Sunday, December 13, 2015

Counter Clutter

I have always been drawn to IKEA ads and Real Simple magazine shots. It isn't necessarily the modern appliances or style of the cabinetry that draws me in; rather, it's the clean counters. When I say clean counters, I mean a long surface area devoid of any hint of a toaster or pile of science worksheets. There are no rotten bananas in sight, lingering on as the resident baker is sure that he/she will get around to banana bread before the telltale flies show up. There isn't any wood putty, socks or a lone hairbrush sitting out. That clean straight line hints at a life that is being well managed, a good job that pays a cleaning lady to dust the empty counter, a life full of neat and orderly habits of organization.

I took a picture of my counter this morning. Normally, I find that when my counter gets cluttered that I begin to feel frustrated. But today as I sipped my way through the first cup of coffee, I looked at what was really there.

The photo of my kitchen counter can become a lot like a page from a book of "I Spy":

I spy a science worksheet, a battery, a colonial scene with pumpkins, a derby car,
Wood putty, a Lego creation and green marbles that roll far.

Sam's in sixth grade this year and I wonder how much longer I'll hear the waterfall sound of Legos being dumped and sorted on his floor. Once dumped, they need to stay out a few days so that the sorting and hunting isn't in vain. When I tucked him in last night and howled as my foot came down on a pile of Legos, he quickly assured me that he had cleared a path. It was a bit narrow, but yes, a path was there. There is an awareness in my parenting that time is moving more swiftly. How much longer will he let me tuck him in? How much longer will the path be made from cleared Legos?

Emily's art supplies and derby car add to the hodgepodge as well as her lunch bag. She is my sack lunch girl and I like packing her lunch in the mornings. I enjoy the sense of connection to her day when I do that -- even though the contents wouldn't earn a star from the health educators at Sarah Bush.

Brenna's yearbook and string only rest on the counter briefly and can't make the shot. They are too needed to lie on a surface for very long.

A friend said to me today, "We need to see and embrace the beauty around us." Things have felt rather dark lately and my spirit has felt heavy, but her words are true. My counter reminds me that there is beauty around me. In addition to the beauty that exists, we have the honor and challenge to create beauty to add to it all.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

It isn't mine

I used to avoid fostering friendships with other moms of kiddos with special needs. Support groups were depressing. I didn't really want to fixate on what she couldn't do or wouldn't have. I wanted to be a glass half-full kind of girl-- to only see the good, the giftedness and embrace it. Now that she is 14, I find myself treasuring the friendships that allow me to voice to hard stuff. Because quite frankly, the teen years are difficult for most everyone, but autism has ramped up the parenting game to a level I wasn't prepared for. Most recently, it was the onset of Homecoming in the Facebook world.

The window was cracked open, allowing me to hear the steady squeak of her swing as I sat down at the computer. My breath caught as I scrolled through photos of girls the same age as my own, dressed in sequined dresses, a handsome young man standing next to them, a corsage on the wrist. I took a deep breath and exhaled. "This isn't mine and that's okay."

These girls are not mine. The slumber parties, beginnings of crushes, late night texts and Homecoming dances are not in my world. And if I look at the pictures too many times, allow myself to wonder why, and begin to focus in on that small point of longing it will go somewhere ugly.

It is critical that I embrace what is mine. What is it? Continued excitement to visit the pumpkin patch, afternoons spent on a swing, belly laughs and witty comebacks-- these are all mine. If I don't value this, if I choose to look past it to the larger group of what appears to be normal, I am missing it all. I am missing who she truly is.

Lately there has been renewed interest in Rosemary Kennedy and the failed lobotomy. At the heart of it all, I think her father couldn't embrace what was truly his. Deep down, I believe that his longing was so intense, so acute that he couldn't ignore it, had to pursue it. Because what if a surgery could restore what he felt was rightfully his? His normal child? A normal life? An eventual empty nest?  In his quest to fix what he thought was broken, he missed who his daughter truly was.

It's too easy and casual to write his decision for Rosemary off as cruel and uneducated, though the adjectives are fitting. But I've tried to force my child into normal activities, especially in the early years, when I thought it might help her, gain her friendships, hone social skills, help us to branch out. I've driven my child to tears by hosting a birthday party she did not want, singing to her despite tears and then finally moving the party outside so that we could watch her eat Cheetos on the slide in the backyard. Nine months pregnant and burdened with guilt, of course throwing a big party seemed like the obvious good mom move. In truth? It was an attempt at lobotomy--- grasping for the appearance of normal for my sake and not her own. Another picture for a voyeuristic scrapbook with pictures and captions that I could control. The things in life that keep me from the doomed lobotomy-like parenting behaviors and choices are the quiet whispers of God's voice and the faithful friends he provides.

While Homecoming isn't mine this year, an appreciation for these deepening friendships has developed. To be understood and heard is to snuggle under a faithful quilt and pull it tight. The seams won't rip from the stress and the distinctive pattern isn't out of place or looked at with pity or confusion.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Real Deal

I tried something new a few weeks back and bought "Lite" apple juice. We don't usually keep much juice around the house, but this looked appealing and assuaged some of the sugar guilt since it had less sugar (and more water) than regular juice.

It has sat in the refrigerator for these few weeks with about 2 cups worth missing. My kids weren't fooled by the claims of "All Natural! Less sugar! Great taste!". It tastes watery. It takes one sip to see through the attempt at the advertising on the label.

Out of desperation last night for a drink of juice, Sam poured himself a glass. He had a wistful expression and said, "Mom, can we get grape juice next time? I want the kind that stains your shirt if you spill it." The juice currently in his cup could have been added to a load of laundry in my washer and you wouldn't have even suspected its presence.

There is an authenticity to the grape juice he mentions that is missing from our current fridge resident. I thought about this on my Full-Moon Thursday, when the wheels fell off of my emotional vehicle, when I unloaded on an unsuspecting mother-in-law and questioned my ability to parent and lamented every other life option that could have been chosen. It was truly a moment of deconstructing Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled By" and having some certainty that at the end of that poem-- he wasn't praising his choice of the less traveled path, but questioning the worth of the one he didn't take. It was a moment of grape juice stains on your shirt honesty.

Maybe it was the fact it was a full moon. Maybe it was because Brenna was sent home from school for the day and I had to adjust accordingly. Maybe it was finally realizing what everyone has meant when they say that parenting is the toughest job on the planet; they weren't just talking about sleep deprivation.

It felt good to just lay it open. Here it is! Here is where I'm at! And I don't want to be here in this moment, by the way.

We'll finish off the weak apple juice at some point, but the grape juice is here in the house. The warning is clear on the label "NOT A LOW CALORIE FOOD. 100 % juice: grape." It has added ingredients and 36 g sugar. It will stain my kids' shirts unless I immediately run the area under crazy hot water. But it's real. I'll take real.

There is a place for me, even when I feel confused, inadequate and out of my league. There is a purpose for me, even when I question my spiritual gifts or talents. I hold as much value as the mom who is holding it all together today and is knocking it out of the park. I will choose to be genuine about my struggles and at the same time cheer on the ones getting it right today. I will cry with the moms who also question "why" and promise not to fix it but listen.

How's that for a stained shirt? ;)

 1 Corinthians 12 vs 1-31

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A good afternoon

My sister called and asked if I had had a good afternoon with my family. The only honest response I could come up with was, "We tried. We really did try to have a good one." After a Saturday spent with our family running (some of us literally) in opposite directions, Sunday afternoon had been deemed 'family time'. We would come home from church, eat lunch and then proceed to Deming Park in Terre Haute followed by ice cream. This plan sounds so noble, so reasonable in writing.

Upon arrival, there was the reality that it was significantly warmer and sunnier in Terre Haute this afternoon than it was in fair Charleston. They loped through the park, Brenna sat in a swing; at one point we sat in the shade and I realized that I am just over summer. Over the past few months, I have taken my children swimming, visited parks, enjoyed bike rides and have played board games. I am now feeling old and I am tired of parenting. As I stood by the slide, mystified that my children weren't frolicking through the park, I realized I didn't really want to stand in the hot sun either. After 15 minutes of park time, we decided we had fulfilled the park quota and could move on to Baskin Robbins.

Baskin Robbins is much like a forbidden bowl of Fruity Pebbles-- it brings back all that was best in my childhood. The ice cream was fabulous. The ride home, however, quickly deteriorated. Because this afternoon was about quality time as a family with no screens, because it was about enjoying each other's company and watching the trees and hills roll by outside the van window, I had not allowed any screens on our outing. Full of bravado, a few hours earlier it was easy to take a firm stance, "We're going retro! You're going to enjoy an afternoon like I did in the early 80's. You'll look out the window for entertainment and talk to each other."

Personal space was encroached. Seatbelts did not remain in the proper position. Ear wax was waved on small fingers as a true threat. Strange smells came from the back seat. By the time we reached the Charleston city limits Greg had turned off the radio and asked that the children stop speaking. We finished the ride in zen-like silence. I began to remember what long rides in the Buick had been like when I was small and realized that by the time I was the same age as my kiddos, my brother and sister had moved out. That's why I had nostalgia over a quiet backseat with cornfield rows passing by my window.

Within 15 minutes of arriving home, we sent the children outside to play and Greg and I dozed off on the couch. After that nap I felt like a new woman and parented the remaining evening hours like a champ. Granted, two of them were gone to youth group for a few hours, but I digress.

I saw a reminder on social media today that my remaining Saturdays with my crew are limited. I realize that they are. I just find that when I stop trying so hard, we enjoy the weekends so much more. There can be an internal pressure to schedule fun for them, make every moment count, squeeze each last great experience we can out of the days we have. I think I squeezed too hard today and wound up forcing an outing on my children that none of us were truly up for. Note to self, only local parks for the remainder of fall.

Monday, August 10, 2015

More Than Coincidence

I love hummingbirds. For the majority of our summer, we have faithfully kept fresh sugar water in the plastic feeder and watched from the kitchen window as frequent customers make trip after greedy trip. But then, three weeks ago I dropped the feeder while trying to reattach it to the hook. The plastic end broke off, making it impossible to hang (unless I used duct tape-- which I refused to do).

This was disappointing, but I reasoned that since flowers are low to the ground, hummingbirds could access the feeder close to the ground also and promptly placed it on the fire pit. Nope. No dice. The ants thoroughly enjoyed it, but not a hummer in sight.

Fast forward through 3 brand new pairs of school shoes, new school outfits, school supplies, registration fees and all that comes along with the end of summer. Each trip to the store, I debated buying another feeder, but decided against it. There were so many other things needing taken care of-- it could wait a few more weeks.

Because of the three new pairs of shoes, new "first day of school"outfits, the entire list of school supplies (yes-- one of my children donated their supplies: scissors, art box, the whole shebang, on the last day for needy children overseas) and registration fees, the checking account was tapped out. With a week left before school would start again, we had last minute summer fun to squeeze in and "Minions" to see. The solution for extra cash flow? A rummage sale, of course! The items to potentially sell were plentiful: from a Roto Rooter to Uno Attack--- we were well stocked and ready to sell the treasures cluttering up the house and garage.

Friday evening (night one of the two day household liquidation extravaganza), a gentleman who used to attend church with us approached us and asked to buy Greg's power tools. As he walked to his car, he turned and asked, "Do you guys ever feed the hummingbirds?" Greg replied that we did. The gentleman dug around in the backseat and pulled out a brand new feeder. "Could you use this?" It was a heavy glass feeder with a plastic moat at the top to discourage ants and a small ring to allow the hummingbirds to perch as they ate. It was perfect. Greg, unaware that our feeder was broken, accepted the feeder, planning to hang it in another part of the yard.

When Greg walked into the house with the feeder, I was speechless. What are the odds of someone we haven't seen in almost a year coming to our home and then offering us a hummingbird feeder just weeks after ours had broken?

I've heard this kind of thing referred to as a "God-wink". It felt like far more than a wink: it was a big bear hug that lasted several seconds and squeezed any lingering anxiety right out of me.

Matthew 6:25-26 "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on . Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?"

This went beyond me and my desire to watch hummingbirds linger at my kitchen window. This was truly Him feeding those tiny birds.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Several weeks ago I deactivated my Facebook account. It isn't as though it spiraled into nothingness and can't ever return--- it can be reactivated at any time. However, I needed to step back, take a break, unplug.

I had begun to notice that whenever I finished up with a block of time on Facebook, I felt worse afterward than I did before logging on. Then there was the comment a family member had made several months prior, "I don't need to call as often because I can go to your Facebook and see pictures of the kids." Nice.

The question I have faced lately is whether or not it's healthy for me to use it. Some people have the ability to log onto Facebook once a day, or even once a week, and feel content. I would find myself logging on multiple times throughout the day, sometimes even throughout the hour, and feeling anything but contentment.

And then there is the issue of nosiness. I am a nosey person. I just am and probably always will be. The time that I spent scrolling through status updates fed the nosey monster inside. "When did they go on vacation? Wait a minute-- are they still together or separated? How many sports are their kids involved in?" It was ridiculous.

Then there were the vague, yet unhappy comments that Facebook friends would post "just sayin'" and then letting me know "rant over". It contributed to a feeling of yuck in my gut that wouldn't go away.

Approaching the one month mark of being Facebook free, I find that I miss feeling in the loop on things. I miss getting invites over Facebook-- seeing pictures of new babies, finding out what is going on in other people's lives. And yet, there are things that I don't miss too.

I'm not sure yet whether it will be a brief vacation from Facebook or a permanent departure, but at the moment, I am content to be clueless and out of the loop.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Little Things

Typically, either my husband or I pack lunches for my children before they head out the door for school. The lack of nutrition in their 31 bags is rather shocking at times-- other times we do a pretty decent job. By the end of the year, I have essentially given up on worrying what goes into their lunch.

Each day, a note is hastily written on a napkin and tucked inside. One child hides all evidence of this embarrassing tradition. I have even found it partially shredded and hidden inside of the reusable sandwich container. This morning when Greg went to throw yesterday's napkin away, my other sack lunch child stopped him. "No, I keep those. See? Here are the ones from last year in the other lunchbox. It has a special place to save them." Inside the old lunch bag were neatly folded napkins. It made my heart hurt a little.

Sometimes I don't know what to write on the napkin. Sometimes I feel removed from what their days truly look like at school--- it can be a bit of a mystery since I don't work in that building. Other times, I can write something more specific on the napkin. But whether it was a mundane, "Have a great day" or something of greater meaning, it matters to this child.

When I get busy, I can be lulled into thinking small gestures don't matter. But they do. The napkin for my "saver" child is a touchpoint to home, a reminder she is thought of and valued. To see a small pile of saved napkins is the quiet whisper to my mama's heart, "She needs these little things--they are important to her." So, I will keep writing and drawing pictures on the napkins. The napkin is what holds me back from asking them to regularly pack their own lunches. There are just a few short years left with them to do these little things while they are in my home.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Forgetting and remembering

Sometimes the day to day feels  unexciting, unimportant and predictable, which somehow translates to me feeling unexciting, unimportant and blah. As I unloaded the dishwasher this morning I found myself praying the prayer that gets offered up about every 4 months or so, "God, is this it? Is there something else I should be doing? A goal I should be setting? "

It doesn't help that today comes shortly after a failure in my personal life. That failure finds me questioning what I stand for, who I am, what God's specific plan is for me and if I'm living it out effectively. Am I saying yes to commitments for the right reasons? All of this has appeared on the ticker in my brain, slowly repeating the same questions over the course of time.

I spent some time in 1 Corinthians 12 this morning, rightly titled "The Use of Spiritual Gifts".
12:4-7, 18 "Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired."

Sometimes I try to hard to contrive my giftedness. I need to remember the varieties of gifts-- that mine looks very different from a friend's, but that it is working for the common good. I tend to question the importance of my gift, looking for validation, assurance, praise, worth. (vs 14- 24 addresses that whole can of mess).

And then when I dig around with the whole validation issue, it leads me to the question, "What do I mean to God?" When I have failed, when I feel ordinary, when I stumble in my parenting and yet consider it my main goal and task at hand-- where is my value then?

My value lies in Him. It doesn't leave because I have become distracted from remembering that point. Distracted by obligations, cliques, deadlines, late PTA forms, dirty laundry and a messy kitchen counter. Distracted by focusing on images of perfection, wishfulness in the form of Facebook posts, lack of a creative teacher appreciation gift and weight gain.

Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, ...

Oh, how easily I forget. And how slow I am to remember-- but how faithful He is to remind me. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now

I have had that particular song by Clash going through my head over the past several weeks. I put off my urge to plant flowers that I wouldn't be here to enjoy,  began to paint ceilings and called in a realtor to walk through our home. Greg and I listed pros and cons for a potential move, prayed about it, listened to the crickets chirp instead of a firm, confident answer booming from the heavens or a steady peace about one way or another, and went on listing pros and cons. The hard part about listing the pros and cons, was realizing some cons were permanent and some were temporary and to decide how much weight each one carried.

1. Less driving time
2. More family time
3. Great school
4. A coffeehouse in an old church building called "The Steeple" where I can see myself sitting on a weekly basis.
5. A Dairy Queen on the square of town, where you can hear chimes from a nearby church.
6. Perhaps getting a larger house and separating the girls into their own bedrooms.

1. Leaving our church family
--- Monticello is not a place devoid of churches. Eventually one might let us continually attend, even when Brenna interrupts the scripture reader during service to share her connection.

2. Leaving our friends
--- Monticello is not a wasteland without other people to meet and get to know. As difficult as it is to leave friends behind, we would stay in touch. Eventually local people may talk to us and even come over for dinner. Maybe.

3. Packing/moving/selling/buying a home and having more time added on to our mortgage
--- Eventually we would pay it off

4. Joy leaves behind her jobs.
---Maybe the funeral home in Monticello would hire me. Maybe I could continue to sub in a different district--- or maybe I will sit and eat Dove chocolates.

4. Leaving Armstrong Program
And here came the deal breaker. While Greg was in Montana, I attended Brenna's IEP meeting. At age 14 for students, new questions are posed to parents: "Where will Brenna live after she finishes school? What kind of a job do you want her to have? What kinds of skills would you like her to have as an adult?" And the weighty reality clicked into place at the boardroom table: we weren't just deciding on a new school-- we were deciding on the rest of her life.

We know what services we have (at least for now, until cuts are final from Springfield) for a day program as an adult, for equestrian therapy, movement therapy, Camp New Hope for summer daycamp, etc. We know what friend we can call if we need someone to watch Brenna for a brief period of time.

Monticello is in Piatt County, which means we would not access her services as an adult through Champaign (and Champaign County) but through Decatur.

Maybe it was because Greg was gone for 8 days out of state. Maybe it was because I was tired of painting the ceiling and I hadn't even been painting very long. Maybe it was because the two houses I was excited to see sold the day before I went to look at them at a scheduled walk through with a realtor. Maybe it was because I was tired of trying to think 3 steps ahead. For all of these reasons and more, when he and I spoke on the phone, I told him I just didn't think we should do it. It was his call-- but this was my 2 cents to take or leave.

We're staying.

Part of me is happy to be staying and part of me has mixed emotions. I hate that he has such a long drive.  If it was just a decision based on Greg, Sam and Emily--- I know without a doubt our home would be on the market and we would be moving forward with relocating. But the thing is, decisions sometimes hinge on one person. I always said Brenna would be a part of our family unit and that decisions would be made that were best for all. Sometimes it just isn't that easy. I see the gains that she has made this school year, the pride she takes in her projects and accomplishments, the way she now insists, "I want to do it by myself" and the confidence she is exuding. I don't want to take that from her.

The ceilings are painted about 1/4 of the way through the house. The sections that are painted look great. The rest look like a heavy smoker spends time in that part of the home. I'm not sure if I have it in me to finish--- the way I see it, I don't tend to walk around looking up. And it's so nice outside. So instead, I'm opting to plant some flowers and enjoy the view from my backyard.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Under Control

I realized that I have hit a snag in my parenting lately, resorting too quickly to using a harsh tone, snipping at the kids, not making efforts to plan fun things for them like I used to. I didn't come to this realization until my husband left town for 8 days, leaving us on our own.

Spending time in 2 Corinthians, I came across this verse: "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;" (2 Cor. 5:14). I stopped at the first phrase: "For the love of Christ controls us".

Lately, I have been controlled more by my schedule and the push to work more hours, keep up, shuttle kids to soccer, put together a worship set, etc., etc., etc. Having Greg gone several times this month, the last trip being more lengthy, forced me to pause. As I slowed down my pace, I began to notice people around me.

When the love of Christ controls us, we become noticers instead of doers. It isn't that we stop working or serving, but rather a radar goes up. My radar had been on the fritz for some time. Noticing had ceased. If my neighbor watered her flowers and I was in the backyard, it was a quick wave and dash back into the house, not a conscious choice to linger, ask about her day and truly care about hearing her response. I had also stopped noticing details with my children-- and that one was the most frightening to me.

When I ignore small gestures and details, I miss their silent invitations into their world. "Tell me about your picture! Who did you play with at recess today? What do you like best about playing soccer?"

If love is controlling my choices, my behavior, the pattern of my thoughts, the result is going to be less selfish, less rushed, less snippy, more in tune with the fruit of the spirit. If I am pushing for family devotion time right before bed, rushing them around and then barking at them to be quiet and listen, chances are, they aren't going to have a good feeling linking mom to hearing God's Word. It defeats the purpose. I know that His Word doesn't return void, but man, there can be some real baggage to carry through life when you've heard it from an impatient person lacking compassion because of sheer exhaustion-- making you feel like you're one of the reasons she's tired and worn out.

This week I listened more to my kids and talked less, did more with my kids and worried less, spent less money and invested a little more time with them. The result? I had the most peaceful week with the least amount of fighting among my children than I have experienced in a long time. I feel as though I have been hypocritical in my parenting, hoping that throwing some Bible verses at them before bed will sink in, without following up by leading in a patient, loving example.

Greg arrives back at home tonight and the routine will change yet again. I want to hang onto the week and a half the kids and I have had and keep my tone patient and keep myself quieter as I listen and ponder what they have to say. So if you ask me for a favor this week and the answer has to be "no", just try to understand I'm going to attempt to continue the balance and focus more on who lives on Douglas Street.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In honor of autism awareness

That Saturday morning in October had been wonderful. I went rummaging with a friend and spent hours just laughing, bumming around town, and being responsible for no one. It felt like high school again. We planned to go to the pumpkin patch at 10 with friends, so I needed to grab groceries after my morning of sailing carefree around town. Greg was getting out of the shower when I told him I needed to leave for the store. I could have waited, but I didn't want to. So often I feel the needs of my family are thrust upon me when I am least capable, or ready to assume the responsibility. “Now?” He asked.
            "Yes, now," I thought with a huffy sigh. I knew it wasn't fair, but I wanted to go now. I didn't want to run late on meeting our friends and knew the trip would just take a few minutes.
            I ran to the store, just two blocks away, and frantically grabbed the chips and pop in order to make it home in time for our outing. Turning onto our street fifteen minutes later, I saw the figures of a man and child walking hand in hand. My heart stopped when I neared. I pulled the van over and stopped next to them. Greg looked at me. There wasn't accusation or anger, but just exhaustion. "Is everything ok?" I asked. He covered his face with his hand and began to sob. I didn't ask any more questions; I knew what had happened. When a spouse faces something so incredibly horrific in the absence of the other, it becomes unfair to even ask questions or probe for details. So I didn't.
            Moments after I had left the house, Brenna had taken advantage of the moment while Greg was in the bathroom and had promptly opened the front door, walked outside alone and left Sam and Emily in the doorway, sucking their thumbs and watching her wander away. In the few minutes I was gone, Greg had paged me at the grocery store while I loaded groceries in the parking lot in oblivion, called the police and had taken off running down our street, calling Brenna’s name. He and I both knew she wouldn’t answer to her name, in fact may run from her name being called, but the instinct in every parent is to search loudly and frantically. Several minutes later, he had found her several houses down the street, in the backyard, looking at a neighbor’s dog.
            Statistics show that 80% of marriages between couples with a special needs child end in divorce. I believe it is true. There is something so raw and draining at times like this that it appears laughable that this relationship is meant to anchor the entire family. How do you become stable enough for anyone to hold onto when this sort of terror is never more than a moment of distraction away? It's no one's fault when Brenna runs from the house, simply caught up in a mission of finding a puppy in someone's backyard. And that is perhaps the sting. There is no one to blame. This is simply life and Brenna doesn't know any better.
            Brenna is unmoved by her Daddy's choked voice and tears that he quickly wipes away with a closed fist. Has she noticed him crying? Does she even care? I don't know. It's hard to say.
            At a conference in Bloomington a few years back, a mother commented that she didn't understand why people were devastated when finding out their child had autism. She was thrilled with her son, exactly as he was. I found that that statement completely psychotic. Who wishes for a life like this? For a child who is so prone to danger and unaware of consequences? I don't wish for a different personality for Brenna, but at these moments, I would give anything for her not to have a disability. I no longer care about the semantics of language and "special needs" or putting the child before the named challenge. This is a moment of my life that is hard, and some unnamed force is responsible for it. Proper language becomes ridiculous at a moment like that.  I want to scream, "Forget the details of the label! Just help her! Help me."
            She's sleeping peacefully in her bed tonight, unaware that her 15 minutes of roaming the neighborhood unhindered by parental supervision changed my life forever. There is a weight on my shoulders and a responsibility that won't be easily lifted. There will forever be a constant scanning and awareness—a counting of heads and urgency to continually do so. I suspect Greg may feel the same, though neither of us wants to voice it. I don't know what the answer is to this question that is so hazy. Psalms tells me to "cease striving" and I wish I knew how. When I try to do that though, my daughter gets lost and it feels like my family will fall apart.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Change is hard

For several years, I wished for a cherry tree: not just any cherry tree, but a sour Montmorency cherry tree that produces the most divine pie cherries you could ever hope to taste.
My Grandma Ellis had a mature cherry tree at the house in town. It almost gave my mother a stroke to find her 90 year old mother on a ladder, leaning forward, eyes shielded from sun by a type of baseball cap with a yarn ball on the top, picking the ones up high because “You kids missed the good ones on the top and the birds were just going to get them unless I picked them.” When her house was auctioned off after her death, I could still picture her perched at the top of the ladder in a thin cotton housedress, or maybe culottes, ankle socks rolled halfway down and sturdy brown low heeled, lace up shoes on her feet. 

Last summer, Greg surprised me with a cherry tree from Prairie Garden. We aren’t typically Prairie Garden people, more like Wal-Mart or Rural King shrubs, trees and discount flower types. But this tree was special—it even came with a 1 year warrantee. In other words, if we would faithfully water it, pie cherries were just a few short years away. I named her Cherise and watered her every day for the duration of the summer. 

Several weeks ago, Greg called me after his annual review and said that we had been asked to consider relocating for his work. All I could do was grip my coffee mug and stare out the window at that tree. It’s small and hopeful, with the base of the trunk wrapped and branches bare, reaching just a few feet out in any direction. There won’t be a sign of a cherry on it for at least two more summers. And yet, we planted that with the full intention to pick cherries and bake pies that our children and grandchildren would eat. I want to be flexible, have an open mind about living somewhere new and hope that Brenna’s school will be just as wonderful, but I want to keep this life with the cherry tree.

Living in one area for 16 years tends to grow thick roots. Because they lie hidden underground, one can too easily take them for granted, forgetting that the long ties are there, binding the soil to keep it from blowing away in a hot summer wind and spanning great distances to find water. And yet, I find myself peering down below  and surprised as to where they have formed. A few roots that have tangled my feet the past few weeks: we finally go places in public without stares. Most people know Brenna, or our family and find our more eccentric behavior unexciting. Miss Mindy keeps our children in exchange for leftovers once a month so that we can go on a real, honest to God date. Who will babysit in exchange for Cashew Chicken in Monticello? I know the kids that I work with at the school, and anticipate that my favorite will call me “Mr. Kaurin” and tell me when I’m “in the house”. What if I don’t have a Q dog favorite at a new school? When Goldie lost power steering in the parking lot at County Market, someone knew me and within moments had asked what help I needed. What happens now? Who will give Emily piano lessons? Who will Sam build snow forts with? Who will know how far Brenna has come and recognize her progress and not just see her challenges? Why did I ever start marking down our kids’ height on the little wall with the phone? How do I take that with me? Who will I wave to when I drive the kids to school? Who will I “walk and talk” with? Don’t even get me started on trying to find a new church. 

I’m not as shiny and sparkly as I used to be. Friendships take longer to form—I’m more cautious to open up and share my heart. I love the idea of Greg not being on the road for so many hours each day and gaining time as a family, but selfishly, part of me doesn’t want to go.

When I came to Charleston in my early 20’s, there was a sense of excitement at coming to a new place with the belief that a new group of friends was just waiting to be made. Now it feels harder to leave than it ever felt leaving a place before.
I can smell the tangy damp scented earth, feel the heavy grit of it and hear the ripping of the roots as we make a list of home improvements and begin to look at houses. And still, I stare out the window at that cherry tree with the tiny buds on the ends of its branches.