopping because so did she.  She was hidden by trees and bushes sometimes, but then I saw that big tail moments later.  I had a thought to pull out my phone and snap a picture, but it seemed inappropriate somehow.  In this age of Instagram and status updates, I felt it would be a betrayal if I shared this rare moment with everyone else in my feed.  So I was quiet.  We "ran together" for about 25 yards and then she was gone.  I craned my neck in the direction I saw her go, trying to get one last glimpse.

That little fox was my message that day.  It's like she showed up to say goodbye.  To tell me to really let go of all the apprehensions I had about making this cross country move.  It was going to be ok.

Trust me, she said through the trees.  Trust God.  He knows.