Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sweet Sixteen - Round One

Yesterday was a very sweet day, one I think all of us will remember.  Angela...the first of our Teen Block...turned 16 years old.

We joked that the 16 years passed so quickly!  Sometimes, the only way to deal with very real losses is to decide they will not define you.  We have had Angela and Olesya a mere four years. There were twelve long years we all lost together, and when you hit a defining birthday like 16, you feel that loss a little more dee  Itply than other years.  It can't be 16 already!  We've all been ripped off!  We missed all that came before puberty, the little girl stage, the toddler years.

But we have gained much, and for that we are all very grateful.

Our family all seems to be on the same page about simplifying our life in general lately, and while we had big birthday parties the first year or two each of the kids was home, we have collectively decided to drop it down a notch now that everyone is older.   I think the longer I am on Facebook, the more intentional I want to be about bucking the whole "Mommy Culture" that insists I must be all and do all in order for everyone to be happy and childhood to be magical.  When the Elf on the Shelf (or my preferred Mensch on a Bench) trend started, then the pressure to hide gold coins delivered from the Leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day came along, it all started feeling too over the top for me.  As our family has talked together about the times most enjoyed and best remembered, it became very clear that it was not for a moment the gifts or Big Event that mattered, but instead was time with good friends laughing together, and time just hanging out as a family that was treasured.  Half the time, nothing else was even remembered, so I became a wee bit anti-Pinterest and decided to no longer feel guilt over having a cake with family and a single gift, and gave myself permission to reject the new cultural ways to "bring on the magic".

Turning 16 years old in America is a rite of passage of sorts, as it usually is accompanied by a brand new driver's license, and sometimes the gift of a car.  It can often be a time when dating is being explored with regularity, and is very much a "Coming of Age" point in the life of a young person.  Dominick and I decided long ago that our kids would not be driving at 16, not because of cost, but because I was an insurance agent far too long and saw the difference in maturity, and read the statistics about teen drivers.  On top of that, Angela is in no way interested yet in driving, so it is a moot point other than when others bring it up and assume she now has a permit or is ready for a license.

So what do you do with a young lady who is turning Sweet 16, and yet needs to mark it differently?  Dominick and I talked a lot about it, and came up with a little plan.  Over the course of the next year and four months, as each of the four older kids have their 16th birthday, we would create a little tradition.  Each one, on the day of their birthday, will go to the bank and be allowed to open a checking account, with us as co-signers.  As all the kids have proven themselves very wise with their money, this is a logical next step and one they have earned, and yet it is a "grown up" thing to do.  We then will take the entire family out to dinner at a nice restaurant, which is always a rare treat for us, and then we will present them with a single special gift that is far nicer than an ordinary birthday gift.

Yesterday morning arrived, and Angela bounced out of bed with a huge smile on her face.  This was the day!  We gathered up the kids to drop them off at an Earth Day work day with Miss Mary, and off we went to the bank, where we were warmly greeted by all the tellers there who know all the kids well from all our visits there as they deposit their paychecks, withdraw $5 or $10, or ask to check their balance.  We sat down with the new accounts representative, and right off the bat had an awkward question.

"So, are you in high school or college?", she asks.

"Middle School, I am in 7th grade."  Angela sheepishly replies.

The woman looks at her with quite a confused look on her face, and Angela is obviously feeling uncomfortable.

"She is 16 years old today, and we'd like to open a checking account.", I interject, heading off any further questions that are not her business to ask.

Obviously a little flustered, the gal asks for Angela's ID,which she handed her, and then begins to process the new account.  As she talks about the account or asks questions, she turns to me and doesn't explain anything to Angela at all, acting as if she isn't even there.  I continue to turn to Angela each time, trying to redirect the woman to no avail.  She never did engage Angela directly, much to my dismay, but the look on Angela's face when she was handed her new temporary Debit Card was priceless.  She leaned over and whispered to me, "I need you to explain things to me when I get home, she doesn't seem to want to talk to me."  but then she added, "This feels like I am such a grown up!!  Thanks mom!"  As we walked out the door a few minutes later, Angela hugged me and said, "This is a little scary, isn't it?  I hope I don't mess it up.  But  can't wait to use my card for the first time, that is going to feel so cool!"

Mission Accomplished, I thought to myself.  There are a lot of other ways to mark a coming of age, and this one was perfectly suited.

Dropping Angela off at her graphic arts class, I took the other kids shopping so they could get a little something for Angie.  Everyone kept talking about how this was a special birthday, and they needed to think of something a little different for a gift.  They struck on a great idea, and off we went to the Dollar Store first.  This is what Olesya, Kenny, and Joshua pitched in to buy her:

Angela has talked a lot about wanting to grow flowers this spring, so they bought her some supplies and a $25 gift card to purchase her own flowers with.  The Dollar Store comes in quite handy for gloves and such.

We went to dinner in a neighboring town at an Italian place.  I cracked up when we told the kids they could order anything they wanted odd the menu, and Matt looked up and said, "This feels weird, we aren't used to being able to get ANYTHING!"  

There was much laughter and giggling, as we waited to be served.

We quickly changed to have all of us around the round table, this set up was too uncomfortable.

The Littlest LaJoy who just isn't so little anymore...but not to big to snuggle with Dad!

The LaJoy Teens...all will be sixteen within the next year and a half!  
Growing older, working hard, amazing hearts, one and all.

After dinner it was gift time, and it was special as a mom and dad to sit back and see how thoughtful the kids had all been.

Kenny gave Angela a gag gift of a toy car, which got a big laugh out of all of us!

Then came the real gift...mascara that he picked out himself!

Matthew had been thinking about contributing to the flower garden gift, but decided he wanted to get Angela something a little different.  He went to Office Depot and selected a beautiful pen and pencil set to go along with her new checkbook.  It was a perfect gift!

A look of genuine surprise at the gift mom and dad gave...

Every girl needs her first "real" jewelry.

An amethyst and teeny tiny diamond chip necklace with matching teeny tiny earrings!
She loved it so much, and thanked us over and over again, saying she never would have dreamed of getting something like this.  

All in all, it was a very lovely 16th for Angie, but it was also precious for Dominick and I.  Watching the kids together last night, listening to them gently tease one another and goof around, so delighted to simply be eating a meal out in a "real" restaurant, we know how blessed we are.  

Angela said it all when we were driving home from her class yesterday.  She was introspective as she told me, "Mom, sometimes what has happened to me is like a dream.  I never knew that families could be so loving, and have so much fun together.  I didn't even know what I needed or what I was missing, because I didn't know it could be like this. I have the best brothers and sister in the world, perfect parents (yes, we have her totally fooled), and a nice home.  I know you sometimes worry about what we don't have, but I think all of us have all that we need."  

Then she said softly, "Being sixteen feels so different, so adult.  Part of me really likes it, and part of me is very scared. I am not ready to be a grown up yet, not really.  There is so much responsibility, and you have to know yourself really well.  I'm glad I don't have to become a grown up without you, Dad and everyone else.  If I were in Kazakhstan still, I would be so scared to be 16, because I would be close to being out of the orphanage. I wouldn't know what to do, or where to go, and I know I would give in and do bad things because I just wouldn't have any choices.  It's like now I have all this love and a lot of choices, and that's good, but it is also hard to know what choices to make for being an adult."

That conversation followed another I had early in the morning with Kenny, who broke down in tears as we talked about our hard Easter morning and why Dominick and I are concerned about his future.  When I thought to ask him if he preferred playing with the younger boys and imaginary play because he was scared to grow up, I hit a raw never, and tears instantly welled up as he hung his head and started to sob.

"Why mom? Why am I like this?  I don't know how I am going to ever grow up.  I want to be the same as Angela, Matt and Olesya, but I am scared and I sometimes really can't be like them...its like something is wrong with me and I am still a little kid.  It really bothers me that I am so much like Josh because I know I ought to be different.  I also know you and Dad are right, I can't be a little kid forever, but how am I going to be a good grown up when I can't even remember the months of the year...or anything at all??  Why do I have to have this stupid brain that doesn't work right?  You are right, I really am afraid of growing up because I don't think I can make it as an adult if I can't do simple things."

Ahhh...Kenny...we sat and talked for a very long time as I pointed out all the progress he has made, all the things he can do so well...even better than others. I explained he didn't need to compare himself to anyone, and no one else was doing that to him.  He said he just could see himself how everyone else acted their age, and he didn't and didn't know how to.  I quickly pointed out that the girls are NOT acting quite their age, that each of them is at least a year or two behind their peers, too, and that it wasn't a bad thing at all.  He asked me to explain how they were behind, and I used Angela as an example with her lack of desire to date at all, or to drive, and how many times she likes to do younger things even if only for awhile.  Olesya was a little easier to see that she is closer to a 12 year old, developmentally, than a 14 year old. 

And none of that matters, but at times, the fear runs rampant through each of them, and it is hard to overcome.

Today was when the fear ran through me, as we had a long awaited spelling and definition bee of the high level vocabulary words we have worked on all year.

And it stunk.  Awful.  No one remembered anything, even after supposedly studying.  There were "Brain Blocks" out of every single kid, and dear Miss Mary and I sat there quite disheartened as every word was misspelled, and definitions were mostly forgotten.  It was one of those moments when I felt literally crushed, after months of intentional work.  Kenny is very clearly backsliding with reading and spelling, falling into old habits and unable to hear individual sounds.  Angela was drawing complete blanks, as was Matthew with definitions, which was quite a surprise because his vocabulary is usually quite advanced.  Josh was doing well, and is quite a naturally good speller.

We took a break and Mary tried to encourage me, reminding me, "Cindy, you have all special needs learners...two ELL's, and two in particular with Matt and Kenny who will probably never spell very well.  Don't be discouraged!!  These days happen, and you are doing a super job!"

Ugh.  Then why doesn't it feel like it?

We went back to work, and I decided flippantly to sort of give up, and just throw out words quickly and randomly, without pacing and without spelling.

And then it happened...

One after another, they got excited and started blurting out definitions right and left, 100% correct, even words we had figured they would have likely forgotten.  20, 30 words with correct definitions, and Mary and I just looked at one another incredulously.

"Maybe we were going to slow and their brains got hooked up on the spelling and couldn't move to definitions.", she said.  It was the strangest thing, like a light switch turned on.  Neither one of us could figure out what the difference was, but both of us felt a huge sense of relief that all was not lost.

There are days it is just darned hard.  Olesya, the night before, was asked by Dominick to calculate out roughly how many times 11 went into 37.  She had no idea, and never could figure out how to even approach the problem.  That is disheartening, to say the least.  Kenny insisting over and over again that a short "a" sound is really a short "i", or being unable to retrieve in his brain what letters make an "s" sound is really difficult to keep spirits up.

But then I recall the joy of Angela's birthday last night.  It's not about "performance", it is about character, happiness, and kindness...something all five kids get an "A+" in.  Sometimes I just need to remind myself what the most important thing really is, because I get bogged down in the Performance Paradigm, doing just as Kenny did and comparing with others. It is a hard thing not to do.

Angela and Kenny voiced the same fears Dominick and I sometimes have for all of them.  Yet sitting around the table last night, arms wrapped warmly around each other, smiles broad and laughter loud, how can I not think something is working right?  Doubt creeps in and it can be hard to boot it out the door sometimes, but boot it I must.  We're all doing the very best we can, and we don't fit anywhere...anywhere, that is, but right where we are in the middle of a big ol' Team LaJoy hug.

Tomorrow is a road trip for the girls and I, as we head out to California to get Grandma Alice settled back home safely.  All we can each do is try our best, never give up, and hold each other up.  Angela reminded me of that in our conversation in the car today, when speaking about Kenny's fears she said, "No one in our family will ever be alone, Mom.  Kenny will always have us, even when we are all grown up.  So will you and Dad, so will Grandma.  Everyone gets scared, but it is scarier when you don't have anyone who cares about you.  Thanks to you and Dad, none of us never will feel that way ever again.  Kenny'll be all right, we all will, because love is always there."

Sweet 16 couldn't be sweeter, with the exception, perhaps, of Rounds Two, Three and Four...and Five trailing along behind!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Being Passed By

I have blogged seldom lately because life is just challenging right now, and I guess my head has not been where it needs to be to write.  Too much else is distracting me, troubling me, tugging at me.  I realized the camera has not been used for quite awhile, and I need to remedy that.  We are trying to figure out a solution to an immediate need for shop space for Dominick for detailing, while thinking about the need for eventual future career changes in other areas.  We keep asking God to yell at us to give us a little direction here, but all's quiet on the western front right now so we are trying to practice patience and presence...sometimes more successfully than others.  We are not really living in fear...yet...but are definitely mystified and concerned.

This Thursday the girls and I are driving out to California to help my mom get re-settled back at home.  She will be discharged from rehab on Friday, and we hope we can offer some comfort as she deals with fears about moving back in and being alone, yet still strongly has the desire to regain her old life.

Over the course of the past couple of months, Kenny has been on a bit of a downhill slide.  This weekend, it really came to a head, and amid much else that is going on, we are trying to hang on to gains made with him, but feel him slipping backwards ever so gradually.

This morning, we had tears over bagels as he and I chatted over a difficult conversation we had Easter morning.  We are all trying to re-awaken the Kenny who has been drifting away into Zombie Land.  Every so often, this happens, but it is worse right now than it has been in years.  The change in our schedule as everything happened with my mom, and then taking a break from school for a couple of weeks has him regressing in several areas.  This regression manifests itself in disconnected comments thrown in conversations, more immature behavior, a desire to "live" more in a pretend, imaginary world and struggle to pull back into the real world.  His logic is skewed right now, and old patterns return, much to our frustration.

Today, as he sobbed into his hands, Kenny admitted he feels much younger than other 15 year olds and is embarrassed by the fact his siblings are leaving him behind in maturity.  He is scared he won't ever truly grow up, he is afraid his very real deficits will hold him back from ever being independent, and at 15 he knows he ought to be thinking and acting differently but he can't seem to get there.  He looks at his siblings, three of whom are virtually the same age, and knows he is far behind them in just about every way.

What he doesn't see, and what I hope I helped him see, is that he isn't the only one...the girls, too, are far behind their peers in many ways.  We talked honestly about the fact that every single person in our family is "off" in one way or another, and we are all on our own timetable for maturing, even Dominick and I. I emphasized that our family is so unique in its makeup, it is actually unfair to compare.  He seemed to understand that, but it did little to console him, for he sees what we do...and he is scared for his future.

The truth is, we are growing more concerned about Kenny.  He has made some great strides, of that there is no doubt, but he is struggling in new ways right now, and it is hard to watch.  I don't know if it is "Teenage Brain" kicking in, or a typical backslide that we often experience now and again, but we are worrying about this seeming plateau he has hit and wonder what it is going to take to nudge him upward again.  Joshua is clearly now more mature than Kenny is, and if we were to leave them alone together without one of the other kids around, which happens rarely, it would be Josh we would designate as "in charge".

As it stands right this moment, neither Dominick nor I can truthfully see Kenny being able to hold a regular job working for a standard employer.  He can't organize himself well enough, he can't visualize a task from start to completion, and he can't stop his impulses from making him head off in different directions than instructed.  He is a very, very hard and diligent worker, but quite literally he couldn't figure out how to approach the simple task of washing the walls in one room of our rental without explicit instructions...and then he swirled towels around with no pattern so he missed huge sections of wall...then he suddenly changed direction and missed the entire closet, never realizing it. 15 year olds can usually create a game plan in their head for such an easy task, and accomplish it with little or no supervision.

Harder still is that Kenny is feeling the shift, and knows he is being left behind, yet can't figure out what to do about it.  It hurts to watch your son really internalize the fact that he is losing ground as others pass him by.  We keep working on his self-esteem, but it is impossible to combat what is right before his eyes.

He and Josh are in a track meet Thursday, maybe he will find a little success there which can be uplifting for him.

So, we plod along, doing our best just like Kenny, and yet feel like we continue to lose ground, as well.  As I told him, I am sure there is a clear path in some direction for him and for us, but right now the view is obscured.  However, Spring Is Here, new life comes along with it, and we'll keep listening for God to chirp in our ear.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Week of Rest? Not So Much...

The blog has been quiet because we have been busy, though we were supposed to be taking a break!  This was Dominick's first week after ski season, and we decided we were going to take a late Spring Break and enjoy some time together without the pressures of work and school.  A "Staycation" was in order, however, it just didn't end up happening the way we had envisioned.

There was still volunteering at the Food Bank.
There were still TaeKwonDo classes.
There was still Angela's graphic arts class.
There was still church choir practice.
There was still a church Outreach Meeting.
There was still Sweet Adeline's/DelRose Chorus practice.
There was still Civil Air Patrol.

Worst of all, there was still our little rental house sitting and waiting for us to tackle after our renters vacated it...and it was a bit of a nightmare.  Holes in the wall, a broken window, a punched in door, a huge amount of trash and belongings left behind to haul away, and filth to clean that indicated that perhaps no one had ever mopped the floor or cleaned the kitchen the entire time they lived there.  They had broken our no pet and no smoking rule, as can often happen, and the house reeked of smoke and wet dog, causing us to have to wash every ceiling and wall in an attempt to rid the home of at least some of the stench.  We decided we are not cut out to be landlords, and will be putting the home on the market quickly after getting the mess cleaned up.
Needless to say, it was not much of a Staycation, and we have a lot of cleaning still to do at the rental.

We did take one day "off" and fulfilled our intent to do absolutely nothing for one entire day.  It was heavenly.  We also had a shopping trip to Grand Junction, about an hour away, where we filled in everyone's wardrobe a little with spring offerings of much needed short sleeve shirts and short.  It won't be long before we are entirely out of the kid's departments, as Josh and Kenny are quickly headed towards the men's sections to join Matt.  Kenny is so thin, at probably around 5'4"and 110 lbs, that it is proving harder and harder to find him clothing that comes close to fitting, and once he grows out of size 16's, I fear we are in real trouble and everything will look like a tent on him!  Pants are already almost impossible with only one type of jean that fits him nicely...a slim in a cowboy cut of Wrangler.  He doesn't have any dress pants right now because everything looks so baggy and I have no clue where to get dress slacks for Emaciated Style Frames on boys!  I keep looking, to no avail.

Josh, on the other hand, has gone from what was once a slight frame, to an almost barrel chested one, surprising us all.  He is now in size 14, with long legs and a short torso that has Jack LaLaine potential once he finishes growing.  Of all our children, Josh has always been the one who has gone through the most physical changes.  He looks very little like his early childhood photos as his face changed shape, as well as his body.  Matthew looks exactly like his toddler self, something I predicted even then. Kenny still looks much like his younger self, too, though surgery has ultimately changed him has nutrition, to some degree.  The girls?  Absolutely the same, just taller versions of themselves!  But Josh has transformed in so many ways, and most not at all physical. He has gained confidence and an early maturity that has him taking on a more masculine role as of late.  "No Mom, let me do that." he'll often say as I am carrying something heavier, or he'll just dig in and start cleaning some mess up or taking care of business around the house without prompting.  The other day he took out all the bikes from the shed, lined them up, and cleaned them all as he readied them for spring use.  I seldom think of him as being a little boy these days, and more a teenager though we are still two years away from that.  He will still always remain "Joshie" to us all, I think, but the last of our little ones is definitely well on his way to becoming a wonderful, responsible, amazing man.  All is not lost though, he still carries his blankie around a lot!  He is our original Linus! Haha!

The girls and I went off on our own a bit shopping, while they helped me find a few things for myself.  I was surprised they wanted to go with me, as the other option was to go with the menfolk to Best Buy to look at electronics and give mom a little time along to shop, but they both hopped out of the car saying they'd rather help me...haha!  Much to my surprise, they DID help me, and quickly found items for me to try on which were very much my style...or in truth "non-style", as I have none.  They were so cute, running back and forth, insisting that I come out and show them each item as I tried it on.  Angela is more like me, a Power Shopper who hates the dawdling and just wants to get it done, while Olesya could shop for hours as she looks at every item on the rack, holds it up, declares it cute or plain ol' ugly.  They are such opposites and it is funny to watch them together.  They kept urging me to buy "just a couple more" tops because "you never get yourself anything and are always getting the cheapest stuff for yourself", which was totally sweet.  I don't know if any mother was attended to with such kindness and care, and it was an unexpected joy to clothes shop with them, something I normally despise doing.

Another little joy came when, at the last minute, Matthew agreed to some bright colored polo hues of pink, purple and yellow...something we women had been trying to get on him and his beautiful darker skin for a long time.  For almost two years he has often worn black TShirts, not because they were his favorite, but because it is what we had leftover that had been required uniforms from his fire shortened Civil Air Patrol camp, and it seemed frivolous to purchase a lot of new shirts when he had perfectly good, if boring looking, Tshirts.  Hurray!  It was time to replace them, and we scored some nice ones very inexpensively AND he quickly agreed, much to our astonishment, to some real color!

KMart is our friend these days, as it is about the least expensive place to shop for decent clothing at a far lower price.  I'll admit, sometimes I wish we could just go to the major department stores and purchase more stylish, better made clothing.  The prices don't justify it, though, and the girls in particular do NOT like the teen styles of today, so Junior Departments are not our friend.  Neither are the "Old Lady" styles, and neither likes to layer things much, just like their mom, so it is difficult to find things for them.  I won't say I am at all upset that we don't have Clothing Wars as many parents do with their daughters, but it makes it difficult to find nice things on a budget if you don't want Daisy Duke shorts on your daughter or crop tops.  Neither one will even look at those kinds of items, finding them "disgusting" which is actually pretty surprising considering where they are from and the kind of provocative styles that are often worn there.  So, we spend a lot of time searching and searching for clothing that is in between, and were extremely grateful to have clothes donated to them this past couple of weeks by two of our hipper looking 60 year old friends.  Yes, believe it or not, our 60 somethings offered bags of used clothing that the girls LOVED! Hahaha!  Miss Francie and Miss Mary really helped us out with their gifts of gently used, quality clothes...and they both hesitated wondering if there was anything at all the girls would wear.  I laughed and told them each that they might be surprised at how much would be worn.  The very next day Angela and Olesya both were wearing slacks from their special friend's gift bags! Haha!  I must have the only teen girls around who consider 60 year old's clothing to be "so cool"!

And once again, Angela is right, our entire family is "uniquely developed".

This week will be back to the usual, or at least in part.  We still have some work to complete over at the house, and all will be glad when that is done.  School is winding down, though we will still be working a lot over the summer, but our curriculum and "final exams" are being completed for the year.  Now that we are fully independent we are not tied to a traditional year and are just moving ahead.  Angela, Josh and Olesya are already on our next year's math, and I guess I can now move away from even looking at it that way, which is nice. Science is completed with just one more dissection required (Oh, thank you Lord!), and history is drawing close to the Civil War, which I want to cover before we declare the academic year finished.  We are going to ditch the textbook, other than a cursory glance to make sure we cover all the high points, and use Ken Burn's excellent series on the Civil War to cover it, along with his materials for teachers.  All the kids learn so much more from his video series' than any textbook, that I decided to go alternative with that era and create projects around it.  Literature is done for the year, though we are moving on to book studies for fun and Matt and I are doing a unit based upon Great Speeches with a book I found at Barnes and Noble, and a Rhetoric Web Site where we can hear audio versions. We have accomplished a lot this year, and summer will be some fun projects and less academic subjects ahead.

Time to get ready for church, and the last day of our Staycation.  Laundry overfloweth, so I know it is time to get back to our routine.  I think I need a Vacation from our Staycation!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Year of Living Dangerously

In this week's episode in the saga of the LaJoy family and The Year of Living Dangerously, tonight's program features Angela LaJoy as she finds herself lying helplessly in a bed in the local ER as she battles for coherence and fights terrible abdominal pain.  Is it a glorified stomach ache?  Or is it something more sinister?  Stay tuned!

Yes folks, after an optimistically cheerful Facebook post that started out, "It's a Happy Monday!", later this morning I found myself wheeling our daughter into the local Emergency Room after she collapsed while we were volunteering at the Food Bank.  There was no hint of trouble, not more than a single moment's notice as she crossed the room to come speak to me, told me quickly, "Mom, I don't feel so good, my stomach hurts...", then proceeded to turn ashen as her legs buckled beneath her.  Fortunately, I was able to grab her and keep her head from crashing into the concrete floor.  Of course, it created quite a ruckus, which I was not paying any attention to as I was trying to remain calm in the face of what was clearly a true medical emergency.  Others around me were not quite so capable of reigning in their concern, and proceeded to push their way in offering unsolicited advice as they got in my face, raised their voices, and panicked, shouting out odd directives that proved they had little experience with first aid.

Knowing I needed to get as much information as I could from Angela while she was still sightly alert and able to clue me in, I calmly and quietly asked her to be as specific as she could about what she was feeling and where it hurt. She was able to answer vaguely, but it was enough to know we needed to immediately get her to the ER.  Angela is absolutely no Drama Mama, and has always been the last to complain about pain or to try and evoke sympathy from others.  This was serious. Our dear Miss Mary was present and was a huge help in making certain that our helpful but misguided co-workers were kept at a distance (She, the Peaceful Princess almost decked one of them!), and quickly rushed to get her little Prius and let me borrow it, and we thought to exchange keys so she would have a large enough vehicle to haul around the rest of our crew.

We struggled to get Angela into the car, as she was wobbly and almost unconscious.  Our hospital was literally 3 minutes away, so no need to wait for an ambulance, I just rushed her over there, where we were ushered in without a stint in the waiting room.

Once she was in a room, there were the questions one gets when you have a medical emergency with a 15 year old adopted daughter.  Who am I to her?  (Let's ignore the fact she had called me mom no less than 3 times in front of the Admissions person)  What is her family medical history?  Was she sexually active and did I know for certain she wasn't pregnant?  Did her biological mom have a history of ovarian or uterine issues?  (Did I not just tell you we had no history?  Let's make this even more insensitive because you are not paying attention.)

Three hours, two ultrasounds, one IV and four doses of fentanyl later, it was determined that the diagnosis was a ruptured ovarian cyst.  We were sent home with instructions, and our sweetie is resting peacefully tonight after a day of incredible pain.

Both Dominick and I heaved a huge sigh of relief over a couple of things. Of course, we were thrilled it wasn't something requiring surgery, as a ruptured appendix was on the short list of possibilities.  Another, perhaps more controversial point was we were so happy that with the recent changes in health care, the kids qualified for a state plan that meant we didn't have a $10,000 deductible staring us in the face, meaning we would be paying for literally the next few years for today's visit.  I was so grateful that I could simply rush my daughter to the ER as she needed with no concern in my mind over how this was event was going to effect us financially for years to come.  I didn't hesitate, as we have done in the past over other more minor medical issues, to go see a doctor.

I know people hate Obamacare.  I also know we were one of those family's for whom the cost of health insurance was slowly squeezing the life out of us, and our solvency was in question, as was our health.  We were delaying much needed medical care simply because our premiums were so high, we had to decide between continuing to carry catastrophic coverage with a $10,000 deductible, or actually pay for the health care we needed...but we sure couldn't do both.  It was a nightmare to go through the process, truly more frustrating than adoption paperwork, but we finally have a little breathing room and can now get some things taken care of that we put off so we could pay for "health care" we could never receive.

For example, the kids all went to the dentist last week, and  we actually had cleanings for them.  Dental care alone for kids that come from backgrounds like our kids come from can be overwhelming.  For example, Joshie has yet another tooth rotting from the inside out, an unusual anomaly that he already suffered painfully through once before.  Poor nutrition changes things.  Angela has already had three root canals, and we discovered one was not fully successful, so we now have a tough choice to make as the two teeth that surround this molar also have cavities.   Do we try to save it, knowing odds are low it can be saved long term, or do we pull it so the fillings on the other two can be done very well and be more likely to be saved long term?  Olesya had a gum infection, and another cavity.  Kenny, surprisingly, is in good shape for the very first time but orthodontia is another story, as the two rounds of braces for two years and the beautiful straight teeth he had after this last round find his teeth now totally awry.  All his teeth have shifted back into the wrong place, and it looks like we never had braces in his mouth, much to our utter dismay.  We learn more next week.

I think if we added it up, we have paid out of pocket no less than $15,000+ in dental care for our kids, no joke.  We are easily at $10,000 just for Kenny's braces alone.  I know other adoptive families have faced similar expenses...ones none of us ever anticipated to the degree we have found.  Poor or non-existent early dental care combined with malnutrition beyond what many might understand leads to mouths full of decaying teeth with weak enamel.  The dentist last week told me Josh was doing a terrific job brushing, so I shouldn't get upset with him about this tooth.  However, he said we are lucky we are catching it now, as he expects when he does the work tomorrow, the tooth will crumble while he is working on it.  He couldn't see a single bad spot on it upon visual inspection, but the xray clearly shows the entire tooth is rotten inside.  We are hoping we can save it, but we won't know for sure until tomorrow.

So tonight, I am writing with gratitude.  Sure, I have been feeling a little like I have been run over by a Mack truck these past several weeks, with three hospital episodes for the family, being gone with my mom, and trying to get back to some routine here until I travel back out to be with her as she transitions hopefully back to her home.  But there is so much to be thankful for, in spite of it all.  I could be at Angela's bedside post-surgery this evening, instead she is tucked away in bed with Vicodin as her friend.  Dominick's facial cellulitis several weeks ago could have meant his wide smile was literally eaten away by bacteria.  Mom, though recovering slowly, is making gradual progress back toward independence when the outcome could have been far worse. Teeth will be fixed somehow, eyes (at least one set) have glasses on them, and food is in the cupboard.

We are together, and we are managing with the help of beloved friends who come alongside us each and every time...even though I worry about Friendship Fatigue at this point.  It seems we are in the midst of some weird Vortex of Adversity that isn't allowing us to catch our breath or, more importantly, offer assistance and encouragement to others in the way we are receiving it in such abundance.  We never seem to be able to offer to others as much as we have been given, but it is important to us that we try to do what we can.  We can't even stop the roller coaster long enough to jump off right now, let alone sit alongside others we care about as they have their share of a ride.

So, tomorrow we start the week all over again, but I am definitely NOT posting "It's a Happy Tuesday!"...I feel at this point it is better not to tempt Fate!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Flinging Word Grenades

There is a mini-brouhaha brewing online that some of you might be aware of, and other (Perhaps wiser! Haha!) folks have no idea about.  Gwyneth Paltrow, the star who named her children Apple and Moses and is in the midst of a "conscious uncoupling" with her husband, Christ Martin of Coldplay, made what appears to be quite a controversial blog post on her web site this week.  Let me share with you what she wrote:

"I think it's different when you have an office job, because it's routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening," she continued. "When you're shooting a movie, they're like, 'We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,' and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it's not like being on set."

Seems them are fightin' words.  Other bloggers are on the attack, blasting her for her insensitivity to the plight of "real" working moms everywhere.  Comments range from pointing out how easy it is when you have plenty of money to hire nannies, to rage over her ability to dictate her work schedule, keeping it to one film a year so she can be more present to for her children.

I have to admit, upon first read, my most immediate inner thought was, "Wow, how naive she is!!  This is not going to go unnoticed.", and indeed, it hasn't.

Upon further reflection though, I see how this is just another round in the "Mommy Wars" that we American women seem determined to keep participating in, with Gwyneth just as equal an adversary as everyone who is blasting her via the internet.  

When are we going to lay down our arms and start supporting one another instead of judging one another???

As I was reading the venomous attacks which so many thought Gwyneth deserved for her ignorant comments,  I couldn't help but think just how little those same bloggers knew about Gwyneth's life...the exact fact they were throwing  so callously at her.  

How many of us have tried to parent long distance of from a set working 14 hours or more a day?  How many of us have tried to coordinate schedules for an entire staff of people whose livelihoods depend upon our success in a field which is crowded with ever younger, ever cooler, up and coming hot bodied stars when we are in our 40's?  I don't know about you, but I have never tried to memorize a script while trying to carpool, I have never had to worry (obviously) about my body to the degree that a film actress does knowing I am inevitably aging and MUST stave off the effects no matter what or my career is finished.  I have never had to deal with the cut-throat world of Hollywood, the casting couch, the financing of projects, and the ongoing fear of crippling my children in ways only a wealthy lifestyle can do.

For everyone who condemned Gwyneth for her lack of understanding of a "regular" mom's daily life, how many truly understand HER daily life as a mom?

Very few, would be my guess.

We moms in America love to attack one another.   I know what it feels like, and I bet many of you moms of this generation do as well.  Perhaps more than any other generation, we are judged for our parenting decisions to a degree that is deeply wounding, and leaves many of us feeling perpetually inadequate and questioning our parenting decisions.  In case you hadn't yet figured it out, this hinders us from being our Best Mommy Selves.

I am not oblivious to the fact that almost every single thing I have done as a Mom has been questioned by others, sometimes not so silently.  Never mind the fact that no one else on earth is parenting in our exact set of circumstances so can't possibly be able to understand our family completely in order to make those judgments.  Here are just a few of the things we have been judged for over the years:

1)  Where we adopted from
2)  Who we adopted
3)  What race of child we adopted
4)  What age of child we adopted
5)  Cloth diapers versus disposable
6)  Co-Sleeping with our children
7)  Letting my 11 year old walk around with a blankie
8)  Too many outside activities
9)  Too few outside activities
10)  Not sending our kids to preschool
11)  Letting our kids have the occasional soda
12)  Pizza
13)  "Forcing" our kids to work
14)  Homeschooling
15)  Public schooling
16)  Not getting immediate dental care or eye care when we can't afford it
17)  Not letting my 6 year old son spend the night at someone's home when it felt unsafe to me
18)  Trick or treating as Christians, rather than going to a Harvest Festival
19)  Not being academically "rigorous"enough
20)  Not enough gifts at Christmas
21)  No cell phones (How could you???)
22)  Not getting our kids obtain their driving permits yet
23)  Letting my 14 year old son play superheroes
24)  Accepting contributions from our kids to help purchase "extras" we all want but can't provide
25)  Saying "please" to our kids when asking them to do something

And it goes on and on and on.  At least in our case there was no questioning us about the Breast Feeding versus Bottle Fed debate!!

I also know I skew older in my parenting style, and my "peers" are not my own age or a few years younger, but are really more those that are in their 60's these days.  Being a little older mom does that to you, and it makes me lean in that direction...right or wrong.  I am trying hard, and so are you, we are just coming at it from different life experiences and ages.

I don't walk in your shoes, and you certainly don't walk in mine.  Funny, how quick we are in the age of the internet to speak out in ways we never would in person about how someone else decides to parent.  We are mean spirited, we are less willing to put ourselves in other's shoes before hitting our keyboards to spew venom

Gwyneth, I may find your comments a little lacking in understanding, but I have no doubt your life is a lot different than my own and that I am seriously clueless about the sorts of challenges you deal with each day.  I'll refrain from judging you, and I'll ask you nicely to consider that maybe your lack of experience walking in some of our shoes means you might want to try not to compare, either.  That being said, I sure don't think you meant anyone any harm with what you wrote.  You just wrote from your own we all do.

I refuse to be baited into being a soldier in the Mommy Wars.  There is an entire army already participating, they don't need one more soldier flinging harmful Word Grenades.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One Thing For Sure


Land of unending dirty socks, a dog that pees when joyful, and a five high beanbag stack.

I know it's not everyone's idea of heaven, but it sure is mine.

And yes, I know I am insane :-)

It feels so good to be back home after two weeks, but it is also hard to be so far away and be unable to get information when you need it.  I received a call this afternoon from the skilled nursing facility that Mom is not feeling well and has developed a fever and a cough bad enough to cause them to want to do XRays.  I spent all afternoon waiting to hear back from them, only to get a call at 8:00 pm that it was clear and there is no pneumonia as suspected.  I tried several times to call her room, but there was no answer.

Long distance oversight of care is not easy.

Dominick is leaving tomorrow for California, a trip he had planned long before Mom's fall, so it is good to know he will be there advocating for her care in person, and that we will get firsthand information.  However, it means we have barely reconnected before parting ways again.  It is sort of like tag team.

When I arrived home Saturday, I was whisked away to a fundraiser I was supposed to plan for the kids for camp.  Needless to say, I did nothing to prepare for it and had even forgotten about it until a few days prior, as my mind was on more pressing things.  Arriving in a bit of a zombie-like state, I was overwhelmed by all that had been done to support the kids, and a large sum was raised to help defray the costs of their summer camp.

Our little church cares in a Big Way, and there was so much help offered while I was gone which made life much easier for Dominick.  Surrogate Taxi Drivers, Substitute Teachers, and Special Meal Providers rallied around our family so that I could focus on mom and not worry every moment about what was not happening at home, or how difficult a time Dominick was having.  There were also sweet emails of support sent to me throughout my time in California, all of which was so humbling and reminded me of the blessings of living in community with others.  The little things add up to big things when one is already stressed, and the care we received was a true gift.  Sometimes I wonder if our family would ever make it without our church family, and I recognize the truth that our kids may bear our last name, but they are honestly everyone's kids.  

I am gradually getting back to normal, though fighting a cold I came down with while traveling home.  There are a lot of emotions that accompany the kind of life or death event we experienced, and I have a lot of contemplation ahead of me as I sort some things out.

I also need a lot of sleep, which is not coming all that easily at the moment.

And at odd little moments, I find myself wondering what is going on with the Outdoor Patio Club.  Funny how you can enter a world and assimilate in just a few days, despite it being somewhat foreign.

We are OK, Mom is gradually healing, and the future is unknown for any of us.  One thing I know for sure though...God is with us, always.  That is enough.

Friday, March 21, 2014


It is Friday night, the eve before I leave California to head back to Colorado.  Two weeks ago today we received The Call and I was here by 2:00 pm the next day, which was as quickly as someone who lives in a rural area almost a thousand miles away could get here.

During that time, I have been able to be 100% fully present for my mom, not an easy task when leaving behind 5 homeschooled kiddos and a hubby.  During that two weeks I have missed four choir and chorus practices, a couple of church meetings, teaching and grading homework for five kids for 6 different subjects, two colds, three cases of stomach flu, one gum infection and cavity, one orthodontist appointment, three food bank volunteer shifts, four TaeKwonDo practices, two track practices, two graphic arts classes, driving six or eight different shifts for work for the kids, income tax preparation, one new puppy dog shower (as in like a baby shower, for a friend), the arrival of friend's new puppy and visit to our house, one toilet leak under the house, a dryer tear apart and vent clean out, 42 meal preparations and clean ups, 20-22 loads of laundry, and preparation for a camp fundraising dinner that was supposed to be mostly my responsibility.

I will be forever grateful to those who helped me be able to drop everything and run, with little looking back.  Friends who hauled kids, helped with meals, spent time with them, and prayed.  A hubby who is God's greatest gift to me and a better wife than I am.  Kids who merrily pitch in, keep a good and flexible attitude, and are the light of my life.  Without Team LaJoy and extended members, this nightmare would have been far more stressful, and I am humbled by the support and love showered on us.

This has been hard, and even harder on mom.  Tonight I left her after tucking her in bed, and I was struck by the vulnerability of any senior citizen who finds themselves unable to take care of themselves, either temporarily or forever.  It is incredibly hard to let go of what was, and face the unknown of what may or may not ever again be. The heartfelt desire to return home to old routines and the familiar is tempered by a fear of being alone and something happening again.  Virtually every single or widowed adult I have met has spoken of that same fear here.

Mom is on the road to recovery, but has several milestones yet to pass. She is making great progress and is settling into the routines of daily life in the skilled nursing facility, but being there is hard on the soul.  That was brought home for me tonight in a profound way as I was bid goodbye by the members of the Outdoor Patio Club.  Oddly, there was this camaraderie that developed in a very short period of time as the long days passed, and I will miss these folks. As I was getting ready to leave, I stopped by Don's door to bid him adieu, and he reached for me to give me a hug, and kissed me on the cheek.  We spoke for a few minutes, and he was having a tough night as he admitted with tears in his eyes, "Sometimes I wonder if I am going to end up dying in this place."  Long months of recovery after multiple back surgeries have left him weary and resigned.  Though the plan is for him to eventually go home, that is not a certainty.  His wife visits almost daily, but it is of little comfort when he just wants his own bed in his own home.  Knowing his wife simply can not meet his care needs at home, he quietly accepts his fate.

Tomorrow will be hard, and the guilt of leaving mom in a place where a strong advocate is needed to ensure her progress and ongoing healing is weighing heavily this night.  Women always feel the need to cut ourselves into parts, like an auto in a salvage yard to be parted out to repair things in several directions.  There are never enough parts of us, it is an age old story, but one I am suddenly thrust into in a new way.

It feels awful, and nothing will change that.

I'll do the best I can, and that's all I can do...just like millions of other women.  It'll never feel right though.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Aging Isn't for Sissies

The days are beautiful here in Califronia, warm, and filled with a lot of sitting and staring out at the road that runs past the rehab center.  This is a place for both long term and short term care, and there is a lot to learn about dementia and Alzhiemer's patients simply by observing their interactions with others.  Though no one wants to spend any amount of time in a place such as this, I have thus far been impressed with the caretakers and their efficiency and kindness toward those residing here.  Sadly, I can also clearly see the need for every patient to have an advocate standing beside them, making certain they are getting everything they need.

Mom is struggling with depression being here, and with the boredom inherent in such places.  Institutions are no place fear people, young or old.  I understand the necessity of having them, but when one sees what it does to a person first hand, it is easy to see it ought to be a last resort, not a first choice.

As of this moment, we have no idea really how long mom will need to be a patient here.  She needs to regain strength and is physically not able to be very stable while walking.  A new problem has crept up with swelling in her feet and ankles that makes rehab painful.  She still finds it hard to focus or concentrate on anything requiring cognitive skills, but can have very normal conversations with people with some lapses in memory, which she now recognizes as such.  However, for only 11 days out, she is doing far better than expected and is antsy to get home.

In the home front, the stomach flu is going through the family, just what Dominick didn't need to deal with (he had it yesterday).  Matthew told me the house was "girl clean" because the girls helped clean it  over the weekend, and the boys all did a little yardwork while Dominick was at work.  School work is getting done, though they have run out of much of what I left them, and it is at times like this when homeschooling becomes complicated...the kids are not just put on the bus and needing care only when they get home, but it sounds as if they are managing well enough for now.

I have received some of the sweetest emails, particularly from Kenny and Angela, which have boosted my spirits considerably.  Angela took the time to write an extraordinary communication with me, one of such heartfelt emotions that it made me cry.  The love and compassion expressed was from the soul of a fifty year old, not a fifteen year old.  I sure do live with some amazing people.  I have often said that I enjoy our days together, and that our kids would be the type of people I would select as friends if they were not related to us.  Their goodness runs deep, and being their mom is a great privilege.

Spending time out front, where several of the more aware patients gather daily to escape the madness inside, you can see the power of community even in a place like this.  There is often great compassion expressed for those who remain inside, unable to comprehend much as they wander aimlessly through the halls.  You can also liken it, for those here short term, to a sort of prison mentality that sets in.  After the first few days, an acceptance of their lot emerges, and there is a sharing of institutional knowledge to help the "newbies" become acclimated to their new surroundings.

"How do you get your laundry done here?"

"Can you get something different for lunch other than what is on the set menu?"

"That one CNA is NOT very nice, and she really hurt my feelings last night." as everyone nods their head in understanding and agreement, then goes on to share their own war stories about encounters with her.

One man, Don, has been here 17 months and does not know if he will ultimately get well enough to go home after repeated back surgeries.  His wife has no way of caring for him by herself, so she visits often.  There is Jackie, the once slim, blond haired former self-proclaimed bombshell who regales everyone with days of drunken madness spent on Mexican beaches, but who after two strokes struggles to find the words to describe everyday objects, and stops sentences mid-stream, totally lost.  Pat is another of the Outdoor Patio Club, and she sat in stunned silence yesterday, trying to hold back the tears as she shared how she had just learned that her only living son had cleared out her mobile home without her permission, giving all her possessions to Goodwill in an attempt to force her to remain here permanently in long term care.

Everyone is resigned to their fate here, however long it might be, and there are no "release dates" known.  Long, endless days are filled with little more than an hour or two of rehab, then trying to find ways to entertain themselves when reading may not be a n activity bruised and battered brains can enter into yet, when remaining inside your room means hearing the moans of one or both of your roommates who depressingly remain bedbound despite having the physical capacity to get up and move.  Each evening the halls are lined with drooping grey heads in wheelchairs...just sitting and staring at nothing.  There is no real conversation to be heard, only mutterings that make no sense to anyone other than the mutterer, and one by one they are wheeled off to bed where they are tucked in like little children, and one has the urge to read them a bed time story or play a lullaby to ease them off into another night of blissful escapist slumber.

The little things can bring a moment of joy.  One day, I brought Pat a couple of tacos from Taco Bell, something she had mentioned craving, and at the same time brought an icy cold chocolate milkshake to Jackie.  The delight of both was a treat just for me.  I sit there on the front patio, hour after hour, keeping mom company in her misery, chatting with the caretakers and others who while away their time there, too.  Two nights ago, as I was leaving for the night, O passed by Don's room...his large frame sitting in the wheelchair in his room where the TV was blaring with some inane show he detests but his roommate adores, and I stepped in to tease him a moment and bid him a good night. He reached up for me, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and whispered good night.  The next day as we sat side by side with the Outdoor Patio Club, everyone was talking about the latest shenanigans of one of the singing caretakers here, and Don leaned over and quietly said, "I enjoyed seeing you last night.  No one ever wishes anyone a good night here, and nights are the hardest."

I leave on Saturday, and will struggle with a lot of emotions as I do so.  Having your parent in a place like this and leaving them behind is an awful feeling.  Knowing that, for the moment, there are no other realistic alternatives encourages temporary acceptance.  Dominick had an already pre-planned quick trip out and will follow next Wednesday for a couple of days, and from there we don't know what we will do.  Mom will hopefully regain the strength she needs to live again on her own, as she wishes, returning to her little mobile home which is her beloved cocoon.  I'll try to find a way to come out when she is released to help her get re-settled and, with any luck, convince her to accept some adaptations to make her life safer so she can continue to live as independently as possible.

I have recognized a couple of truths from all of this.  1)  Aging is for the courageous, and I believe it takes a lifetime of experiences to help one through the process.  No twenty something could withstand the terrible pressures and trials of growing old.  2)  Being lower middle class or lower on the socio-economic scale, as the majority of Americans are, means you have few choices.  That is true for all stages of life...choices come with wealth, even in your 70's. The older you are and the poorer you are, the quicker and less gracefully you age...a lifetime of wear and tear on bodies means they break down more quickly.  A lifetime of lower earnings means you take what you can get in terms of care, and complaining will do no good.

I know what category Dominick and I fall into, and it is breathtakingly scary.  I also know I am not a courageous person.  Our old age looms on the horizon, and it won't be "golden years", I fear.  

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Never Alone

I am sitting here, knowing I ought to blog, and uncertain what to write.  This past week has been one of the most emotional, difficult times I've ever experienced, and yet. I am still standing.

I have been brought to my knees over and over again throughout my life.  What adult hasn't?  We all have "stuff", we all experience grief, sorrow, and very real pain in this life.  Some seem to glide through with a little less, some have an extra dose.  Some deal at the surface level, while others can't help but see and feel all the nuances which causes a kind of awareness that can have one keening with sensory overload in such situations as we are going through right now.

However, God is present everywhere, and glimpses have been seen not just through the greater miracle that mom made it through this awful experience, but the Spirit has carried through this entire situation in ways many might not have eyes to see.  One can dwell on the horror of an event such as this (and believe me, I am intentionally diverting my mind away from what happened and trying to just deal with the aftermath the best I can.  To do otherwise would destroy me.), or one can see Light and Goodness, which is what I am working very hard to do this night.

1)  Emails of love, daily news, and believe it or of new puppies and dissected eyeballs call my mind and heart back home, to a place of peace and warmth.  It has helped to hear the mundane news of the day, to see my friends life from afar as good things happen to them, and to see the kid's experiences shared as other spend time with them, then share the simple things.

2)  "Rehab" for mom is a place which is 1/2 nursing home, 1/2 short term skilled nursing care.  Over and over again I see God's hand being placed on an elderly shoulder as a caretaker says, "OK sweetheart, let's get you into bed and cover you up for the night." or as tonight with my own mom, "You are NOT bothering us when you ask to be helped to the restroom in the middle of the night, it is our job to serve you and you need to just ask and we are right here to help you.  If someone doesn't want to do that, then they need to go get another job.  We really care about you."

3)  Four oldsters in wheelchairs, sitting out front soaking in the perfect weather and fragrant scent of star jasmine and lantana.  They might be talking about incontinence, dreary long and dreadful days, and painful physical therapy, but all stop and wear wide grins when an off duty caretaker comes to work toting along her 3 year old daughter.  All stop to admire the hummingbird hovering overhead.  All stop to savor this beautiful day that God is offering, despite their current circumstances.

4)  One man, here 17 months with repeated back surgery and recovery, shares the secret..."You just have to surrender yourself to it,  there is no alternative, and letting go makes it easier."

5)  An email...or two...or three...that say things like "I miss you and love you with every inch of my body, Mom", or " I know that you are facing a wall right now and that you are working very hard to take care of  Alice, but I too know that you have a loving family ready to support through every step of the way. I MISS OUR DAILY HUGS."

6) A long distance phone call in which you are reassured that, "There is nothing more important I could be doing than talking with you right now...nothing.", and then feeling safe enough to sigh and cry with someone who totally gets you.

7)  Watching healing occur right before your eyes, slow, and gradual, but resurrection of any sort is breathtaking.

8)   Witnessing care and concern from others whose immediate circumstances are as bad or worse than someone else's.  Bet you didn't think Jesus could come cloaked in stained sweat clothes or tattered robes and nightgowns, sometimes speaking in jibberish as he walks down the halls of a nursing home.

9)  The words of your own mom offering a comforting glimpse of the hereafter as she explains, "Well, if that is what death is like, then it isn't much to be scared of.  In fact, it was kind of nice."

10)  The childlike quality that inhabits many of these older folks, whose independence has been taken from them by either physical or mental infirmity.  God is in there, if you just look.

It is scary, all of it.  We all want to turn our heads the other direction,. to unsee the halls lined with slumped over gray heads.  But look...stop and really look...yes, even in this place God is present, in full force.

The emotions of this week have been downright awful.  I am lonely in a unique way, the kind that comes from being the sole person in the position of making decisions in a situation like this.  I am lonely because I miss my family deeply.  Heck, I am lonely because I miss Sunny, the ever peeing, ever licking dog. I am lonely because this is all so hard and there is no one else to share it with.

But I am not alone, never truly alone...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Living In Between

Almost a week has passed since we received the phone all about my mom.  I have wanted to blog, but simply haven't been able to. Wearier than I have been in years, I have returned to my mother in law's house each night and gone staight to bed.

I hopped the earliest plane I could catch and touched down at LAX around noon on Saturday, then drove straight to the hospital about an hour north, in Camarillo where I was raised.  The news upon arrival was not good...basically, none of the MD's had expectations that my mom would survive.  The cardiologist was the first one to speak with me, and gave a laundry list of medical issues including kidney failure, heart issues, and brain dysfunction.

Though Mom recognized me, was clearly suffering from cognitive deficits, and mercifully, she doesn't recall the event at all.  No one knows for certain how long she was on the floor of her mobile home, perhaps as long as four days, as my email from her Monday was the last anyone heard from her or saw her.

Steadily, day by day, she has improved.  Yesterday she was released to go to a short term rehab facility where she will remain for about a month, hopefully, and regain physical strength and the ability to perform those all essential "Activities of Daily Living", which at the moment she is unable to do.  Her doctor said it could be 2-3 months before her brain function settles into whatever new permanent state it will remain in, which might mean a full recovery, or with some limitations.  As of this writing, she is able to carry on full conversations with some misfires, and memory continues to be a challenge, more short term than long term.  In some ways, it is like Grandma Alice and Kenny share a similar brain at the moment, though I'd probably give the edge to Kenny right now.

As our concern exists for Kenny's future ability to live on his own, so does our concern about mom.  In her current state, it would be impossible, yet there is a lot of encouragement for ongoing gains to be made and hourly her condition seems to be improving, much to the surprise of almost everyone around her who has seen this happen in others.  I have no doubt that the prayers of others made a difference for her.

She is very scared of me leaving, and the facility she was placed in yesterday is one of only two here, and though clean and with nice enough staff, it is filled with very aged patients, many of whom are suffering with dementia and Alzheimer's, further confusion my moms tenuous grasp on reality.  It is frightening, and she continued to forcefully state she is only here for a month.  There are several others there for short term rehabilitation, but has the feel of a long term nursing home, which it also actually is on one side of the building, and her short term memory loss hinders her from being fully certain at all times that this will be temporary.

For those of us who started our families later due to circumstances beyond our control, this Sandwich Generation place is an awful one to be in.  Caring for an aging parent who resides far from you, while still parenting a younger family leaves you squashed, smashed, and slammed between those you love.  Having no other family to carry the load means a burden that is even one to bounce ideas off of, no one to play "Good Cop Bad Cop" when delivering bad news and soften the blows to someone whose independence is being instantly ripped from them, and no one to pick up the slack where it is left, and no one to just sit and cry with who shares your full history...all the memories are carried only by the person who is currently incapacitated.

On the home side of things, there are no words to thank those who have stepped in to help Dominick and the kids.  We may be the family that God made, but our friends are the family that God has provided, and my gratitude is profound and deep.  Everything has been softened by their love, their outreach through as-yet unanswered emails of care and support.  It means everything...

I still have no idea yet when I might return home, though my stay here can not be indefinite.  The emotional tug of war is awful, and the move yesterday to the new facility did nothing to assuage the assault of guilt and concern.  It is more a nursing home than a rehab, with a small wing for short term rehab, but halls lined with glazed eyed elderly for whom awareness of the world has long since left.  For someone standing on the precipice of grabbing firmly on to reality versus sliding gently over the side into living inside their head forevermore, this is not the ideal placement.  However, it was the best option for what will hopefully be a temporary situation, but it leaves me very worried that physical needs might be adequately met, but mental and certainly emotional ones will be completely overlooked.

What do I do?  I just don't know.  Breathe in, hold it, let it out.  For today.

Somehow even that very act seems very hard to do right now.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The Call

I suppose everyone has received their own version of "The Call" at one time or another.  It might come in the middle of the night, waking you from a deep and peaceful slumber, rocking your world with the harsh jangling of the phone that jars you into instant alert status...then the news on the other end that shocks and startles. Some seem to avoid "The Call" far longer than others, being luckier in life and staving off the inevitable facing of mortality.  I am always surprised to speak to someone and find they are my age, or close to it, and have yet to find themselves with receiver in hand, speechless and shaky.  It would seem that by close to age 50, this would be the sort of experience that most everyone would have had, at least once.  Fate is kinder to some, it seems.

I have received "The Call" several times.  At 15 years old, I can still remember sitting in the dark near my mom, both of us just having spent several hours at the hospital as my Dad had open heart surgery, when the news came via the phone that my grandpa had passed away that very same day.  It was one of those post-midnight moments, heavy hearts burdened with concern already, now drawn further into the darkness of despair.

Ten years later, it was my husband who made "The Call" to me, having heard from my brother that my Dad had just passed.  I was alone at the time, as Dominick was working nights in Los Angeles, over an hour away.  It was, of course, another middle of the night ring that awakened me.  To this day I will never forget the chill I couldn't seem to shake as I sat on the end of my bed, realizing I wasn't ready for this, and knowing I had no choice in the matter.  At twenty-five years old, I still felt very much like Daddy's Little Girl, despite having been married six years already.  "What do I do know?", I asked myself, not quite understanding what I ought to be doing at that very moment.  I don't think I have ever felt more vulnerable.

There were other, far happier versions of "The Call", but they always seem to happen in the bright light of day, as if God were smiling as the good news of an impending adoption travel date were delivered.  So excited I could barely get the words out, knowing I must be somehow forgetting to ask the important questions but being completely unable to think of anything other than the face of our newest addition, these calls were joyful and dance inducing.  They somehow took the sting out of earlier, more heartbreaking versions.

Another Call was early morning, urging me to come quickly to my brother's bedside, warning I must hurry.  Following an hour and a half drive, I stood by his bedside as machines were clearly keeping him alive, but not for long, and the decision had to be made to let him slip away as I watched and held his swollen hand.

Tonight, or should I now say last night, for it is 4:30 am now, "The Call" happened again.  Coming in at a more reasonable 8:30 pm, this time, it was a horrifying story with an as-yet-unknown ending.  My mom was found on the floor of her mobile home, having fallen days prior and unable to get up without assistance, there she lay for who knows how long.  So grateful to Dominick's niece for thinking to run over and check on her after my mother-in-law was unable to get her to answer the phone.  Mom is alive, but in very bad shape at the moment.  After being taken to the ER, she was moved to the ICU late last night, and the doctor spoke at length about her condition, telling us the next 24 hour are crucial.  Critical questions were asked about end of life directives, should that information be needed, and I found myself fumbling for answers, the unexpectedness catching me off guard and feeling heavy tongued along with heavy hearted.

I have tried to sleep tonight, and managed to catch a couple of hours in between trying to bat away the horrible images that came to mind of my mom and the awful predicament she found herself in.


Unable to move.

Hour, after hour.

The panic she must have felt.

My mind flits around those emotions, and draws back in shame as I try to force myself to experience it through the power of imagination, as if my joining her even this way in her excruciatingly terrible time there on the floor is a form of much deserved penitence.  Why should I be spared that creeping terror she must have felt...and I have the luxury of only tippy toeing up to it and peering at it rather than fully living in to it.

I simply can not imagine how awful this was for someone I love so much.

Travel arrangements have been made for me, a task harder than some might imagine unless they live in rural Colorado, five hours from the nearest larger airport.  Should I hop in the car immediately and drive the fourteen hour trek?  How long will it be before I can manage to find a flight out...and from where?  When all you can think of is "How fast can I be by her side?", and when you live where most seats out of the area at smaller airports are sold months in advance for ski season, this isn't as easy a task as you'd wish for at a time like this.  Finally, Dominick was able to book me a seat on a budget airline leaving Montrose today at 11:00, putting me at the hospital in Camarillo hopefully by 2:00 pm, where I can hold mom's hand, and remind her she is not alone.

She is not lucid right now, but the lack of another Call lets me know she at least made it through the night.  With bloodshot eyes I stare at this screen, engaging in the one form of "therapy" that has gotten me through many other challenging and traumatic times.  When I can't sleep, I write.  My mind wanders as I wonder just how many blog posts over the past 6 years have been written because I couldn't sleep and needed to purge my soul of something breaking me into little pieces.  Again, I feel I am not ready for this.  If she makes it, she is likely to be a very different person coming out of this experience.  There will have to be changes for her, and I have no idea yet what that might look like, or even how best to help her.  These situations are that much harder without other family members to help make decisions or offer suggestions, but for quite awhile now, it has been just she and I, no other living relatives are there to commiserate with, or to offer comfort.

There never really has been.

It has always felt very, very lonely.  How I yearned to face those "Calls" with another sibling who could be there...either my sibling, or one of mom's.  Instead, we try to wrap our heads around it all, leaning often on Dominick during these sad, awful times.  That man has been there through thick and thin for my family, and how I desperately wish he could be there physically with me as I walk into the hospital room tomorrow.  I know, without a doubt, that God brought us together so young because there was much ahead for me, and I could never have done it completely alone.

Josh is asleep on the couch, Dominick left him behind this morning despite his being ready to go in at 4:00 am to work with him.  We both know he will be struggling with this and my sudden departure.  He admitted last night that he was feeling nervous and anxious, and I will need to take great care to be in touch with him while I am gone.  It is harder on him not having a return date for me, which at this point I can't offer.  I just don't know.  We gathered round the table last night to discuss what this week might look like, what accommodations the kids would have to make, etc.  They all said I shouldn't worry about it, that they knew what to do and would be fine.  We created a short school game plan of things they could work on self-directed.  They reassured me, they encouraged me...they all offered to pitch in the help with my expenses, which we declined but which touched me deeply.  What an amazing group of young people we live with.

I told Dominick I am very fearful that we are entering a Time of Great Suffering.  I have felt it coming on for a couple of months now, and I am desperately hoping I am wrong.  In many ways, it feels as if we have been living a somewhat charmed life the past 13 years or so, as if God has smiled on us again and often undeservedly.  I can't tell you how many times I have pinched myself, as if to prove our life is "really real".  It has been hard, of course, with much to work through and a lot of sacrifice, but it has been rich and rewarding, with relatively little sorrow or anxiety in the mix.

Or maybe time does its magic and it just feels that way.

Regardless, we are definitely feeling precarious right now, many heavy concerns weighing on us.  Kenny's hard earned progress appears to be slipping in some areas, which is disconcerting, to say the least.  Work is still a very big looming question mark for Dominick in the coming months, which is downright terrifying when I let it bubble to the surface.  There are practical, every day matters to deal with such as renters who didn't pay for three months and are finally out...having left quite a mess, our house needs a new roof which is costly, and school books still need to be purchased, groceries still need to be bought, and Josh needs to stop growing taller so I don't have to keep buying him new pants!!  Nothing extraordinary on that list, but it weighs you down when you have emergencies keep arising as we seem to have the past couple of months, then you're trying to tamp down the panic over how best to help your aging parents when you struggle to meet every day needs, and when what they need is presence and you are so far away.  We are trying to plan ahead, to be pro-active and prayerful.  However, there is this sense of foreboding that is hanging over me, which I keep trying to shake but will not stop hovering.  Are we entering a time of far deeper challenge?  How can we meet the needs of so many who rely on us?  Will we fail those we love?

At moments like this one, it feels like we just can't do anymore, can't handle anymore.

For today, though, I will tackle but one thing...I will be there for my mom.  Everything else will be put aside, all other concerns pale by comparison at this moment.  I worry I can't be who I need to be for her in her greatest hours of need, I worry I won't know what to do or where to turn to find the help she might need...and accept.

And I will do my best to push aside all thoughts of her previous days, so I can focus on what is right before me.  There is work to be done, there is presence to offer.

I can do my penance later.