Saturday, January 31, 2009

Oh, Thank You!

Have you ever narrowly escaped some awful fate, but then you felt more shaken than relieved? That's how I feel right now...

This morning when I was bustling around putting away laundry, Allyson was entertaining herself by making cupcakes with the play baking set she got for Christmas.

I smiled when I heard her reciting the ingredients as she pretended to drop them into the tiny metal mixing bowl--just as I do when I'm baking. "A cup of sugar," she mumbled. "A cup of flour, a cup of egg."

"How do you know that? How do you know about flour and sugar?" I asked.

She ignored my interruption and solemnly continued adding her ingredients. "A cup of bacon soda, a cup of bacon powder."

I couldn't believe she also knew about baking powder and baking soda. She's obviously been paying very close attention when I bake, and I've obviously been doing WAY TOO MUCH baking!

I hurried to the closet, still smiling, to hang some jeans. Less than a minute later, I returned to the bed for another stack of laundry to put away. Then I glanced over at Allyson and saw her putting a gallon-size plastic storage bag over her head! (This was the bag that the baking set was stored in; I don't know if it came like that or if we foolishly put the pieces in the bag ourselves. I had no idea a toddler's head could fit inside one of those bags.)

"No!" I said, as ran over to her. "We never put plastic bags over our face." She tried to pull it off, but it was stuck.

I jerked the bag up and off her face, and she put her hands over her nose and drew in a couple of quick breaths. I couldn't believe what had just happened. It wasn't hard for me to pull the bag off, but I don't know if she would have been able to get it off by herself.

I held her close and explained that she must never, ever put anything plastic over her head or face, or she would not be able to breathe, and then she might die--she wouldn't be alive any more. Her lower lip protruded, and tears pooled in the corner of her eyes.

"Mama's not mad, baby," I said. "I just want to make sure you don't ever do that again. Let's pray and thank Jesus that you are okay."

So we held hands, and I fervently thanked Jesus for letting me be there at that moment, and I prayed that he would help Allyson remember not to put a plastic bag on her head ever again.

Her lower lip was still hanging out, and I felt the same way. I pulled her on my lap and sat down on the rocker. We rocked for five or ten minutes while I rubbed her back. I kept mentally thanking God over an over, like a good luck chant. My mind kept going over the terrifying scenarios that could have ensued. I trembled with the fresh realization that life is terribly fragile, and that there are no guarantees of tomorrow for myself or my loved ones.

It was a terrible feeling and a wonderful feeling to hold my sweet two-year-old close and breathe in her scent. I don't know how I would survive if... I can't even say it.

I carefully tied the bag in knots before I threw it away. Both of us were in a somber mood for quite a long time after that. Suddenly the laundry didn't seem so important. We sat on the couch and read a library book together, and I was so happy when she smiled.

Thank you, thank you, Jesus!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Mother's Strength

On Sunday, my family met for incredibly delicious brisket at my brother Rick's house. When we were too stuffed to move, we all sat around reminiscing. My mom's sisters Judy and Mary were visiting from Indiana, along with Mary's husband Dave. The stories we told were familiar, but having my aunts there provided another perspective and filled in a few more details. One story in particular moved me to tears....

My aunts and uncle got to talking about how sweet Rick (Ricky, then) was as a boy. They said he was always talking (and lisping), and he looked so cute with his little glasses. Aunt Mary recalled one thing he said when my dad was late getting home: "Was you in a hole?" Apparently my mom had remarked that she didn't know what was keeping him; he must have fallen in a hole.

Monica, Dolores (Mom), Melody

Monica, Dolores, Ricky, Melody

Mary also related a bittersweet memory about my sister Michele's homecoming. Michele was born with many severe birth defects including microcephaly (a small head and underdeveloped brain), a cleft lip, and a cleft palate. Before my parents brought her home, they tried to prepare Rick and Melody. (I wasn't born yet.) They told them that Michele didn't look like other babies, and I guess Rick took that to mean she wasn't pretty like other babies.

When Mom showed him the baby, Rick (age 6) said, "Oh, Mommy! She has such pretty eyes!" She really did have pretty eyes, and this simple appreciation for the beauty in a difficult situation brought tears to the adults' eyes. My own eyes filled with tears when Mary told the story, and when I saw tears in my dad's eyes, I almost broke into sobs. It's hard to understand how sorrow can seem so fresh after 46 years, and how I can feel grief for a sister I never knew.

Mom shared a bit about the experience. It was hard to listen, but I think even now it helps her to talk about what happened. Here's what happened....

Losing Monica

When my sister Monica Sue was five years old, she fell against a license plate and suffered a severe gash to her skull. She healed from the injury, but she later developed a brain tumor on the scar. By the time the tumor was diagnosed, she was in critical condition. My mom stayed with her at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis (about three hours from their home) for several weeks.

Monica Sue, Age 5

On her sixth birthday--June 27, 1962--Monica underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Initially, Mom and Dad had wanted to wait until the next day, but they listened to the doctors' urging and allowed the surgery on her birthday. After that, she suffered continually until she finally lapsed into a coma and died on July 18.

Understandably, Mom fell into a profound depression. She was given strong tranquilizers to help her cope with her grief and the demands of raising two other small children. At the time, she told her family doctor that she thought she was pregnant, but he didn't listen. He told her that the delusion of pregnancy is a common reaction to dealing with the loss of a child.

More Heartaches
She really was pregnant, and the medication caused severe defects. Michele Sue was born six months after Monica died, on January 10, 1963. This was, of course, before the days of sonograms, so Michele's condition was a devastating surprise.

The doctor told Mom she shouldn't even hold her baby because she wouldn't be able to keep her. He advised placing her in an institution immediately. Mom started crying and couldn't stop. A nurse later came in and showed her how to feed Michele with a special nipple. She told Mom and Dad to take their baby home if they wanted to.

That's what they did, but life was very difficult. Due to her underdeveloped brain, Michele never slept more than an hour at a time. She also cried incessantly, and feeding was a terrible ordeal because it literally choked her.

After a couple of months, Mom just couldn't manage it any longer. She was unable to sleep, and she had no energy to care for Melody and Rick. She and Dad reluctantly admitted Michele to Riley's Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. The hospital then transferred Michele to a day care home in Noblesville.

They were able to visit her every other Sunday. She never did develop beyond a newborn state, and she was sickly. She finally died of pneumonia at the age of eight months.

A couple of years later, Melody nearly died from a ruptured appendix. Mom begged God not to take another child from her, and Melody recovered. The doctor told her afterward that he hadn't expected her to survive; she had peritonitis, and people didn't usually recover from that.

God's Grace

No matter how many times I hear these stories, I am amazed at my mother's strength. I can't imagine going through what she suffered and surviving. Mom never lost her faith. In fact, her faith grew through these trials.

She and Dad had grown up in church, but they had drifted away during their early marriage. After the loss of Monica, Mom was despondent for months. It was through the love of a friend, Louella, that Mom began to heal. Here is an excerpt from Mom and Dad's autobiography, which I am currently transcribing and editing:
In those days, they didn’t have support groups for people that were grieving. But I had a friend who came over, and she said, “I’m coming over. I’ve been praying and asking the Lord what I could do for you. He impressed on me that I need to come over and get you and take you to my house, and you can’t do anything but talk about your child while we’re there. And if you try to talk about anything else, I’m going to make you talk about your child.”

Then I felt like it was God sending her, and to this day, I know it was God sending her. She did just what she said. If I got off the subject, she’d get me right back on. That helped me heal. That did more for me than what anybody’s prayers did. It was all because she was willing as a Christian to pray and ask the Lord what she could do to help me. So I always felt a warm spot for her because she had five of her own children, but she still had time for me. It helped me to move on, or at least to deal with the grief that was inside, that I didn’t know how to get rid of.

God chose to bless Mom and Dad with three more children: Amy (1964), me (1970), and Emily (1974). At first, she was afraid that she would lose us, too, but eventually she relaxed and enjoyed mothering her five children. She had always wanted to have five children, and she got her wish.

I'm not sure why I wanted to share these stories, but I just felt I needed to. My mother is an amazing woman, and I wanted to share her with my (small) world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Unlucky, But Lucky,Too

Today I decided to take advantage of the warm weather (in the 50s or 60s, I think) and ride my bike to the store instead of taking the car. Every time I do this, I feel so good for exercising and for saving the environment; Allyson loves it, too, so that's a big bonus.

We stopped at the park for a little swinging and sliding, and a lot of shocks--the plastic slides were positively electrified! After 20 minutes or so, I loaded Allyson back into the trailer with a minimum of whining (her, not me).

As we were pulling away, another family arrived, and the mom and dad smiled broadly. I imagined they were thinking, "What an adorable little girl, and what a cool bike trailer. I wish we had one!" I smiled warmly and called over my shoulder, "Hi!"

Less than a minute later, I huffed and grunted as I tried to pull the trailer up a steep incline. I stood up and put my muscles into it, but the bike almost seemed to be sliding backward! Near the crest of the hill, my thighs burning as I forced the pedals around one more revolution, I heard a strange thunk. I jumped off and braced myself against the handlebars; the weight of the trailer wrenched my back a bit, but I managed to stop the bike from sliding back.

I walked the bike up the rest of the way and then tried to figure out what had happened. I figured that the chain had fallen off, but it was still intact. The pedals would barely turn, and there was a rhythmic swish-clunk sound when I tried to ride away. It turned out that the back wheel was brushing against the bike frame. How could that be?

It probably took me a full minute to notice that the back wheel had actually come off! The chain assembly seemed to be keeping it loosely together, and the trailer hitch was dangling uselessly. My heart pounded as I realized that Allyson had narrowly missed careening backward down the hill!

I tried to force the wheel back into place, but that was hopeless. I fervently wished that Bill were with me, but he was at work. For a moment, I considered running to get the man in the park, whom I could still see, but I thought that would be weird. Plus, there was nothing he could do without tools. I finally decided to detach the trailer from the hitch and just pull it home. I would call Bill and have him pick up the bike on his way home from work. I was proud of myself for remaining calm.

I was halfway down the hill when a Frisbee-playing man gave me an odd look. That's when I realized I was still wearing my helmet. I must have looked so ridiculous walking with a helmet and pulling the trailer at a rakish angle. Poor Allyson was leaning back as if she were popping a wheelie. I took the helmet off and carried it in my free hand.

I was even more embarrassed when I walked past the family in the park. So much for my cool bike trailer now! The man looked at me quizzically when I gave them a sheepish grin. He looked like he was trying to decide whether to ask me what happened, but he didn't say anything.

We were about a mile from home, and the walk wasn't too bad. If I stooped just a little, Allyson was nearly upright in the trailer. I was really wishing I'd bought the more expensive model that converts to a jogging stroller, but of course, I'd gone the cheap route.

It was almost fun. I imagined I was a rickshaw driver pulling tourists. The only problem was that I kept getting distracted whenever the arm of the frame clubbed me in the back of the knees.

We made it home at last, and I drove my car to the store after all. A couple of hours later, Allyson excitedly told her Daddy the whole story over the phone: "We went to the park. And the store. The bike broke!"

Bill thought it was a cute story until I told him the details. "You did what?" he asked incredulously. "You just left the bike there? On the side of the road?"

"It was in a cul-de-sac," I clarified.

"That's an expensive bike! And it was a gift. You just left it there?"

"Yes," I admitted. "Please don't be mad. Are you mad?"

"You're the one who will be suffering when you have to pull the trailer with your crappy blue bike. No, wait a minute. You probably left the hitch on the bike, didn't you?"

"Yes," I repeated meekly. "Maybe it's still there."

"No it isn't," Bill lectured. "It's an expensive bike. Someone will have taken it."

"Maybe they can't tell it's expensive. It just looks like an old, broken bike," I said hopefully.

He advised me to go right away and, if by some miracle it was still there, to try to cram it in the trunk of my little Sentra. On the way there, Allyson picked up where Bill had left off with the lecturing. "Somebody took our bike, Mama. Our bike is gone. We can't get it back."

Well, it was our day for small miracles. The bike was right where I had left it. I wrestled the back half into the trunk while the front wheel hung out and put a few more scratches into the bumper. I drove under 20mph all the way home, much to the annoyance of my fellow drivers. The trunk popped up and down, but we made it home without incident.

So now, I just have a few more reasons to be thankful:
  • Neither of us got hurt.
  • I still got my exercise.
  • I still have my bike--and my trailer hitch.
Hopefully it won't take too long to get it fixed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Starring Ethan... As King Kong

I ran across a video clip the other day, and I just had to share it. It did my heart good to hear Baby Allyson's belly laughs. She was about 10 months old at the time, and Ethan was about to turn 10. Here is the video and an entry that I wrote in Allyson's journal that day...

Starring Ethan... As King Kong - Thursday 4/12/07
No one can make you laugh like Ethan can. He can make you laugh without even being funny; you just automatically think anything he does is hilarious.

Allyson at 9 months

Your favorite thing to laugh at is his King Kong impersonation. He really hams it up, and you laugh so hard you literally fall on your bum. Today you laughed so hard that you were seized by a fit of coughing, and still you kept laughing. That was good because it helped you cough up some of the junk in your lungs after a week of being sick with a cold.

I was sitting on Ethan's futon chair, and you were standing next to me, holding onto the metal leg of Ethan's bunk bed for balance. Ethan gave his bare chest a couple of preliminary blows to get your attention. Then he climbed the rungs of his bunk bed, hung onto the top rail with one hand, and leaned back as far as his arm would stretch. Meanwhile, he beat his chest vigorously with his other fist.

All three of us laughed until we couldn't breathe. You threw your head back and laughed hysterically, coughing and gasping for air. Then you fell on your bum with a thud.

I ran to get Daddy's new camcorder, and Ethan did a repeat performance. Again, you laughed yourself silly, but--as is always the case when I try to capture a moment on camera--it wasn't quite as good the second time. Plus, I didn't know how to flip the viewing screen over so I could point the camera at you, now sitting on my lap. So we could hear you laughing, but the clip didn't capture your rapturous grin. Instead, I focused on Ethan's crazy antics.

As far as videos go, it wasn't a great one, but we enjoyed playing it back for Daddy.

I wonder if you will always idolize Ethan the way you do now. I hope you will. And I hope he'll always be as proud and protective of you.

Two Years Later

There is still no one who can make Allyson laugh like Ethan does. She still thinks he hung the moon. But they squabble sometimes, which surprises me. I really thought their nine-year age difference would prevent them from arguing, but I guess sibling rivalry can occur at any age. Still, they're great buddies, and I love watching them together.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

So Much Better Than Last Christmas

When we think back on our last Christmas in Vancouver, all anyone remembers is the brutal stomach virus that worked its way through everyone in the entire household (other than Ethan, who worried himself sick nonetheless). We were all a bit nervous that this year could be a repeat of last year since nasty bugs have been circulating both down here and up there. But no one got sick, and it was one of the best vacations ever....

Winter Wonderland
There was over a foot of snow on the ground when we arrived, and it kept snowing throughout the week. It was Allyson's first time to play in the snow, and she wore herself out. She and her cousins made a snowman and a snow slide in the back yard, and they played until their cheeks were rosy red and their hands were icy.

So near the ocean, they usually don't get so much snow, and Bill's family was enjoying it as much as we were. Personally, I mostly avoided going outside because I can't bear being cold, but I felt so cozy sitting in the kitchen and drinking cocoa or hot tea while I watched the fluffy flakes drifting down. At one point, the snow seemed to be falling in tiny, loosely packed snowballs. It was mesmerizing.

Skiing at Manning Park

On Tuesday morning, we left Allyson with Nana and drove two hours up a winding, snow-covered road to Manning Park. When we arrived, Bill and his sister Lisa immediately hit the slopes for a couple hours of kid-free snowboarding. Meanwhile, her husband Cory worked with four-year-old Katie on the bunny slope. Ethan and Kurtis headed out for their first snowboarding lessons with a very cool-looking instructor who looked to be in his teens.

Even though this was my third time to ski, I opted for a lesson since it had been four years since I'd last skied. Bill and Lisa teased me because my only classmate was seven-year-old Travis; they warned me not to let him show me up TOO badly.

During the lesson, it was my chance to shine. I ruled the bunny slope! Our instructor, a kind, patient older gentleman, mainly focused on Travis--reminding him to look where he wanted to go, not at his skis. As I smoothly executed my turns, I marveled at how much easier this seemed than the last time. I followed the instructor's tips meticulously, and it all seemed to come together. I was so glad I'd decided to come along; I'd been hesitant because downhill skiing always fills me with a vague dread--the same way I feel when we encounter turbulence on a flight.

After a lunch of peanut butter sandwiches, which we ate standing outside our cars, we all took the chair lift up to the top. The view was breathtaking, but I couldn't really focus because I was so nervous about getting off the lift. I was immensely grateful that I didn't fall.

The first couple of slopes were really fun, but then we hit a long, steep section. I was no longer the star pupil. As my speed picked up, my turns were no longer smooth and even. I drug my poles and tried to rein in my panic as I careened erratically back and forth. I tried to remember all the tips I'd learned that morning, but mainly I just tried to stay alive and in one piece.

Meanwhile, Travis barreled blithely down the same slopes, and so did little Katie! Actually, in the steepest spots, Cory picked her up and carried her. I can't IMAGINE doing that! I suppose Katie and Travis fell more often than I did, but they were having fun. I had flashes of fun interspersed with moments of terror and occasional pangs of embarrassment.

Luckily, I had no idea at the time just how ridiculous I looked. Bill commented a couple of times on how I was leaning so far forward that my nose was nearly touching the ground. I hollered that it was easier to balance that way. Incredibly, Bill was videotaping me and Ethan while simultaneously snowboarding with a broken binding.

"I Think I'm Having Fun!"

When I watched the video a few days later, I was mortified by how silly I looked. I comforted myself with the possibility that no one had noticed me due to the distraction of Cory's late-80s ski jacket. At 6'4", he's hard to miss, and he wore a vivid blue jacket with a swatch of hot pink across the chest. He was impervious to teasing; he said it was an awesome jacket and still perfectly good. I had to admire his confidence--and his skiing skills.

Ethan and Kurtis were the stars of the day. I'd warned Ethan that he should expect to spend a lot of time on his behind, that most people don't get too far on the first day of snowboarding lessons. He proved me wrong, though. Both he and Kurtis were able to make it down the mountain with very few falls and only a little whining. Ethan said the instructor was very complimentary and even challenged him to add a "bunny hop" to his turns. I was so proud of both of them.

Ethan Boarding

Cards and Rock Band

We rang in the New Year at Lisa and Cory's house, along with one other family. The kids played video games and watched TV while the adults played the card game Sequence. It was girls against guys, best of 15, and it was a very close match. The girls won in the end, and I got to play the winning card.

After midnight, we played some Rock Band, which was really fun! Ethan made me proud on the drums--you can tell he plays percussion in the school band. Bill's performance on the guitar was none too shabby, either, and my vocals were rated "awesome" according to the game. I think it must be tone deaf, though, because I was singing "Roxanne" by Sting, and the melody is pretty awkward. The best part was when Ethan really hammed it up on the microphone. He belted out a couple of tunes as he danced around. A couple of times, he lunged down on one knee while he threw his head back, the microphone against his lips. He is such a character!

Baby James
Of course, the highlight of our visit was meeting our little nephew James, the first child of Bill's brother Trevor and his wife Sheryl. James was just three weeks old, and he was the sweetest little guy. Holding such a tiny baby gave me a twisty feeling in my heart as I tried not to entertain the idea of having another baby of my own. We're done, I know, but sometimes I just get that longing for a moment. I felt the same way when I saw Bill cradling him and gazing into his sleeping face.

Trevor is such a proud daddy, and Sheryl looked positively radiant (despite the dark circles under her eyes). Seeing their little family brought tears to my eyes.

Not For General Consumption!

Of course, I also have to mention the array of treats that Mom made for us. Everyone has a favorite--mine being a tossup between shortbread and chocolate crackle cookies--but I had to sample them all.

Lisa's favorite is reindeer noses, chocolate cookies with a cherry in the center. Mom had baked another batch and sent them over with us on New Year's Eve, along with some appetizers and sparkling apple cider for the kids. I innocently noted that Lisa had forgotten to set out the cookies, but she hissed, "They're not for general consumption."

I hesitated, but when her friend Leanne walked over, Lisa laughed and said she was just kidding. But then she said, "No, really. They're not for general consumption.... Just kidding."

I put them on the table with the appetizers, and by the end of the night there were only about three left. Lisa harassed me about those cookies for the rest of the trip, and I felt a little bad. I would have felt the same way about the chocolate crackle cookies.

The Best Part
All the fun in the snow and the eating was wonderful, but my favorite times were the quiet moments. I loved visiting in the living room, chatting in the car, and sipping tea together in the TV room. I loved hearing Allyson's giggles while Nana bathed her. I loved listening to Allyson and Grandpa singing "Sitting On My Grandpa's Knee" when he tucked her in. I loved eating oatmeal with Gram in the mornings.

I could go on and on. It really was an amazing visit. We're already looking forward to the next one.


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