Thursday, July 23, 2020

The choices we face...

It is happening more often than not these days when I get in a mood where I feel helpless and paralyzed. Frozen and not knowing what to do to move forward. I seem to have forgotten the one thing I’ve always been able to do when nothing else feels right: And that is to write.

Writing has always been my coping mechanism. The only way I can get out of my head the cyclone of thoughts circling around. And once I have been able to express what is overwhelming me and keeping me down, I usually feel instant relief. That is what I am hoping to accomplish today.

Not that there was ever a time when being a parent was easy, but parents with school-aged children are being faced with an extremely difficult decision right now. We have to make a choice. An extremely important and difficult choice. And in my district (and likely others), we are being given ONE WEEK to weigh all the options and decide what to do.

Do we send our kids to school and expose them (and our family) to the risks of contracting this new, ever-evolving virus? Or do we keep them home where they are more likely to stay healthy and we TRY to keep them happy while they learn virtually and continue to be isolated from their friends?

I recognize that for many, there isn't a choice at all. Both parents work so the choice is made for them. They have no other option but to send their kids to school so they can continue to work and provide for their families. I am sure it is an equally unsettling feeling to have no control over the choice.

Our situation is different, though. Last year I made the difficult decision to leave my job. To give up the juggling act of trying to balance my career and my family. I never could have known when I made that choice, what a blessing it would end up being for my family down the road. To have a choice in how we respond to the current situation of this virus.

So while I am grateful we are able to choose whether or not we send our kids to school this fall, it is still not an easy decision to make. There are so many factors to consider. So many unknowns about this virus.

I commend the schools for the careful thought and consideration that has gone into the planning of how to re-open schools and keep our children safe. I know a lot of time and effort has gone into these re-opening plans. But the reality is, the state of this virus is not any better than it was when schools shut down in the spring. In fact, the numbers are even worse now.

Regardless of how well thought-out the schools' plans are and how careful they will be, so much of what will happen will be out of their control. Kids are going to get this virus at school. There is just no way around that. And the part weighing most heavily on my mind is that our family's health is, quite literally, in the hands of other families. And that is perhaps what is most unsettling to me.

To understand what I mean, all you need to do is read the comments from articles and videos posted about the virus or a post about your school's plan for fall and you will see the reflections of the families who would be potentially attending school with your children.

You will see comments from people who aren’t taking this virus seriously. Even more terrifying, you will see the comments of people who don't believe the virus actually exists.

You will see comments from people who don’t believe that wearing a mask is important. You will see the large amounts of people who are refusing to wear one, even though it is now a state order. You will see the people who are already planning to get a doctor’s excuse for their children to not have to wear a mask to school.

You will see comments of parents who state they will refuse to get their children tested for COVID, regardless of whether or not they are sent home from school with a fever as to not be a part of “the statistics.”

Drive through your neighborhoods and you will see the people who are having large parties and gatherings, not wearing masks, and not practicing social distancing.

All of these people are expressing their "right to choose" (although, arguably, once it becomes a state order it truly is no longer a choice to be made). But in this situation, their "rights" and their choices could directly impact my children and my family. And it's really scary.

So much about this virus is still unknown. It isn't as simple as either getting sick and getting better or getting sick and dying. Doctors and scientists are learning more and more each day about this virus. They are learning that there could be long-term side effects from people who contract it. And there's no denying that some people who contract it, regardless of age or underlying health issues, are getting very sick and for some, dying.

And we still don’t have a vaccine. And when we do, we don't know how safe it will be.

Even though there are so many unknowns and questions about this virus, we must make a choice about what to do with our children's education. We must use the information we have now to make a decision for September 8 when students will return back to school. We quite literally have to choose between our children’s education and their health.

I don't think there is one right or wrong answer. This choice will look different for every family. And there is no fast and sure way to know which choice is best. All anyone can do is make their choice with love and knowledge.

And that is exactly what we have done. We talked. We researched. We talked some more. We read through the school's plan, we watched the Board of Education meetings. And we read through the comments.

Although we so desire for our kids' lives to return to "normal," we have talked about the fact that nothing about returning to school in the fall will feel "normal."

Kids of all ages are being required to wear masks while at school, which I understand the importance of and appreciate. However, our kids will be attending a school with no air conditioning. A school that is already extremely hot and uncomfortable during those first few months in the fall. That is not going to feel "normal."

We are so desperate for our kids to get to socialize with their friends at school. However, how much socializing are they going to be doing while wearing masks with desks either three or six feet apart? That is not going to feel "normal."

We want so badly for our kids to go back to receiving a quality education, unlike what they were learning virtually from home in the spring. However, while they and their teachers are wearing masks, in the uncomfortably hot building, how much "quality learning" is going to actually be taking place?

The district has explained that there can't be social distancing on the school transportation as there aren't enough busses to accommodate this. Students will be required to wear masks on the bus but will be sitting with at least one other child.

For our daughter who will be entering kindergarten, they have already reduced the days from full-days to 2.5 hour days. How much will she actually be learning in those 2.5 hours? Is that even worth the risk of exposure? She will be meeting new friends and her new teacher without ever showing her face or being able to easily talk?

The way the plan is designed is to vary based on the county's level of emergency. We are currently a level 3 so students will be taking place in blended learning where half the students are in class one day while the other half is learning remotely. I think it is safe to assume that as schools re-open and the cases go up, our county will become a level 4 which means the curriculum goes back to being completely virtual. Yet another heartbreak and transition for our children (and parents and teachers).

I am not currently working outside the home. We have the flexibility to accommodate keeping our kids at home and learning remotely. I can't justify the risks. I don't see the benefits of sending them to school under these circumstances.

For all of the reasons stated above, we have decided our children will attend school virtually for the fall semester. Our district is letting us choose for the fall semester and then re-evaluate for the spring, which is what we plan to do.

Do I feel guilty that my daughter won't get to ride a school bus to kindergarten like she has so anxiously been waiting to do? Absolutely.

Does it make me sad that my son is desperate to return to the school he loves with the friends that he misses? It sure does.

Am I looking forward to returning to the roles of both mom and teacher? Definitely not.

But when I weigh the pros and cons, the risks and the rewards, this is the decision I am most comfortable with for my family. I can handle the mom guilt that will come from the sadness and disappointment of my children not returning to school. But I don't know that I could live with the guilt of my child or someone we love getting very sick and even worse, dying, because of a decision I made. Especially because I have a choice.

I would much rather know that I did everything in my power to keep the people I love safe. This is why I wear a mask. And this is why I am not comfortable sending my kids to school where I don't know that every other family is doing the same.

I so long for the days where my kids don't have to ask me if they can hug their own grandparents and we can go out to eat without giving it a second thought. I long for the days when our kids can be back in school in an environment that is conducive for learning and will also be good for their social/emotional well-being. But regardless of how badly we want these things, I don't think that is the reality for this fall, no matter what decision is made.

Be kind to those in your life who are making these important decisions. It is an extremely difficult time to be a parent. Or to be a teacher. Heck, it's a difficult time to be a human right now. Spread love and empathy instead of hate and judgment. We can't control much right now but we can commit to being good humans. And wear a freaking mask!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Finding calm in the chaos of life

With the new year, Pat and committed to attending church more regularly. Our reasoning was our kids. We were both raised attending church and participating in Sunday School and we wanted that for our kids. We wanted them to have the same opportunity to build a strong faith foundation.

Obviously, taking our kids to Sunday School more regularly meant that we would also be attending church more regularly too. But attending church and being fully present are two different things. I had a choice to make: I could spend the hour daydreaming, making to-do lists, and not paying attention, or I could commit to using that hour to be fully present.

If you know me, you know which choice I made. I committed to being full present. Putting my Apple Watch and iPhone in Do Not Disturb mode and focusing on the songs, scriptures, messages, and sermons.

Since January 1, we have attended church almost every Sunday. And so far, I have left each service feeling like the message was something I needed to hear. Something that was relevant and applicable to me and my life. But none have hit me quite like the message today.

Before I can fully explain, I need to back up to last night.

Pat and I had gotten our kids to bed and were getting ready to "relax" and watch a movie. In preparation of this, I gathered my planner, computer, phone, and pens. Because this is what I do. I'm always multitasking. Even if I'm not physically multitasking, my brain always is.

*Full disclosure: one of the reasons I multitask during movies is to increase the likelihood that I will actually stay awake for the duration of the movie (which didn't work, by the way).

My brain never stops! It is constantly frazzled and spinning and thinking of all the things I need to get done. So during the movie, I was reviewing next week's calendar, including my work obligations, our kids' activities, planning for meals, etc. Then I did a complete "brain dump" where I wrote down every task and to-do item I had spinning around my head.

By the time I was finished, the list was a full page long! And yet, surprisingly, I didn't feel overwhelmed by it. I felt relieved to have it on paper and no longer cluttering my mind. (I highly recommend this practice, by the way). I thought through ways I could complete the tasks and started to put a plan together. Because when I have a "plan," I feel more calm. A "plan" gives me the illusion (albeit a false one) that I have some sort of a grip or even a moderate amount of control over my life. Because when I feel in control, I feel more calm and relaxed.

Now, back to today's message at church.

"Write your plans in pencil. It is okay to make plans, but write them in pencil and remember who holds the pen. No matter what happens, He is in control. Sometimes you can plan. And sometimes you just go."

Wow. Did I need to hear that or what? Could that not have been directed right at me? Having spent the prior evening "relaxing" by making all of my plans for the week and months ahead, not once did I think about the fact that God is the one really in control.

The ultimate challenge for me will be to learn to rely on God so that even amid unexpected chaos and disarray, I can still feel calm and relaxed. To learn to be comfortable when things don't go as planned (also known as every single day as a parent) and know that even though I am not in control, God is.

I will still use all of my pretty planner pens, because they make me happy. But I am going to try a little harder to give myself grace when I have to put a big X through the things that didn't happen or had to be rescheduled.

And when life throws me curve balls, I will remember Psalm 46.1: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble."

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Our sweet Mrs. R

Dear, Rose.

When I count my blessings, you are high on the list. When we moved into our house 10 ½ years ago, we were very excited. We loved our new house, the big yard, and the nice neighborhood. What we didn’t know yet, was that having you as our neighbor was the most valuable part of our new property.

It has felt like we had another set of parents next door. I called you for cooking advice and when I needed ingredients (even if I didn’t yet know the difference between salted and unsalted butter). You loaned me your favorite cooking appliances and helped me learn how to use them. Every time I tried to give them back to you, you told me to hold on to them.

You were there for me for some of my hardest days as a parent and have given me six years worth of great parenting wisdom and advice. When I was stressed about how I would get home in time to get Graham off the kindergarten bus, you agreed to be a backup for me.

I am so thankful for all that you have done for me, but it is what you have done for my children that I will be forever grateful for. From the moment I brought them home from the hospital, I have watched you love and spoil my children. Watching them love you right back has been one of the greatest joys of my parenting journey.

Every Christmas, birthday, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, any random holiday or special occasion, and every day in between, you have spoiled my kids rotten. Calling them your pseudo grandchildren, you showered them with gifts, cookies, and lots of love and support. I know they thought of you as a pseudo Grandma, too.

When you got sick, I saw their deep concern for you and sadness that you were no longer next door. It was clear how much they loved you and how much they missed you. Watching them color you pictures, make you videos to cheer you up, and pray for you, gave me so much pride.

Telling them that you weren’t going to get better and watching them say their final goodbyes to you were some of the absolute saddest of my parenting moments. I will never forget the image of a very sad Graham in my rear-view mirror, crying as we drove to visit you for the final time at Hospice, asking me if the doctors had tried everything to make you better. Every time I think about the way he sadly waved goodbye to you at the end of your bed as he walked out of the room, quietly saying, “Bye, Mrs. R, I’ll see you in heaven,” will make me cry for a very long time.

I will think of you every time I read my kids one of the many books you bought them. I will think of you when we watch the fireworks on the 4th of July or when a recipe calls for unsalted butter. I will think of you when we plan our first family Disney trip, something I had hoped we could do together. I will think of you when I try to make your famous meatballs and when I use any of the Wolfgang Puck appliances you “loaned” me. You got me that stained-glass butterfly that is hanging on my window so that I would look at it and think of my brother. Now I will look at it and think of you, too. Please give him a hug for me.

I will never let my kids forget how much you loved them. I hope that you know how much we all loved you, too.

As Graham says, I’m excited to go to Heaven so I can see you again.

Rest in peace, sweet (and feisty) Rose.

Bette Midler

Some say love, it is a river, that drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor, that leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger, an endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower, and you, its only seed
Its the heart afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance
Its the dream afraid of waking, that never takes the chance
Its the one who won't be taking, who cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live
When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed, that with the sun's love in the spring becomes the rose

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The privilege of getting old

I have never prayed for someone to die before but today that is exactly what I am doing. I am praying for my grandma to die.

It will make me terribly sad when she does, but I am praying that God will take her from this life to the next. That her mind would again be sharp and in tact. That she would be reunited with those she loved and has been separated from. 

I visited her today and sobbed alone in my car after. I wish I could say I was strong enough to hold back my tears until I got to my car, but I wasnt. 

I cried right in front of her while she stared back at me. I asked her if she knew why I was crying. She didn't answer. She actually didn't talk at all during my entire two-hour visit. 

Even though she didn't say anything while I was crying, we were looking into each other's eyes and I felt like she understood. I felt like she knew I was sad to see her life come to this. And I felt like she was sad too.

As I looked around the cafeteria, in between spoon-feeding my grandma bites of watermelon, I felt so much sadness. Not just for my grandma, but for everyone there. I felt so torn about my philosophy that "getting old is a gift" and the sign of a full life. 

I do believe it to be true: My brother died at age six and my step-dad died at age 55, after fighting like hell to beat cancer. Neither one were blessed to "get old."

But as I sat there today with the last grandparent I have left, I am overwhelmed with the sadness that comes with watching others get old. It may be a privilege, but It is also really, really hard. 

My Grandma can't feed herself. She can't go to the bathroom herself. She can't get in and out of bed or chairs herself. She can't even walk. On days when she is "alert," she is confused and angry. Just a shell of the person she once was. 

The person who came to every single one of my tennis matches. The person who taught me what it means to be a card shark. The person who could dish my sarcasm right back to me. The person who showed me what it means to live a life devoted to God and doing good for others. 

That person was not there today. 

The cafeteria was filled with many people in similar situations. Many people who have had the privilege of getting old but now have a dimished quality of life. 

I do not handle the circle of life very well. With animals or with humans. I am both fascinated by and terrified of death. But one thing my Grandma has taught me is that for the person who is dying, there is nothing to fear. I do believe in eternity and in heaven and in God. 

So when I prayed today for my grandma to die, it is because I know she has so much more life to live. It is because I know that in the God that she has been worshipping her whole life, will be welcoming her with a fresh mind and a fresh body. 

My fear of death is not for the person who is dying, but for the pain I know I will experience when they are gone. 

It has been a blessing to have my grandma in my life for 34 years. She has been privileged to live a full life. But her life stopped being a privilege to her when she fell victim to dementia. And that is why I am praying today for her to die. 

Thursday, February 09, 2017

A letter to my first born child

Dear son,

I can't stop thinking about the fact that in just a few days, your little sister, my baby, will be the exact same age you were when she was born. And the more I think about the transition we all went through two years ago, the more I realize I owe you an apology.

You see, now that your sister is the same age you were when she was born, I realize I am treating her differently than I treated you at this age.

For example, I stll pick her up and carry her around like a baby. I am calm and patient with her when she doesn't listen or when she throws a tantrum, reminding myself that she is "only two" after all.

I did the same for you. Until the day she was born. And then something changed. It wasn't meditated or intentional but I instantly started treating you differently.

When I went into the hospital to have your little sister, you were still a little baby in my mind, only two years old. But when I came home from the hospital with your little sister, you didn't seem like a baby anymore.

You looked like a giant! When I changed your diaper or got you dressed, your legs were like treetrunks conpared to your baby sister's! Your size 5 diapers looked huge compared to the newborn diapers your sister was wearing.

Overnight you changed in my eyes. I started holding you to higher standards. Expecting more out of you than I did just days before when you were still my only baby. It was unfair and I am sorry.

Of course I didn't do it intentionally. I was tired, overwhelmed, determined to make breastfeeding work this time around, and was battling Post Partum Depression. I was so focused on tending to my newborn baby's needs that I lost sight of the fact that you needed me, too. That at just two years old you were still a baby yourself. You needed your mommy to show you how to be a good big brother. To be patient with you as you struggled to adapt to sharing your mommy (and daddy). To recognize that when you were acting out it wasn't to be bad but rather because you weren't getting as much attention as you did before.

You needed me to be sensitive to how much your life had changed, too, and I wasn't. And it is only now, two years later, that I am seeing things so clearly.

I need you to know that you will always be my baby. You will always be my sweetie boy. You will always be the one who changed my entire life for the better by making me a mommy. And I will always love you with every ounce of my being.

I always thought that as a parent, my most important role was to be your teacher. You have shown me that I am very much still a student with a lot to learn. I am starting to realize that you can teach me just as much as I can teach you.


Your work-in-progress mommy

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The s#*t you argue about when you have kids

I vaguely remember what life was like before kids. I think I used to be fun, though. And I think I had a lot of energy. But it's so blurry. Anyway, I am quite confident that before we became parents, my husband and I used to have a lot of thought-provoking conversations that didn't revolve around poop.

Yes, I am pretty sure that before we had kids, poop was not the #1 topic of conversation in our house. But from the moment we became parents, we talk about poop as casually as we talk about the weather. What it looks like, what it smells like, etc.

Before kids, I was definitely aware that Pat pooped quite frequently and that he spent a lot of time in the bathroom. 

I always knew that when he disappeared for long periods of time, he was "taking care of business," as he likes to call it. After he got a smartphone, I think his time spent in the bathroom probably doubled. 

Before we had kids, though, I didn't care. I definitely didn't understand it, because women are just so much more efficient at going to the bathroom, but I didn't care.

But now that we have two kids, and I am outnumbered when I am alone with them, I am painfully aware when he disappears for 20+ minutes at a time FOUR TIMES A DAY. That is not an exaggeration, by the way. He poops four times a day. Is that even healthy? It seems ridiculous to poop that much but he assures me he is just regular. 

He spends so much time in the bathroom that sometimes when he's not home and the bathroom door is closed, our kids go over to the door and call for him, assuming he's in there because he usually is.

They go to the door and call for him when he IS in there, too. If he forgets to lock the door, they open it. And if the door is locked, they pound on the door and yell for him to open it. He doesn't particularly enjoy this. And we argue about it every weekend.

What is worse than talking about poop all the time? Arguing about it. Arguing about poop is a new low, even for us. And yet, here we are. Arguing about poop quite regularly (no pun intended). 

Pat feels as though he should be able to "poop in peace" without our kids bothering him. It drives him crazy. I think he feels as though I should be keeping them away from the bathroom when he's in there. I'm not sure how I would do this since they don't listen to a dang word I say, but I guess he thinks I should try. 

And I really don't try. Sometimes I might half-heartedly say, "let's leave daddy alone while he goes to the bathroom." But that's about it. I don't really try to enforce it.

To be fair, he usually gets the first 10 minutes or so in the bathroom to "poop in peace." That is about how long it takes for our kids to realize he is gone. So if he could just "take care of his business" a little faster, we wouldn't have a problem.

I feel like there are a lot of sacrifices we have to make when we become parents. Maybe becoming a faster pooper might be one that he has to make. I have made sacrifices, too. I could NEVER disappear for 10 minutes to "poop in peace." I can't even poop with the door shut. 

Usually I am too afraid to shut it, in fear of what my son might do to his little sister. But on the rare occasion that I do close the door, they just open it anyway so what's the point? And more times than not, one or both of them are actually in the bathroom with me. Sometimes, I actually have to go with Addy sitting on my lap so that I don't have to hear her screaming and crying to be picked up. 

That is my definition of "pooping in peace." Pooping with my daughter sitting on my lap so that I don't have to hear her crying in the tiny bathroom where her screams sound 100x louder. And pooping while I watch my son fill up the sink with water, wasting all of our soap, knowing that I can't do anything about it except use my words to try to get him to stop, which we both know will have zero impact. 

So you can see why when it comes to Pat wanting to "poop in peace," I have zero sympathy for him.

I vaguely remember blogging before I had kids but I am pretty sure I never blogged about poop. But yet, here I am. Ain't that some S#@t. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Reality check

After getting the kids to bed last night, I sat down to blog for the first time in eight months.

I fell asleep sitting up at the computer five minutes later.