Saturday, October 7, 2017

What They Will Remember?

I spend an odd amount of time thinking about the memories that I might be helping my children form.

We moved to this house in this neighborhood with the anticipation of forming certain memories:  the freedom of being able to walk to places with friends long before the freedom of driving; the open feel of the unfenced yards, with the invitation to cut through to play with friends; the wind in their clothes as they swing on the neighbor's swooping tree swing. Is this what they will remember? 
Will they remember the dazzling multihued sunsets, silhouetting the tower of St. Theresa's down the street? Will they hear a joyful peal of church bells and think, "Yay! A wedding!" Will they hear the strains of a bagpipe and mourn another police officer or fire fighter is being laid to rest? Are they imprinting the gracefully aging victorian homes with their stately trees and hydrangea-blossomed flower beds as image of "home"?

In my work with elders losing their memory, I know that these early memories will be the last ones they'll be allowed to keep. The smell of a word-burning fireplace, of bread out of the oven, of chicken soup on the stove - these could be the smells that comfort and soothe when words can't. 

Will they remember being humbled by the overwhelming size of the redwoods in California? Will they internalize the broad flat expanse of highways in Texas? Will they remember exultantly standing at the tops of mountains in New Hampshire? Or will the more mundane daily events of making beds, pouring cereal, and sitting down to dinner dominate their minds?

Will they remember that the Thanksgiving table can always stretch to accommodate a few more? That homemade food is love, and love is to be shared? Will they remember and ask themselves, "Is there a nicer way to say that?" At work and in community life, will they ask themselves, "What am I doing to make this situation better?"

Will they remember that I tell them, "On good days and on bad days, I always love you."? Will they remember that "There is nothing you can do that will make me stop loving you."? Will they remember and believe "There is no mistake too big for God to forgive."? Will they remember that "Nothing can separate you from the love of God."?

Will they remember that they are precious and loved? 

Many days I fear that they will mostly remember the bad stuff - my short temper, their sisters' tendencies toward squabbles, the boring chores and household demands. I guess I really don't have control over what their brains imprint and bring up 80 years from now. Can you affect the process by trying to make the good outweigh the bad? If you curate an environment of pleasant experience, can you inoculate the brain from storing the bad?

Excuse me while I go worry myself to sleep...

Thursday, June 29, 2017


A while back, my Mum gave me a packet of documents. "Here's your adoption paperwork. They gave us the originals instead of the copies by mistake. I noticed the whiteout is flaking off. You can read your last name."

Mum and Dad were clearing a lot of stuff out of the house. We had a lot of life going on here. Moving, new jobs, another kid on the way... There was a lot going on. But I looked. And yes, there was the name. I put the papers away. There was a lot going on. I wasn't completely ready to do anything about it. It required energy. And emotional space. And I just didn't have any.

I had taken baby steps over the years to find my birth mom. I had a counseling session with an adoption specialist; this is a prerequisite for many match services and registries. I looked online to figure out which registries I might be on. It didn't seem very straightforward. And it wasn't free, either. It seemed like a big undertaking. It was scary. So it didn't go very far.

But the internet goes everywhere. With a name, a city, and some search engines, you can find out a lot. Add social media, and the path becomes much more clear. 

And finally, one day, I had the energy and need to take the leap. I sent out a letter. And the letter found its intended target. 

So what now? I'm not sure where it will go.

But I got to say thanks. My birth mother chose life. I'm grateful. My husband is grateful. My parents are grateful. My children would be, if they knew how common the other choice is. And I daresay my friends are happy with the decision she made. My patients, too... Choices like that have quite a ripple effect. The results are bigger than the decision-maker can ever know.

And the choice to put the original medical record, the one with the whiteout over my birth name, instead of the copy, into the packet of adoption paperwork? That choice has had a ripple effect, too.

Friday, April 28, 2017


I stopped in a little flower shop on the way home from work today to buy a birthday gift for my Dearest Friend. When I asked her to babysit my girls for a few hours earlier in the week, it hadn't occurred to me that it was her birthday today. 


But my short commute through the commercial square of the neighboring town offered an opportunity to visit a new store and shop locally. And, as many times as I've driven through Dedham Square, I haven't actually stopped in any of the businesses. I remedied that today.

I was chatting up the store owner as she wrapped up an adorable mini orchid (honestly, Dearest Friend, if she had two of those plants, we'd have matching plants right now...). The shop decor was quaint, and the plants were displayed on what looked like antique chests, dressers, and other lovely pieces of antique furniture. The small drawered piece immediately behind me caught my eye. 

I've recently been struck with a burning desire to overhaul the entryway of our house. So I've purchased a used trunk that doubles as a bench (to hold the jumble of bags previously dumped on the floor), and a new rug. I'm still in the market for a few rows of coathooks and a doormat, but I have some solid leads. The one thing I'm struggling to find is a small piece of furniture to put in a small space, that can hold mail and other small things that need easily-accessible public storage (spare keys? stamps?). But I saw a perfect candidate for the job, right behind me in that flower shop. I asked her where she found the furniture in her shop, and explained my burning need to decorate, now that Spring has solidly arrived, and I felt like I was awake again. "Yes, Spring. It's when we all come back to life." 

She said this so matter-of-factly. But she was so right. I immediately felt better thinking that other people have felt asleep, mentally comatose. The cognitive fog has weighed heavily on me the last chilly month. But now I do feel like I'm coming back to life. 

I've felt creative bursts of energy that have led me to buy fabric. To make pillows to go on the previously mentioned chest, as well as the used double glider that now sits on my porch. I have decorating vision for the first time in the almost 2 years we've owned our house. 

It feels so good to look past of the daily grind of chaos, grime, and neediness that make up my daily life. I vaguely remember feeling creative. Once upon a time, I made BestestHusband an ENTIRE SET of pajamas. That he still wears today. It seems like so long ago. Ok, it was our first year of marriage. But now I remember what it feels like. And it feels good. 

Is it a shift of hormones after weaning LittleFritter? The lifting of the winter blues? I don't know. But I'm so thankful for it. It gives me hope that my brain will someday contain more ideas not related to diapering, meals, laundry processing, and squabble mediation. Someday.

So the lady in the shop mentioned that the previous owner was an antique collector. She got everything from him. Thankfully, my local Texas expat friends have planned a trip to an antique mall next month. Armed with my measuring tape and their design skills, I'm sure I can find something to fill that spot in our entryway. But in the meantime, it's exciting to think about coming back to life even more. And I'm so overwhelmingly thankful for this feeling of hope. It's nice to be awake.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"It's Only Hard Because You Make It Hard"

My happy charming Gerber-baby 13 month old really despises getting her hair washed. She goes from babbling, splashing, grinning cherub to demon-posessed-creature-with-superhuman-strength as soon as she figures out what I'm about to do. And so she screams, flails, and refuses to sit down in the large Ikea Samla bin that doubles as a bathtub in our desperately-needing-renovation 1880's home. To keep the bathroom from completely getting covered in water, I have to force her to sit and pin her down while I rinse her hair. It is not pretty. It is very noisy. And it is exhausting. 

After going through the ordeal tonight, I wrapped my traumatized cherub/demon in a towel and held her in front of the mirror to wave at the cute baby in it. "You know, it's only hard because you make it hard." I tried to explain to her that calmly sitting and allowing water to be poured down the back of her head would be quick and painless if she didn't fight it so much. It was good for her, it was going to get done either way, and she might even like it a bit if she just relaxed and got it over with. 

I don't think she's convinced.

But I thought of those words. "It's only hard because you make it hard." 
It's so clear to me, the torturer, that she's being ridiculous. 

But I wonder how I do this in my life. I got the nagging suspicion that I am just as guilty as she is. But I'm almost 40 years older. And should probably know better. 
How much easier would my life be if I didn't fight stuff? And what am I fighting that creates trauma and frustration? I'm not sure yet. But it's worth considering.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mom Guilt

My child makes me not want to get out of bed in the morning.

Now, I'm not a morning person to start with. But when you know that the conflict and arguments will start before the grounds are even in the coffee maker... well, it's hard to get excited about making it down to the coffee maker. 

Potential sources of yelling and tears at 6:30am:

  • Not getting the right bowl. 
  • Not having the right bowl clean because it was used the night before.
  • Not sitting in the right chair. 
  • Not getting all of the heat from the space heater.
  • Not being able to eat all of the sugary princess cereal.
  • Being asked to eat fruit before having a second bowl of cereal.
  • Older sister not knowing, 10 minutes ago, that 3 yr old would want oatmeal right now. 
  • Being asked to stop arguing and whining about any of the above. 
  • An older sister saying something annoying. 
  • An older sister not saying something to her. 
  • A family member not stopping conversation, mid-phrase, to allow her right-of-way to speak. 
  • Being reprimanded for any of the above. 

The list is actually endless. Because 3 yr olds can find anything to be upset about. And can be upset about anything. I know it's a phase. I also know it's made more dramatic by her personality. So while it will get better, the conflict won't truly ever go away. 

So of course I feel guilty. 
Was that first sentence at the top of the page unpleasant to read? Imagine coming to terms with saying it yourself. 

Because of COURSE the litany of forced gratitude begins:
"You should be thankful she's healthy. You should be thankful she's even ALIVE. You know that strong personality will help her be successful some day. You signed up for this - you wanted a third child. Maybe she'd be easier to deal with if you were a better mother. It's because you're not patient enough that she reacts so explosively. This unpleasantness is all your fault. Fix your attitude and you'll fix the problem."

Maybe all of this is true. Maybe some of it is unfair. But the guilt spiral begins. Throw in lack of sleep, recent family stomach bug, spousal travel, and hormones thrown out of whack by weaning the baby, and the spiral becomes a whirlpool. Threatening to suck me in.

So today everyone got an early nap. Mostly because I needed them to not hurt themselves or each other while I got a time-sensitive task completed. I'm going to lay down for a minute too. I know it's a phase. I know I'll feel better after a nap. I know the days are long but the years are short. I know I will survive, and I'll probably really enjoy this child in a few years. But none of those things make it any easier to get out of bed in the morning.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Jesus Bean

I'm struggling this morning. I was up way too late last night with our church moms group, and I'm not really ready to parent yet. Unfortunately, it's 11am. I should get my act in gear. Can I still blame it on post-vacation jet lag? 
Anyway, my moms group consists of some of the kindest, wisest women I know. They take their vocation as a parent very seriously, and see their task of raising children who love God as an honor and calling. But they're also scientists, healthcare providers, business women, computer programmers, teachers, etc. I admire them all greatly, and feel nourished by their support, encouragement, and practical advice. Oh, and their amazing cooking. We have some really good cooks in our church. I really love our get-togethers. 

So I'm struggling this morning. I will admit to hiding under the covers this morning and letting BestestHusband manage the kids. After clothing LittleFritter, I plopped her in her high chair with some toast and left MeToo in charge. And went back to bed. When I finally went down to the kitchen again, I was greeted by the announcement, "MeToo found my Jesus Bean!"

I bought a king cake for Mardi Gras. It didn't come with a little plastic baby, so I hid a dried bean inside, instead. This is the pre-plastic method. A chickpea, to be precise. It was supposed to represent the baby Jesus, in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent. And whoever got the bean in their slice of cake got to wear the Mardi Gras mask that came with the cake. Not sure how Wegmans decided to add that part to the tradition, but whatever. 

HurricaneDebbie got the bean. She was elated. And she wore the mask. She was over the moon. And the Jesus Bean became her new best friend. She carried it everywhere. And lost it about every 90 seconds. And became frantic when she couldn't find it. And rejoiced when it was found again. 
And then she couldn't find it, and eventually moved on.
Until this morning.

Me: "What are you going to do with the Jesus Bean?"
HD: "We're going to do yoga, then exercise, then play dress up, and then sing the Licker Song to Cameron."

So the Jesus Bean has a busy morning planned. I hope it survives. 
Because HurricaneDebbie wants it to go to California with BestestHusband on his business trip. 

You can't make this stuff up. You need a 3 year old to do it for you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I wrangled my youngest two children to noontime Ash Wednesday services today. The 7pm service was in the middle of the Wednesday night gymnastics/dinner/bedtime shuffle. An infant and pre-schooler who are still jet lagged and out-of-sorts do not belong at church during their lunch and nap hours. But they don't really belong at 7pm, either. 

I can tell you that it felt like penance. It was painful. The floor looked like a war zone when we were done. And anyone looking for a place for peaceful reflection and worship should not be sitting anywhere on our side of church. Peaceful it was not.

But I truly appreciate Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season has become an increasingly important time of the year as I journey through life. It is a time to focus on weakness. We don't typically like to do that in our society. But as I get older, I feel my weakness and frailty more. No, not just the physical stuff. (Actually, my back is better than it used to be, and I enjoy exercise more than I used to.) But my weakness to control my world, to control myself. With every passing year, I become more aware of my failures, my incompetence, and the miraculous grace of God that puts the good stuff in my life and gets me from one day to the next. 

A Bible reading from a few Sundays back really stuck with me: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he would boast about his weaknesses, in order to point more to God's power. Because despite pleading to God 3 times to have the tormenting thorn in his flesh removed, God refused. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."(2 Corinthians 12:9) No one really knows what his thorn, "a messenger from Satan", really was. I suspect it was much worse than my laziness and niggling character flaws. But it reminded Paul of God's power and grace in his life.

So recently I have also come to appreciate my flaws as a reminder that I'm not in control, and never will be. I'd love to be better. More disciplined, more patient, more self-controlled... But these are fruits of the Spirit. They only come from God. I can't manufacture them by sheer will and effort. They are gifts I need to ask for and receive. And when I get them, I need to acknowledge where they come from.

The girls came to the altar rail with me to receive ashes on their foreheads. LittleFritter was a moving target for poor Pastor. But the effect of his dark smudge of ash on her little forehead was striking. Her little round, cherubic head with little blonde locks was a sharp contrast to the blackness of the ash. But it was a reminder of our sinful nature that we can't escape.  Even at that age.

I've always been told that you don't have to teach a child how to sin. It's born into us all. I know I certainly didn't teach HurricaneDebbie the shenanigans she attempts these days. Nor did I teach her sisters before her. But children are also born with the ability to receive what they need and depend on their providers. Children bring such little ability and skill into the world. They must receive everything they need. I like to say that God knows what he's doing when He makes them cute. They need a lot. All the time.

But as adults, so do we. LittleFritter has the gift of a simple faith that all that she needs will be provided. And as a loving family, we haven't let her down. But we adults have the burden of a faith corrupted by our own need for autonomy, independence, and the pride that comes along with it. Our emotional and spiritual needs are so much more complicated than a child's. Because we think we can satisfy so much of what we need by ourselves, that we forget the ability to just receive. And we wonder what went wrong when we weren't able to do it on our own.

To me, this is the gift of Lent. It is a horribly depressing season of the church year that reminds us just how depraved and evil we humans are. And how helpless we are to fix ourselves. But it also focuses our minds on how to escape the evilness of our world. And it's only through God. 

So I'll try to be thankful for my petty little thorns of the flesh. Giving up chocolate or Facebook this Lent won't help me this year. I know how much I struggle with my appetites and how much pride I feel when I abstain. I think I'll just wallow in my neediness. And try to approach the days like a child, completely aware of my need and dependence on the Giver. 

May your Lenten season be a blessing, and may the cold of winter quickly melt to the warmth (or promise of warmth!) of spring.