Monday, October 17, 2016

Okay, I admit it!

We all get caught up in comparison and have illusions we chase.  One of these for me has been the idea of the “normal mom.”  From our parenting beginnings of being on bed rest with identical twins to the crises following their birth, the normal mom thing has never been an option for me.  Whether in laughter or jealousy, I have held it up as this ideal that perhaps I can someday, somehow achieve.

There is a whole list in my head of things these “normal moms” do and, by comparison, that I do not do (or rarely do):

-Planning and participating in regular play dates (without getting completely overwhelmed at the thought of putting the kids in the car only to take them out and then put them back in again).  Some moms are so on top of it, they can pull off a play date at a park with lunch ready for their kids and are equipped with any needed accessories, wipes, hand sanitizer, riding toys from home, etc.

-Taking all your kids with you to pick up another child (or two!) from school. And doing this every day. 

-Or, having enough flexibility and wherewithal to arrange and implement a carpooling schedule with a friend or neighbor in such a way that you are adding to the equation and not just the one receiving the benefit.

-Volunteering for things like teaching Sunday school or helping in the nursery. (I judge myself, thinking, I AM a full time mom after all, and the working moms somehow do it… it’s the least I should be able to do.)

-Letting your kids play on sports teams, maybe even multiple teams for multiple kids during the same season.

-Regularly dressing your kids in coordinating outfits for things like church, parties, holiday events, and school programs.  And you get super mom status if you can achieve this AND be on time.

-Sitting down to family dinners, at the same time, in which everyone eats the same thing.  (And everyone has the ability to eat the same thing.  And sit independently.  And… okay, I’ll stop there.)

-Taking your kids WITH you to the gym or to a women’s Bible study…and using the provided, onsite childcare.

-Venting about “normal mom” issues such as diaper blow outs, feeling inconvenienced by having to take your kid to his one annual doctor’s check up, dealing with picky eaters, potty training woes, the difficulty of traveling with kids, sibling rivalry, less than ideal school situations, etc.  (Okay, okay— I’ve given myself permission to engage in some of this over the years, but I also remind myself to be grateful when these are the “hardest” parts of my day.  I am not perfect, but I don’t want to waste the perspective we’ve been given!  One thing I do NOT do is complain when my kids reach regular milestones early or earlier than most would like, such as crawling, walking, or getting into things.  These achievements will always be absolute miracles to us.)

-Not feeling completely overwhelmed when your husband has to work late or even mentions a potential getaway with his guys.  Super mom points for encouraging this and handling it all with ease.  (However, I DO recommend breaks for you and your spouse, because these moments are what keep us sane, help us remember who we are simply as individuals, and make us better when we get back to our roles of wife, mom, employee, friend, etc.)

-Running errands and grocery shopping with your children.  (Instead, we know the Instacart grocery delivery folks and are friends with our UPS guy, Simeon, due to our daily shipments from Amazon.)

I laugh at most of the things on this list or, by now, know they aren’t all that important.  However, this list can make me sad or angry at times.  I am not proud of it, but I can judge or speak harshly about those “normal moms” I envy.  Those moms who haven’t lost what I have lost or weren’t cheated out of the normal parenting experience I have desired.

Well this fall, more of the things on the “normal mom” list have started coming together for me…  I have had all four children in my car after picking up the older two from school (at least a few times!).  I occasionally take a child (notice the singular article) to CVS with me.  Meade and I have each managed a weekend trip here and there.  I am making my youngest three eat what we are eating at dinner.  Sometimes.  John and Daniel are even on their first ever baseball teams.  John is on a great buddy league for children with special needs.  And Daniel is playing T-Ball to assuage my mom guilt and fear that he would have been the very last kid to play baseball if we had waited until the spring.  

However, the biggest “normal mom” thing I was doing this fall was undoubtedly taking Andrew and Michael to Bible Study Fellowship with me and stashing them in the on site nursery while I studied the Gospel of John.  I was determined it was going to happen, and I was pumped!  Maybe I’m becoming a normal mom?  Maybe I am arriving?! 

I have participated in a few moms’ groups or Bible studies over the past eight years, but it has gone like this:  I was not about to leave John in a nursery when he was still having seizures as a baby.  Then, as he stabilized, I still didn’t think it was fair to put him in the church nursery since he requires one on one care. I might have been a wee bit overprotective as well.  In fact, we never left John in the church nursery until we deposited Daniel for the first time when he was six months old.  Yep, John was in the church service with us for three years. 

As the years have gone on, there has always seemed to be a baby taking a morning nap and, mostly, just too many complicated logistics making it easier to not attend such gatherings or to have my own help at home while I venture out.  I have lived with double guilt – guilt over not bringing my children with me like the other moms and additional guilt over getting my own babysitter and seeming high maintenance, incompetent, or like a poor steward of money. 

This fall was my time!!  I was even going to let Michael forego his morning nap so we could be “normal.”  I mentally prepared all summer and felt up to the challenge of bringing my two youngest with me to my new Bible study.  Well, for those of you who read my last post, The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, you know how that first Bible study and nursery experience turned out.  Not so hot.  My normal mom dreams were once again dashed.   So on that fateful Wednesday a few weeks ago, after I hiked around Atlanta for 40 minutes in the heat with my 2 and 1 year olds, I raised my white flag…

I give up!  I will admit it:  I am NOT a normal mom! 

I took this selfie during one of our breaks sitting on the side of the road, desperately praying we would find our car!!  I needed proof:

Here’s the honest truth:  I do rely on my husband.  A lot.  I pay babysitters to watch some of my kids, so I can pick up others…  or run errands by myself.  I also pay babysitters at times to be home with my kids while I am also here but taking a nap.  I love a monogrammed outfit but usually one boy at a time is all I can pull off.  Yes, two of my kids are on sports teams this fall, but I have been to so few of their games that it’s embarrassing.  Like I mentioned on my list, the thought of taking all of my kids somewhere still overwhelms me.  Meade and I divide and conquer.  A lot.

And what about my new Bible study?  The Enemy may have gotten me down that day, but he did not win.  I am still going to BSF, but as of the very second week, I began leaving my kids at home with my own babysitter.  And you know what?  It feels GREAT.  I did get a panicked call from someone in the children’s program wondering why I pulled my kids out and if I had experienced any problems.  I had to chuckle… No ma’am, the issue boils down to this—I am not a normal mom.   And that is okay. 

Our family does have unique challenges; therefore, we have forged paths and found ways to make life work.  I have learned to be a little more laid back than a Type A normally would be.  I am okay with clutter and dirt… yes, I'm referring to what is inside my house.  At this time in my life, I do not throw dinner parties using my nice china nor do I prepare a homemade spread.  Similarly to our UPS friend, we know our pizza and Chinese delivery guys by name.  I don’t journey out to play dates with all four of my kids, but I do love having others over to our house.  And my friends are sweet to accommodate us!  And yeah, we have quite the army of helpers behind us. 

So this whole thing about being a “normal mom” or having a “normal parenting experience”??   Does anyone really feel this way?  Does anyone, mom or not, even feel “normal”?  I imagine not many.  And if you happen to have arrived and consider yourself to be in the normal mom club, well, I feel sorry for you.  It must get lonely! 

I will close with a plug for a fabulous new TV show on ABC.  Speechless stars Minnie Driver and is about her family and her oldest son who is wheelchair bound and nonverbal.  Not only is this show poignant and socially significant by representing those with special needs, it is also hilarious!  I love how the mom is a little crazy, just like me! 

I have to share this touching and empowering exchange between the father and his “neurotypical” (the word we use for developmentally “normal”) son at the end of Episode 3.  This is evidence the Lord can use TV.  This confirmed all that I had been pondering.

Dad: Why do you care so much what other people think?

Tween Son: Why don't you?   Seriously Dad, don't you want to be normal?  How can you live like this?

Dad: You want to know how? Because all this stuff— other people's opinions—
 it's nothing. You know what's not nothing?  When the doctor tells you there's something's wrong with your kid, all the things he is never going to do, and it's a nice long list.  
        But look at your brother (referring to the one with special needs).  He's great, smart, funny...  So now when something happens, it's like, "What else you got? Bring it on." 
        I get it; normal seems good. But guess what? We're not normal. We're better. We're bulletproof.

AMEN TO THAT!!  So here is to NOT being normal!  Let’s admit it and celebrate!  Because life is a gift and too short to get bogged down by all Satan has stolen, killed and destroyed.  And yeah, he has done those things.  And it stinks.  But we can look at the flipside of John 10:10 and live in light of the full life Jesus came to give us.   My life may not be normal, but it certainly is abundant.

Michael digging in on his 1st birthday a month ago!
"The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."
-John 10:10

Tune in to watch Speechless on Wednesdays at 8:30/7:30c on ABC!  And try to catch up on the previous episodes.  It is so validating to have a major television network portray a glimpse into our everyday lives on primetime.  I hope this show makes it!  It is important for our neighbors, children, and members of our community to be exposed to the underrepresented minority of those with disabilities.  Okay, I’m descending from my soapbox now.  :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Consider yourselves warned: The following is a major vent session. However, I believe you will be encouraged if you make it to the end and hopefully entertained up until that point!

Have you ever had one of those days?  You know, the kind of day in which you wake up on the wrong side of the bed and the rest of the day seems to follow suit?  What may initially feel like a heavy dose of inconvenience soon unravels into full-on meltdown mode.  With this series of several unfortunate events, you realize that the Enemy of your heart either does NOT want you to do something God is calling you to do or does NOT want you to gain encouragement from it.  You set out to follow God’s will, likely even with joy, and the world just beats you down.

For those of you in my generation or for the parents of people in my generation, you probably remember the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Yep, that’s what these days are like. One thing after another.  Piling on.  This was my day a couple Wednesdays ago.   

After years of not being in a consistent Bible study other than a mom’s group here and there due to having children and more children with more than one child with unique needs, I had decided along with some friends that this fall was the time.  Topical books, groups, and discussion can be great, but I missed simply reading and studying the Bible.  And I knew this is what I needed. God’s Word direct.  Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) seemed like a good choice and wasn’t too far away.  Despite its somewhat daunting expectations, I recalled the numerous times over the years my mom raved about her own participation in BSF.  She loved it, truly loved it.  And apparently I loved it as a young child, too.  My mom credits the children’s program with many of the first Scripture verses I ever memorized. 

I was all set for my inaugural BSF session.  Like a good (well, in my former life) Baptist, I had my Bible in my mom bag— the real thing, not the one on your phone.  With my two youngest in tow, we arrived early as we were instructed to do.  And yet, the parking!  What a disaster!  There was absolutely no parking to be found!  Was all of Atlanta coming to study the Gospel of John?  After circling the various lots and streets for at least ten minutes (now I was late), I passed a friend and we called each other to figure out our plan.  She ended up finding an obscure side lot (not affiliated with the church), and I whipped in behind her. As the quintessential firstborn, Type A who hates being late, I was completely frazzled as my friend held Andrew and her daughter’s hands as I scooped up Michael and we set off for the church. 

Okay, we made it.  No big deal.  Now to find the kids’ rooms.  Another ordeal that took way too long, but once more we made it.  We stashed them with the kind strangers and went on to find our discussion groups, having already missed the large group intro in the sanctuary.  It was hard to focus as I was still recovering from the morning and, mostly, if I’m honest, am NOT used to sitting still or focusing on any one thing for this long!  Can any of you mamas relate? 

But I was glad I went.  Grateful to be on this path.  Trusting God had treasures in store for me.  My desire was to get back in touch with Jesus, in that real, intimate way.  In my heart, not just in my mind or speech.  To know Him more, and to hopefully have that lead to more authentic love for Him and trust in Him.  These relational aspects can be a little (or a lot) shaken when life has taken some unexpected turns.

Well, then came the next bomb.  And this one was the turning point in my day from inconvenience to starting down the “no good, very bad” path.  My friend had to slip out a little early.  I collected my boys and then set out by myself to find my car.  We all have our strong suits, but a sense of direction is NOT one of mine. My family is laughing as they read this—just ask them.  I took a diagonal away from the church in the direction I assumed my car was parked. No such luck.  Then we hiked in the other direction.  Still no car in sight.  I even tried pressing the panic button at various points, hoping my car would appear from behind a bush or pole.  Let me also mention that it was 97 degrees, and I was carrying a one year old on my hip and clutching the hand of my two year old while lugging around that bag containing that real Bible and two diaper bags (at least they looked cute, each one being personalized thanks to another friend and her great taste in baby gifts).  

We walk in literally every possible direction before heading in the right one, not that I had any confidence this last attempt would take us to our car.  I finally saw a small cemetery and remembered the small lot had been near one!  Hope welled up!  After 45 minutes of walking around in the heat and taking many breaks to sit in the shade on the side of these random roads, we found our vehicle.  Praise Jesus!  However, I was not really in a praising Jesus mood by that point.  My whole day was thrown off.  I was supposed to have already dropped the kids at home with a babysitter so I could accompany a friend to her doctor’s appointment.  Not meant to be. 

Then, the minute I get home, a call comes in from John’s school.  They confirmed what I knew they would say on a day like today. John had had a seizure at school— the first observable one since that horrible episode in January that landed him in the hospital for a week. Thankfully, it was not bad, lasted around a minute, and had not required intervention.  I drove straight there and was relived to find he was already back to his happy self.  Phew!  I had an hour before I needed to be back to get him for his ophthalmology appointment, so I took myself out to lunch while waiting. It was definitely the high point of the day. 

The eye doctor… where to begin?  Does everyone else’s ophthalmology appointments take three hours?!  As you know, we are no strangers to a doctor’s office, but the eye doctor tends to be the longest and therefore the most dreaded.  Additionally, I was given conflicting information from the first technician we saw and later from the doctor himself.  “Kids cannot see double; their brains override it.”  Then from the doctor: “The eye gaze module on John’s communication device may be of no help to him since his eyes are misaligned which would cause him to see double."  This was quite discouraging because John is nonverbal.  We are relying on his ability to be proficient and accurate with his communication device in order to express himself.  His fine motor skills are also very limited, so his hands are not an accurate way to select choices either.  This leaves his pupils.  The eye gaze module reads his pupils as he scans the computer to then pause on a choice to select it.  The icing on the cake was when the doctor asked me a question toward the end of the appointment, and then I uttered no more than two words to respond before he put his hand up and told me, “Just focus for a minute.”   Oh my.  I was furious.  And I know this doctor thinks quite highly of himself and does not like to be interrupted.  So I had waited and hadn’t said much of anything throughout the visit until he directly asked ME a question.  Sadly, this is what we go through a lot.  I’m sure each one of you faces your own “eye doctor” type situations.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when we finally got home at 6 after fighting traffic. I told Meade I was heading straight to bed.  I simply could not stay awake any longer.  I canceled my plans for the night, the one thing I had really been looking forward to, and crawled into bed.  Around 7:40, I woke up and actually felt pretty refreshed.  I decided I would just head to my event late.  I emerge from the bedroom to find Meade already heading my way who merely said, “Good timing. I think Andrew may need stitches.” 

I took one look at his big toe, and yes, he most certainly needed stiches.  In fact, I wasn’t sure if the toe would make it. He had fallen out of a bar stool which proceeded to land on his toe.  Meade had been in the room, but there was no way to prevent it (however, we have since stored the bar stools in the attic). We called our babysitter to come back, wrapped Andrew’s foot as tightly as we could, and headed to the E.R. 

The triage nurse told us Andrew’s toe was indeed badly injured but that he wouldn’t lose it.  At this point and with that good news, we were able to succumb to laughter (almost).  This day had been such a disaster, we now kicked back in the waiting room, watched "Cars 2" with a now medicated and much happier Andrew, and happily scarfed down the Chick-fil-a my mom brought.  Quality family time had commenced.  Andrew ended up having an MRI and, much later, anesthesia before getting ten stitches… that’s a lot of stitches in a two year old’s big toe!  We got home around 3:45 am, and I crawled into bed once more, this time with Andrew nestled between Meade and me.  What a day!

Okay so now onto the encouraging part.  I know you can all resonate with this post and have experienced your own share of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days (whether in a “first world” sort of way or outright objectively traumatic).  But here is the interesting thing about most of these days.  The first one, two, or maybe three things are inconvenient, frustrating and possibly even depressing.  But by the fourth or fifth thing, we can start to put two and two together.  Yes, we live in a broken world where bad things just happen.  But we also live in a world inhabited by Satan, and his battle against us is real. 

On that particular Wednesday, I realized that I was up against some spiritual warfare.  The evil one was (and is) set against me because I am aiming, even if in a very imperfect way, to follow Jesus.  Satan did NOT want me to persevere and start Bible study that day. Moreover, he wanted to get me so down and strung out the rest of the day that I would decide I had no place participating in Bible study.  As a caveat, I do think there are seasons to withdraw a bit and not be involved in a formal Bible study.  However, this was my season for jumping back in.  And it is no coincidence that BSF happens to be studying a gospel this year.  I know I needed Jesus.  Just more of Him and more of His words. 

So what do we do when this light bulb goes off?  Well, this is where some holy anger comes into play!  Polite as we may try to be in the rest of our lives, we can and should get mad at Satan!  In fact, you can tell him to go back to Hell where he belongs!  You can tell him that he is NOT going to stop you from pursuing God’s will in your life.  He is NOT going to defeat you, even if he may have tripped you up or lured you into a pity party.  And why can we be so bold?  Certainly not in our own strength.  We are no match for Satan.  BUT, with JESUS, the Name above all Names, Satan doesn’t stand a chance.  We tell him that, since God is for us, nothing can stand against us.  Bad days will come, and we may get down and doubt.  Regularly.  BUT, those things and Satan do not have the final say.  Jesus has defeated sin and death.

Therefore, when these days come and it all lines up, we can even begin to smile, knowing deep down that we must be doing something right if Satan is so eager to tear us down!   He will not win.  We may be battered, bruised, and discouraged, but we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus, our Lord!

"The ONE who is in you is GREATER 
than the one (Satan) who is in the world."
-1 John 4:4

Fun visit from Maddie and Poppy this past weekend!