Monday, June 30, 2008


Yesterday was a beautiful day. Well, not really, but we had a very nice day together as a family. The weather could not interfere with our plans was overcast, occasionally thunderous, and rather on the cool side, but since we were at Mass and then in a church basement devouring barbecued chicken and 43 kinds of dessert, we couldn't have cared less what the weather was doing!

We traveled down to Fr. E.'s new parish for the parish picnic. There were several other families there that we knew, bring the total of visiting children up to 28! After we ate, several of us wives just stayed at our table, sharing desserts with one another and gabbing to a fare-thee-well, for Pete's sake, while the husbands followed the children and played bingo. One husband commented that we were clearly having too much fun, and that we were going to have to lay off the desserts......which did not happen.

The better part of the county was without power, including the little white church in which we celebrated Mass. The morning light came in through the stained glass (and a few plain glass) windows, and the gentle glow of the candles made me feel as though we had somehow stepped back in time when we walked through the doors. It's such a pretty little church--not a lot of pomp, just the lovely statues and truly beautiful Stations of the Cross, with bronze plaques beneath each one, telling the devotee what's happening at that point. The colors are muted, the bronze darkened with age.

Both of this baby's Godparents were there, as our friend Teresa was there with her family, and Fr. E. is the baby's Godfather. It is consoling, somehow, to know that these two dear people are loving and praying for our baby!


One of my demons is depression. It's always been there, sometimes burrowed so deep that I forget it's even there, but sometimes lurking just under the surface. That's what it's doing now. I know better now how to cope with it, but sometimes it's persistent enough that it's not easily shaken.

I'm not sure what exactly has been the demon's summoner this time--I suspect a multitude of things, and I suppose it's just all building up. I know that every mom experiences feelings of inadequacy, which at this point, seems a bit ridiculous, but that's definitely part of it...Saturday, especially, was an unpleasant day around here. There was lots of quarreling, lots of sassing, the pouting was of epic proportion, and of course, this all converged over my head with the demon subtly whispering, "You're just not doing a good enough job...else they wouldn't be behaving so badly. You're not praying well enough, you're not disciplining effectively, you're not consistent enough, you're too hard on them, you're not hard enough on them..." On and on it seemed to go.

My heart still misses Gabriel, and this time of year I seem to mourn my dad all over again. I miss him so much sometimes that it catches my breath and holds it back from me--never for very long, but long enough. I wonder how he would have been with the Pickle (who was a mere 2 years when Pop died) and the Reepicheep (who was only 8 months). I wonder how he would have liked this home...we moved here only a few months after he died. I wonder how he would have loved the Monkey and this new baby. That's the hardest--at least I remember how he was with the older three for the short time he knew them, but to have babies that he will never have seen and will never see is so bittersweet. My small consolation is knowing that he sees my two little Saints, and that we will see him--and them--one day.

Having dealt with this particular demon for most of my life, I guess I'm a fair hand at pushing it back in the corner when I need to, but only for short periods. To really deal with it, to really win the battle, only prayer helps. Time with Mama Mary, time with Jesus in the Eucharist, time at Mass, these are the things that work this demon out of my heart.

It's good to have friends with whom I can just fall into God's arms in prayer. There are a few who are so gifted with just the right heart, who can really search another's heart and know what truth lies there. God has fortified this time for me, I know, by placing these prayer warrior friends in my life like guardians, allowing me to rest in His strength through their prayers, and bringing me even closer to Him.

The stunning thing is that sometimes I'm not even aware of them--He uses so many people in such subtle ways that I am in awe of these mysteries. I met up with a dear lady from my choir yesterday, and her words to me were an absolute boon. She had no idea, I know, that her words of encouragement and appreciation lifted my spirits for a good long while after our short visit together. A guardian! And to be able to just sit with other women and connect our hearts cemented the knowledge that I Am Blessed, that through this thing, I can truly give thanks.

I ask that you keep all women who struggle with the depression demon on your hearts in prayer, especially those who look to other ways of coping. So many women succumb to depression, post-partum and otherwise, in ways that are destructive to themselves and their families because they just don't know any other way. Please pray for them and for their families, that God would touch their hearts in an unmistakable way and lead them from the darkness and into His light.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Wash is on the Line

There was something quintessentially "summer" about our back yard last evening. We had eaten our supper at the table in the sun room, as has become our habit, and My Darling had begun to work on the house when we had finished our meal. The children were in the yard, chattering, laughing, swatting at bugs and happily digging in the sand--carving out a road here, planting twig trees there. Their bare spindly legs were speckled by the evidence of the resident mosquitoes, the skin of their feet and hands covered with the dust of the day. Crickets were chirping, flies and bumblebees were buzzing around, and as I sat in the sun room and read my book, the evening sun was warming the plywood beneath my bare feet. It was hot and muggy, so we had plugged a fan in to move the air in the unfinished room, and it was just exactly right for a bit of a lazy summer evening. The only thing that could have made it any better would have been a big glass of sweet tea with lemon. My water with lemon was lovely, though. Soon I, too, found myself absently swatting at the flies which occasionally landed on my knee or foot.

And in the background, flapping brightly and gently in the occasional breeze, the wash was hanging on the line.

I am not in a hurry to get wash from the line. Even when it's raining, unless it's something that I need or that is prone to sun-fading, I allow things to stay on the line until we need that place on the line. Let it soak up the smell of the rain, the subtle scent of the nearby flowers, the slight aromas of a summer day.

A bed made with sheets which have been hung on the line is almost guaranteed to give you a better night's sleep. Clean little bodies, freshly scrubbed in the bath, seem to fairly glow when rubbed dry with a towel that was dried on the line. And for some reason, the laundry even seems to get put away a little faster when it's been brought in from hanging outside in the sunshine. If ever I discover just why that is, I'll be sure to make an emergency post for all the world to see!

I received a call the other day from the dear young friend who had loaned me her maternity clothing. She had bad news and good news. The bad news was that she needs her clothes back--so of course the good news is that she is due about 9 weeks after we are. Luckily, I haven't really settled into anything that I can't part with--some of the things in her collection were items I had loaned to her, and apart from those, there are only one or two pairs of pants that I've been wearing with any regularity. (I've been spending a lot of time in yoga pants and pajama bottoms.)

I'm also just not worried about it, regardless of the need to know that everything is supplied, because another friend gave me her entire collection. I picked it up the other day, and found that I had to wash it right away.

It is not a myth that pregnant women have a heightened sense of smell--the wrong odor can turn my stomach with absolutely no notice. Laundry detergent is one of the worst offenders. I can't even walk down the aisle at the store--the fragrances that are added to cover the smell of chemicals in those boxes and bottles make my head swim, and call the Nausea Bug with a bullhorn. For this reason (and many others) we use only Shaklee laundry products. There is a very light scent to the gigantic box that we purchase, but it is so faint that most people can't even smell it on fabric.

This sensitivity to smells can be a real problem when borrowing maternity wear from someone, especially if they use detergent, liquid softener, and a sheet in the dryer.

It becomes less of a problem if you hang the wash on the line. It stayed out--I kid you not--for two entire days. Overnight, even. But that smell is all but gone, and I am happy. It didn't rain while that particular load was hanging out, but the shirts and pants still smell like's very refreshing.

I remember when I was a kid that the neighbors had a wringer washer. In the summer months, it was often outside under the grape arbor, where Mrs. S. would hum or sing hymns as she patiently fed the clothing of six children and a hard working husband through the metal rollers. Each item was dropped gently into the basket beside her, and when it was full, she would carry it to the line. I don't believe there was ever a day without wash on that line.

We loved linen day--when the sheets and towels from the week were washed and hung out. We would lose ourselves between the long rows of sheets, calling out to one another and watching beneath the patterned fabrics for the mulberry stained feet that would give us away. We raced from one end to the other, feeling the cool damp air moving across our hot sweaty faces, being careful not to mar the clean sheets with our grubby hands.

The sweetness of youth, I think, can be made just a little sweeter with the passing of time and the blurring of pleasant memories...but there is still something that draws me to walk between the rows of freshly damp sheets and towels hanging on the clothes line. I love to see my own children darting in and out of the legs of jeans and letting the socks brush along the tops of their heads, playing innocently among the wash. It's one of those ordinary things that is somehow extraordinary just on its own merits.

I suppose I should go hang the next load of wash on the line.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Just a Little Dust...

.....Please pardon me as I make by home on the Web a little more like home, for Pete's sake. Some of these are changes I have wanted to make for a long time.

For the record:

~The man with arms outstretched is My Darling.

~The Baby snuggled up to the Mama is my Monkey and me.

~The Mama with child is me, with my belly full of Monkeyness.

~The sunset is local, taken overlooking a beautiful field, on the very day that my Monkey turned 4 months old.

~The gorgeous "Land of Counterpane" is also local, taken at an overlook point from which one can see for more than 20 miles. Unbelievable. Especially considering my mortal fear of heights.

~I may or may not publish identifiable pictures of my other babies in the near future...I'm still discerning.

Let me know what you think of my new surroundings. I hope you will be as happy and comfortable as I am.

On Being Married to a Wonderful Man

He is up early, taking the dogs for their morning walk. He leaves the bedroom quietly, allowing me to get the rest our baby needs to grow.

Oftentimes, he gets half a day's work in before he comes back upstairs.

Each day, he awakens me with a kiss, and the words, "I'll get your coffee ready, Sweetheart."

Sometimes, if needed, he'll toss my robe or a T-shirt to within grabbing distance. He goes downstairs and indeed, readies my coffee...with chocolate mixed in, and plenty of cream. Real cream.

I shuffle slowly down the stairs, and always into the bathroom first. I splash water onto my face to wake me up a bit more, so that I can present a happy smile to My Darling as we begin our day together.

Lately, we've been sitting in the sun room, where we've brought the patio table. (With all the rain we've been blessed by, there are now swarms of mosquitoes that are clearly in competition with those from tropical regions residing in our wildflower beds.) Before the sun room was available, we sat at the kitchen table or on the couch. In the winter, he lays a fire in the fireplace.

We share the newspaper in relative silence, once in a while sharing an article, asking for a crossword clue, or just remarking on the squirrels and birds which entertain us of late.

Sometimes, a small voice calls softly down the stairs or through the window into the living room, "I'm awake!" (He's generally a cheerful Monkey in the morning, thanks be to God.) He pads quietly out to where we two commune and climbs into a warm lap--mine if I'm in my robe or have grabbed a blanket, and then he wants to "nuggle in."

On Sundays, he makes pancakes and sausage for breakfast, and we eat together as a family before departing for Mass.

Before he leaves for work, My Darling prays with me. The Morning Offering, a Prayer Before the Day's Work, and a general morning prayer. The Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. If he's there, the Monkey prays with us. He mutters along with the prayers he knows (though if asked, he'll say them alone--and even get most of the words right!), and makes the beginnings of the Sign of the Cross on his little chest.

He tells our children to behave for Mom, and tells the Pickle to protect his mama and sisters.

He is rarely unavailable during the day. He takes moments here and there to connect with me, or to speak with one of the kids--just to talk for a minute or to instruct...sometimes to reprimand or discipline.

When he comes home, he comes in with a smile and a kiss. The children crowd around, awaiting their turn to greet their Daddy. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy's home!" is the excited cry of the Monkey. He jumps on his little feeties, running into his Daddy's arms from whatever held his attention in the moments before the door closed.

We prepare supper, often together, sometimes taking turns. We always eat at the table as a family, praying the Angelus as a family, with Daddy leading his children and wife. We go around the table and give each family member a chance to talk about their favorite (and sometimes least-favorite) part of the day.

He works before and after supper, doing what he can to make progress on our home. Sometimes it's roofing, insulating, wiring, refining--whatever needs to happen to move us closer to completion, and whatever he has materials to accomplish, that's what he works on each day. He often brings new materials home with him, having stopped at the home improvement store on his way home from work.

When he comes in for the evening, we say goodnight to and pray with our children. Tucking in is shared. We come downstairs and often engage in cribbage or Scrabble, sometimes with a ball game on in the background. We talk about the day, the morrow, the weekend, family business, how things are in his work. We pray together, often speaking of how we were blessed that day, and wondering about how the children are growing and changing, and what this new life will bring to our family.

I joke regularly that My Darling is one of those who needs to take a nap before we go to bed. He can usually be found sitting on the couch staring at the backs of his eyelids...until I jiggle him awake to go to bed.

Sometimes we talk just after we've gone to bed, but usually he's just asleep....and I let him sleep and get the rest he needs to refresh himself, in order that he may continue to provide so ably for our family.

He is an inspiration, he is a rock, he is my protector and provider. He is the love of my life, my soul mate, the lover of my soul and body. He is a kind, loving and available Daddy for our children. He is our spiritual leader, he is justly firm with his children, he is a fair minded disciplinarian. He is a hard worker with nary a complaint. He is a prayer warrior. He is attentive to our Lord, making time for adoration, Mass, frequent confession, and good fellowship with other strong Catholic Christian men. He carefully minds the needs for his own spiritual development.

He is the blessing that I could never deserve. And I am daily inspired to be a better wife, a better mother, a better woman, that I may better serve and love him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Absolute Joy...

Friday evening turned out to be pretty amazing--on the heels of such a wonderful day that we had as a family on Thursday.

We shared a meal with our friends Jeff and Teresa on Friday night. It's awesome to visit with their family, to watch the kids play, to talk about everything and nothing, and just to have time with our friends. Even my Monkey talks about it--he loves to go play with their youngest, who is nearly the very same age as my Monkey. Watching the two of them play in their Twoness is often comical.

Well, as it turns out, it was my sweet friend Teresa whom God placed in my heart, with the command, "This dear lady is the one I have chosen as Godmother for your baby." And then, of course, as I said in my last post, He cemented my knowledge by reminding me of the words of His Mother, "Do whatever He tells you."

Asking Teresa if she would consent to be our child's Godmother was absolutely joyful--it was so right in our hearts the moment we knew, and she very graciously accepted. Of course, there were tears on both sides. How blessed we are to be surrounded by so many faithful, beautiful women that we needed to allow God to choose for us, and what an awesome thing to be so clear on what He wanted!


We will get to go see Chris next week!

It seems like an "all of a sudden" thing, but I find myself resting my hand on the comfortable swell of my babyish belly. I find that when I climb into bed or go to be adjusted, I can no longer comfortably lie on my stomach. I find that in my quiet moments, I feel the life within me sending me signals in secret. I find myself increasingly daydreaming of birth, bonding, the soft velvetyness of a newly revealed cheek, the sweet scent of freshly born skin, and the first fragile moments of fuzzy eye contact....and I find that I cannot wait.

Although it's partly been done already, I feel absolutely compelled to begin sharing the true birth stories of my babies.

I shared much of what happened with my Frog a couple of posts ago, though it was a bit out of context.

The Frog (who came to this nickname because my dad saw her snuggled on my chest, wearing a pair of bright pink sweatpants...he called her The Little Pink Frog. She's been Frog ever since.) was my first baby...and I began my parenting life as a single mom.

When I learned I was pregnant with this beautiful girl, I was at once terrified, mortified, and amazed. I found myself having to make decisions--should I end this pregnancy and stay with a boyfriend who was kind of....drippy? Should I search for a loving family and place this baby through adoption? Should I defy my family (which I had been doing for years anyway) and carry myself proudly and keep this child?

The first "choice" really wasn't a choice at all, I knew in my heart. Even though I didn't know through experience or education that life is a miracle, and is chosen by God Himself, I knew that abortion was something akin to evil incarnate.

The second choice became null and void in my heart after about 5 minutes; the thought of carrying a baby for nearly a year and then not being able to raise my own child was more than I could bear. I was already, knowingly, losing a relationship I wrongly thought would be The One...the last thing I wanted was to lose this relationship, too. So as loving and inspiring as adoption is, it just wasn't something I could bring myself to choose.

So I carried my baby through horrendous "morning sickness" (ach....what a crap name!), even finding at times that sips of water would send me into convulsive bouts of dry heaves. I was ordered to quit my jobs (I held 3 at the time), meaning that I also had to move back home to my parents' from the room I was renting. Although it was tense with my dad, it did eventually turn out to be a blessing.

As the weeks progressed, I asked a friend of mine to go through Lamaze classes with me and be my labor coach. She was happy to be included, and filled her role cheerfully.

My doctor, who tended to pounce on paper cuts as though they needed eighty-four stitches, insisted that I do literally nothing but eat, even forbidding me to expend the calories it took to climb the stairs more than once or twice a week. So there I was, stuck on the couch in my parents' living room. I ate Oreos with peanut butter (mmmmmmmmmm.......dangerous!), drank half & half with instant breakfast mixed in, mashed potatoes and gravy--anything fattening and yummy I could get my hands on. (This turned out to be anything my mom would get for me...)

I went to my appointments dutifully, was poked and prodded in The Normal, Clinical Way, and ended up in preterm labor in January. Since the Frog wasn't due until March, this was not The Way It Was Supposed To Happen. I was hospitalized for two weeks, put on intravenous medicine, and nearly ambulanced to a larger hospital...they squashed that because of a blizzard, thanks be to God, and I finally ended up at home with multiple prescriptions. I had terbutiline and nifedipine to stop contractions. I had prednisone to hasten the maturing of the Frog's lungs. I had Seconal (yes, you read that right) because the combination of the drugs I was on made me unable to sleep, even though I was as exhausted as a lumberjack, for Pete's sake. I had antibiotics, antifungals to counter the antibiotics, and could barely walk because the combination of it all made me so loopy they could have named a roller coaster after me.

I couldn't tell you the date of the first time I went in, thinking I was in Real Labor, only to be sent home. I think the total trips made was something like 7 or 8 though.

The night before the Frog was born, I Was Sure It Was The Real Thing, so I called my friend, and in we went. It was about 8:30. The nurses all knew me by this point, and it's quite possible that eye rolling occurred, though not in my presence. I laid on the bed and dutifully contracted, hooked up to the monitors and happily downing ice. At 11:30, I was checked for the fourteenth time, and the nurse said, "I'm sorry, dearie, but you are not showing any change. You're still just a little less than one. We're going to have to send you home."

My tears would not sway this woman's harsh words of judgement (!!), this declaration of Failure upon me, the Poor, Pitiful, Pregnant One, Destined To Be Pregnant For All Eternity. You who have gone this route, who have traveled this gestational trail with me, you know exactly what I'm talking about. There comes a point, no matter how desperate you were to conceive, no matter how much you loved being pregnant, that you are convinced that your case is going to make the Guinness Book of World Records: "Woman, 85 years old, still pregnant. Fetus estimated to be 64 years old, receiving medicare benefits and comfortable, with no plans to vacate the premises." We all think it. Admit it.

Well, I did cry. I sniffled. I honked into a Kleenex or 9. And my friend told me, "Look, you're just tired. Go home, take a shower. Go to bed. Sleep well. Wake up and have a baby."

So I did.

When I woke up the next morning, it was still dark. I think it was about 4:50 or so. I had to pee, but the floor was reeeeeeeeeally cold, so I waited. Again, you know what I mean. You wait and wait until you really have to go--what, to claim your bonus and make it worth the trip? So I laid there, wondering what the day would hold. I felt a light contraction go down my belly and around to my back, but I (ignorantly) ignored it, knowing that my body was as in to teasing me as that nurse had been.

Then it popped.

It was just the smallest feeling of a partially-deflated balloon popping, somewhere inside--maybe near a hip or something. But there it was. Since I had paid very close attention in the childbirth education class, I knew that there was no way this could be my water breaking, since it didn't trickle, and it didn't gush. So obviously, the baby just had hiccups....and was only going to hiccup once.

I got up to pee finally, at exactly 5:00 (because I remember actually looking at the kitchen clock--a habit I still have when I'm up in the middle of the night). I sat there, and sat there, and sat there, and I remember thinking, "Man, I haven't peed this much in months!" when I realized that there wasn't really the relieving sensation one gets when............Holy Smokes, This Might Really Be It!!!!

Sidebar: This was in the Dark Ages, before cell phones. We often used the house phone as an intercom, calling our own phone number, hanging up as soon as the busy signal started, letting it ring until someone somewhere else in the house answered, and then talking to them. Novelty stuff as a kid turned useful as adults.

Back to it: I called my mom, who was still sound asleep, and told her, "I think my water just broke. I should probably go in to the hospital and see what's going on." She asked me if she had time for a shower, and I said, "Of course! It just happened, and I'm totally fine. We have hours. Take your time."

Of course we had hours. "First labors," our Lamaze teacher told us confidently, "take ten to twelve hours on average. Your doctor will not let you labor for more than twenty-four hours from the time your water has broken." This translated to me as, "Your baby will come after suppertime tonight."

The problem was, now that I had told Mom to take her time, these contraction things were kind of coming quickly. Like, four minutes apart quickly. And they were strong. And they were lasting like 90 seconds.

For those of you unaware, that's heavy-duty labor stuff. For those of you aware, yes, they came on that suddenly, for Pete's sake.

By the time Mom came downstairs, I could no longer talk or walk through the contractions. I could barely stand--I had to lean on the back of a chair or on the kitchen table to support the weight of my belly and body. Walking out to the car was a trick--in the snow, on a narrow path, trying to lean on my mom and hold onto a bath towel. I had to sit on the towel in the car, see, to protect the leather seats. The leather seats of the Mustang convertible. They tend to ride a little low, being sporty-type cars. It's a special experience to lower a laboring body into a car in the first place, but sit it a mere 7 inches from the pavement, and it's something that could be shown at Cirque de Soleil for an added charge.

My parents' house is only 5 blocks from the local hospital, but my mother refuses to drive on the main street, which would have eliminated the five stop signs between her house and the hospital. Another special moment in time.

When we (finally) reached our destination, I was wheel chaired into L&D, breathing and panting the whole while, with the nurse rolling her eyes. I could practically hear them tossing around, like when you do the marbles-in-paint exercise in elementary school. But when said nurse examined me to see if any real progress was occurring, she prounced me a generous 5-6 centimeters.

I was elated, but too busy to think much about it. My mother was in shock. The nurse called my doctor. My mom called my friend. She ran a daycare in her home and had to call her parents to have them take their kids to their back-up sitters. This took a while--while we had arrived at 5:45, and my mom called her at about 6:00, my friend didn't make it to the hospital until about 7:30. This is all in the A.M.

I asked for something to help with pain. I was denied--"You're not in time for that. We can't give you anything at this point." WHAT?! Who wanted to do THIS with NOTHING??

I labored a lot in the bathroom, and after my friend had been with me for about 25 minutes, was brought back to the bed to be checked again, and was already complete. I threw up. It was 8:00.

I don't remember pushing. I was too tired. I remember sleeping between pushing contractions, but being surface-aware of the chatter going on around me. I remember that my dad came in after dropping my younger brother off at school, at about 8:15 or so, thinking he would have a nice visit with a heavily medicated daughter, and have lunch with me. Well, he was right about the lunch part--more like a champagne brunch though.

I am told that I made the profound observation, "It was much easier getting this baby in here than getting it out!" which made everyone laugh hysterically. I do remember thinking, "Why the heck is everyone laughing at me?"

I vaguely remember my doctor mentioning that he was going to give me an episiotomy (not that I needed one--he was big into cutting things that shouldn't be cut), but I was so sleepy he could have given me an appendectomy and I likely wouldn't have noticed.

My Frog was born on a Friday at 8:43 A.M., 3 hours and 43 minutes after my water broke. She measured 6 pounds, 14 ounces, and 18 1/2 inches tall. I was euphoric, and amazed at how good I felt (nevermind the stitches, please). No one had told me about the adrenaline rush that comes right after birth.

She was beautiful and healthy and pink and absolutely wonderful. Some of the lovely details of my dad being there with us are in the aforementioned post; do read it if you'd like.

I did go into shock briefly that afternoon--I was in the shower, and the nurse came to check on me when my mom said I'd been in there for 20 minutes. Since I have ridiculously low blood pressure, shock is a side effect of birth that is almost inescapable for me. I was stabilized quickly though, and it didn't seem to have too terrible of an effect on me bonding with the Frog.

We went home on Sunday afternoon, and when she was 3 months old, we moved into our own apartment....

I can't believe it's been more than 12 years that I've been a Mama. It gets better every day. I am so blessed.......

Friday, June 20, 2008

In All Circumstances

My Darling took much of the day away from his job yesterday. I refuse to say that he took the day off, because he spent the majority of the day on the gigantic roof of the gigantic master suite portion of the addition nailing down shingles. It was hot. And bugs, after land-drenching rains, are thicker than London fog. But there he was, in full sun, wrecking his back so that rain doesn't wreck our home.

The part of the day that he was working for his job, I actually got to go with him. Every now and then the kids get to go to work with Dad. It's a family-owned business, and our nieces and nephews go in with my sisters-in-law, but it's a treat for our kids to be there. It's rarer still that I get to watch My Darling work.

The job was about 15 miles from here, and it was to put up a sign for a new development in a gorgeous location. It's one of those signs that says, "Lots from $XX,XXX," and, "Build your dream home here," (and then I can't help but think of "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House") with a little map of the subdivision and little "SOLD" stickers over the lots that have already been claimed. The landowners (a very sweet couple who have been blessed by 31 years of marriage!) loved the sign (of course they did!) and indeed proclaimed it to be "GORGEOUS!" The job took about an hour, so clearly it qualified as a date. :)

It was such a lovely day, with beautiful sunshine and a clear blue sky.......but so many bugs that my Monkey now appears to have a flourishing case of chicken pox. Clearly that's not the case, but if you weren't in my backyard yesterday to witness the swarms of mosquitoes, you'd think it was.


God is good! Do you take time to thank Him for the little things? Do you remember to bless Him and be thankful in all circumstances? Because I'll tell you, He uses even the really hard stuff to bless us the least we can do is bless Him right back.

Let me share.

Yesterday, being the 19th, was exactly four months since I miscarried our baby, whom we named Gabriel, into the arms of Jesus and Mary. I learned with the death of my dad that numbers on the calendar become more than memories, and that in that first year after you lose someone you love, every monthly anniversary is difficult...and that every special day that year is just a little painful (or sometimes a lot painful).

But wait! He's going to bless us through our grief!

Yesterday's biggest blessings were amazingly obvious. Like the part where during our family Rosary--yesterday being Thursday, and Thursday being the Luminous Mysteries, and the first being the Baptism of our Lord--God clearly revealed to me who this baby's Godmother is supposed to be. Of course, the second Luminous Mystery being the Miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana, He then clearly reminded me to "do everything He tells you to do," through those words spoken by His Mother, Mary. Since we've been praying about this for a long time, this was a great blessing.

Then there was the part where after we finally retired last night, and I was reading myself to sleep, I felt a little bump. Then another. Then another, and another! Now, I had been feeling little gurgles here and there, but this was so obvious--and I could even feel it from the surface of my belly! I swatted My Darling awake (he who sleeps immediately upon touching any cushioned surface, especially if it's after 8:00 P.M.) and placed his hand on The Spot, and he was able to feel our baby, too.

The first thing we both thought of was that this was the four-month mark since we lost Gabriel. Again, God was choosing to bless us.

I love it.

Sometimes we need to get knocked off our donkey in order to see what God is trying to tell us. Sometimes the landing hurts more than others. But if you wait for the voice in the stillness, you will see that He does bless us in all things, and that choosing to see those blessings makes it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Forgiveness through the Generations

Apparently, the Nausea Bug and his henchman, Major Pukey, have not taken up residence under my bay window with the bumblebees, as I previously thought. See, my bay window is on the south side of my house, and the Bug and the Major have moved north. WAY north. Sing that Johnny Horton song with me--you know it--"NORTH! To Alaska, go North, the rush is on..." It seems these two twerps of impish proportion have chosen a cooler climate than the HuMidwest offers in the summertime, and they have invaded the home (and indeed the pregnant body) of my dear friend Megan.

The poor dear.

Megan is a treasure of a friend with a kind spirit, who shares with me a love of Mitford. We often discuss meeting at Happy Endings or the Irish Shop (unless it's winter, in which case it's the Irish Woolen Shop) and then stopping by Cynthia's Little Yellow House for tea. She is also the loving Mama of two boisterous sons, and she is expecting her third not too long after my Bean is due. She called me this morning, sounding rather battle-weary, and, indeed, defeated. "Go ahead and moan and whine to me," I said to her, "because I Actually Get It." She said, "I know you do," and began to wail piteously. If arms could stretch the nearly four thousand miles which separate us, I would issue an immediate hug, complete with a glass of cold water, kleenex, and a cold wash cloth.

So, with no further ado:

ATTENTION, NAUSEA BUG AND MAJOR PUKEY: You have exactly three days to pack your pitiful bags and plunge your ridiculous selves into the Bering Sea. Do not stop for sight seeing adventures. Do not attempt to take a position on a crab fishing vessel. They would merely laugh at you anyway. Just leave. Do not continue to harass my dear friend. She is a meek and humble soul who is not deserving of your putrid company. You are as unwelcome as a fake Irish cousin, who indeed empties the cupboards in seconds flat, refuses to eat flesh foods except on Sundays, overstays generously given welcome, and then turns out to not even be Irish, for Pete's sake. Your bags must be packed immediately, you wretched twerps. If you refuse to leave, more drastic measure will have to be taken. I am only giving you three days so that I have ample time to conjure an idea of what those drastic measures will be. Now off with you both!

There. That should fix them. It would probably be easier just to evict them along with the bumblebees, but we'll see how we do.


I must continue about my dad, because it's not fair to leave him at the end of my last entry. It's only fair to warn you, dear reader, that this is a long entry because I don't know how to break it I won't.

I must also mention that at the point that I was pregnant with my Frog, I was very close to my mom. At the time, I had no idea why C. had such a disdain for her, and I didn't really get the whole picture until my dad's illness. That will come in a later entry. But it's important to know now that once I moved home, I became nearly completely reliant on my mom. She served me very well during my bed rest, fixing my meals, taking me to appointments, making sure I had the medications I needed (and there were plenty of them, owing to pre-term labor which lasted from January until the birth of the Frog in March), and pretty much tolerating my taking over of the living room.

Understanding what took place between me and my dad will also mean that I get to tell the gist of my Frog's birth story. :) I've been wanting to do this.

After many false alarms, lots of pre-term labor, and general misery, I finally went into actual labor with my Frog. I had been in the night before, getting to the hospital at about 8:30 and being sent home (again) at about 11:30. The hospital was only about 5 blocks away from my parents' house, so when my water broke that morning at almost exactly 5:00, it didn't really trigger anything but excitement for me. No panic, no worrying--after all, labor for first babies takes 8-12 hours, and sometimes even longer. Since I had taken Lamaze classes, I now knew everything there was to know, and I had everything thoroughly under control. (Please kindly stifle your laughter.)

I got up to pee, having been awake with that particular urge for about 15 minutes already anyway, and also called my mom (remember dialing your own phone number and then hanging up to make the phone ring, and then talking to someone in your own house on your own phone? We did it all the time, since I was downstairs and Mom was upstairs.) to let her know that we would probably have to go to the hospital at some point that morning, and would she mind thinking about coming downstairs? She asked if she had time to take a shower, and of course, I said, "Take all the time you need. It's not like the baby's coming until suppertime, anyway."

Famous last words.

In the 20 minutes it took my mom to shower and come down the stairs, my labor had progressed from mild contractions to intense I-can't-stand-up-through-them contractions. We walked out to the car (a Mustang convertible--try getting in and out of one of those in heavy labor!), me with a bath towel to sit on so I didn't mess up the leather seats with amniotic fluid, for Pete's sake, and my mom helping me walk in between the contractions.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was found to be at 5-6 cm and progressing so rapidly that there wasn't even time to fill out paperwork. My mom called my friend M. who was to be my labor coach, and I think she arrived somewhere around 7 or 7:30-ish--just in time for the last bit of transition.

My dad came in at about 8:05. I had been pushing for 5 minutes already.

I remember one of the nurses saying, "Your dad is here. Would you like him to come into the room?" I'm pretty sure I said something along the lines of, "I don't care who comes in, just get this baby out of me."

My dad's memory later was that on the way down the hall, it sounded like a crowd at a baseball game--everyone was cheering and shouting at me to PUSH!! My memory is thinking, "Why the heck is everyone yelling at me? All I want to DO is push!!"

The Frog, fat, pink and healthy, made her entrance into the world of air breathers at 8:43 A.M. That would be three hours, forty-three minutes, for those of you keeping track.

Eight to twelve hours, my foot.

When the Frog was handed to me for the first time, my parents (who had taken their places in the corner on the hide-a-bed) came over to see their first grandchild. My mom declared her "very pretty" (which she was), and my dad couldn't even speak.

No one had prepared me for those first few moments. I guess, though, that that first time, for those first moments, there is no real way to be prepared. The rush of love, the intense desire to weep and laugh at the same time, the overwhelming feelings of fear and elation--those were a lot to take in, to be sure. And on top of that, I began to shake uncontrollably. It's normal, I guess, when your body goes through that much in such a short amount of time. But my instinct was to hand my baby to someone who was not shaking, someone who's hands were steady and safe, someone who would love her just as much as I did and who would feel that same need to protect her.

So, naturally, I handed her to my dad.

It turned out to be the best thing I ever did in my entire life, ever.

My dad, as I said earlier, was not able to speak at first. His eyes teared up, and he brought his granddaughter closer to his face. He smiled at her, rubbed her nose with his, and said, "Well hello there, Little K.J." His voice was thick with emotion, and he was smiling so big it practically took over his ears.

While the doctor finished with me, my dad walked into the nursery with the Frog for her exam, never leaving her side, and taking the only pictures I have of those first few moments of her life.

From that morning until his death, my dad and the Frog were inseparable. He held and rocked her when she had colic. He cared for her when I worked long hours at a restaurant. We moved out, the Frog and I, when she was almost three months old, to an apartment about two blocks down the street from my parents' house. This suited my dad just fine--he could take a walk, get a little exercise, and come see the Frog anytime he wanted. He would come for breakfast, sharing oatmeal with her when she was old enough to eat it. He would come take her to his house for lunch, giving her the opportunity to mess around in the flower beds and strawberry patch. She swam in the wading pool on his patio, learned to chop vegetables for soup, gained an appreciation for the music I had grown up with, watched him practice conducting (and even had a little baton to use herself), and grew and flourished in his nurturing love for her. When she learned to talk, she called him Papa. It was the same name we had called him when we were little.

They would take walks on the riverbank, take pictures of the bachelor's buttons and poppies in his garden, read stories, eat liver sausage sandwiches, and talk in the alley with the neighbors. They loved each other dearly, and the best part of it was seeing my dad have the chance to love his granddaughter as fiercely as he had loved me when I was little. I learned to love him again through her, too.

My Darling and I, though we had spent lots of time together up to this point, hadn't had any one-on-one dates until the Frog was about 2 months old. We never did have very many--we came to love one another no matter who was near or what we did. Usually we were with my family or his, and almost always, we had the Frog with us. In April of 1997, My Darling asked my dad if they could speak alone regarding me. I don't think my dad knew that anyone still did that, and I doubt he required it, but it surely impressed him. They talked. With brandy. My dad shared things with My Darling (and likely vice-versa) that I will never hear, and that's OK with me. Some things shared between men should stay between men. Suffice it to say, my dad gave My Darling permission to marry Yours Truly, and, just as importantly, to be the official Daddy to the Frog.

In August of that same year, when the Frog was about 18 months old, my dad walked me down the aisle with tears in his eyes, and My Darling and I were married in the Church. And about 2 years later (after the birth of the Pickle, and while I was pregnant with the Reepicheep), My Darling adopted the Frog as his daughter. This provided another opportunity for my dad to become incredibly emotional, and gave him yet another reason to love My Darling.

When Reepicheep was exactly two weeks old, and quite unexpectedly, my dad collapsed while directing the community chorus in rehearsal of Handel's Messiah (First Part). Preliminary examinations had him diagnosed with necrotic pneumonia--meaning he had had it for a long time. About a week later, the biopsy of lung tissue revealed the real culprit--my dad had lung cancer. That diagnosis came about 10 days before Christmas, 1999. Further scans showed the cancer to be inoperable; it was encompassing his trachea and vena cava. The only hope was chemo and radiation. He was up for it, but he was also 75 years old.

I remember that one of the first things I did was to call my friend, My Darling's cousin, J.L. Her mother had died in 1998. Though she was suffering from scleroderma, her death was still a shock when it came. No one expected it to be so sudden, so soon. I told her my dad's diagnosis, and asked her, "If you knew your mom was going to die when she did, what would you have done differently?" She said she would have talked more with her about the things that really matter. She would have spent time with her Just To Spend Time With Her, not just because there was something going on. And she would have told her I Love You one last time...and said goodbye. J.L. celebrated her birthday with her parents on September 13th. Her mom died only a few days later.

I'm so glad we had that conversation. It enabled me to really talk more with my dad about important things, and to tell him I loved him and that I forgave him. I got to tell him that I loved seeing him with the Frog, and he thanked me for the gift of her. Though there will probably always be things to wish I'd had a chance to say better, at least I had a chance to tell him those things, and to say goodbye.

His chemo began in January. It was as awful as chemo always is, robbing him of strength, energy, appetite, and it meant that his study was turned into his bedroom. My brothers cleared everything out, making room for the double bed, a headboard (custom-made by my Darling, complete with outlet and light switch for a reading lamp), a couple of bookshelves to hold medications and various supplies, and the rocking chair.

When my dad came home from the hospital, he was a completely different man. We had seen him change so much with the birth of the Frog, and subsequent grandchildren softened him even more. I think we kids saw a side of our dad that we needed to see. I know I did. Cancer softened him in a different way. It brought out his faith. I saw my dad, who's spoken prayers consisted only of "Bless us, oh Lord..."--at least where we could hear him--begin to ask for prayer. We had a Mass said in the study for him (he was Episcopalian...long story). The priest from our local church came to anoint him.

Many pastors from other churches in town came to pray with him. His profession had been building and tuning pipe organs, so he knew a good many clergy from many different denominations. Over the course of the next six months, people he had known for years, decades, came from all over the country to visit with him.

His radiation treatments began on Ash Wednesday. He looked forward to seeing the wonderful staff at the center, and wore the same yellow chamois shirt every day to his therapy sessions. Though initial scans didn't show great progress, he continued with the radiation, with either My Darling or my sister C., home from Kansas, driving him the 35 minutes to the radiotherapy center and then home again. The Frog went along often, charming the staff, collecting stickers, and providing about as much medicine as any other treatment had. She called the radiation machine the "Sunshine Machine," understanding that the way it worked was to give Papa as much sunshine in three minutes as she could get in a year.

He weakened further, despite efforts with Ensure, juice made from fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, and apple juice from the pharmacy that looked like boxes of Juicy Juice, but packed three hundred calories. The radiation, because of the location of the tumor, had burned his esophagus so much that he could no longer eat the things he loved. His diet consisted largely of yogurt (which he and the Frog called Yogur-Tea) and canned peaches.

Home health nurses had been making regular appearances, along with companions who would stay with him when we couldn't, and people who brought in meals and helped with household tasks. Soon, though, the term was no longer "home health," but "hospice." Scans showed that the radiation had not been successful, and that the tumor was growing rather than shrinking. The radiation was slated to end on Good Friday.

My dad did get to come to the performance of the Messiah that spring. (Sidenote: Yes, I know. Spring is the time for the Second Part, with the Hallelujah Chorus and all that, but to state it plainly, my dad just liked the First Part better, so that's what we did.) His fine friend of nearly 30 years had agreed to both conduct and play harpsichord--one that my dad had built. We had a lovely orchestra, and two of my brothers and I were in the chorus. It was as fine a performance as any I've heard or been part of. And it pleased my dad.

On Sunday, July 16th, 2000, I received word just before the beginning of Mass (I was supposed to cantor) that I should go home to my dad. Word came via a man who had been my dad's surgeon and friend, and who had gone to great lengths to lead my dad to Jesus through prayer. He found a replacement for me sitting in the congregation and drove me to my parents' house.

All that day we gathered around my dad and helped him begin to die. We fed him for the last time that day--he never asked for food after that afternoon. We gave him his medications for pain or anxiety whenever he indicated he was in need. We reminded him who we were when he would wake from his naps. We helped him to the toilet. We calmed his fears. We rubbed his legs and feet, stroked his hair, and loved on him the best we knew how. This was the most love I'd ever seen happen in my family--all the love we never showed our whole lives, and there it was for my dad when he was on his way Home.

He would begin praying, "Our Father..." and we would take over. My sister and I prayed Rosaries together. We didn't know about the Chaplet of Divine Mercy--I have no doubt we would have prayed that, too. When he spoke in those strange and fearful phrases before death, my sister crooned to him and answered him in soothing words, "You did everything you were supposed to do. We all have exactly what we need to keep going. We'll take care of Mom. It's OK for you to follow Jesus. We'll be right behind you..."

He slept fitfully that night, with the Frog sleeping on the couch near his chair, and woke a few times Monday morning. That afternoon, a hospital bed was brought in for his comfort. It was set up in the living room. By Monday evening, he was slipping away. He didn't wake much at all on Tuesday. One or two of us was always with him though, making sure he had anything he needed.

Wednesday morning, at about 5:00, the phone at our apartment rang. "Come home," said my brother. "His breathing is different, and we don't think it'll be long." The Frog and the Pickle had spent the night at my in-laws' house, so we grabbed the 8-month-old Reepicheep and drove the six blocks to my parents' house. We all sat around the bed. We took turns listening to his heart, because he only breathed about once every 8 or 9 minutes. We all knew this was an electrical impulse from his brain--that he had gone. His heart stayed strong though, and we marveled at this. My brothers, all three, worked together to stop the oxygen machine that had been helping our dad for the past six months: one unplugged the machine, one turned it off, and one removed the cannula from him. None could see the others, so my sister counted to three and they each did their jobs at the same time. Still, his heart kept beating.

Eventually, my exhausted brothers and sister, My Darling, and I chose to lie down. My sister and one brother went upstairs, one brother was on the couch, one in Pop's chair, and My Darling and I were on the bed in the study. Mom went out for a cigarette. It was about 9:00. The hospice nurse came in at 9:10, and took his vitals. My dad's heart beat once or twice, then stopped.

She timed his death at 9:15, Wednesday, July 19th, 2000.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More to the Story

I can't believe how well I have been feeling. I haven't updated as frequently as I'd first hoped to, but it's entirely the fault of the gorgeous weather, and the fact that June has had us busier than the hummingbirds, for Pete's sake.

The Nausea Bug and Major Pukey, have, I think, moved into the nest of bumblebees who currently reside in some old insulation underneath the bay window. This is great for me, just fine for the Bug and the Major, and probably doesn't matter a hill of beans to the bees, especially since they're being evicted very shortly.

My Darling has continued to work long hours both for his job and on the house. He has put the last of the windows into the sun room, which has led to us spending oodles of time out there. We moved the patio table into the huge room (since it's glass-topped, and since it's been raining and hailing on and off for two weeks, for Pete's sake, and we'd like to actually use the thing!), and have had our coffee and morning prayer time out there for the past week. It is already my Favorite Room in the House, and it's decorated only in Plywood Brown and Insulation Pink/Yellow. I bet those hot shots over on HGTV and TLC don't even know those colors are options for the latest in home decorating!

The past few days, though, have been sunny and mild, thanks be to God, and so my days--almost in their entirety--have been out in the sun room. Hence the eviction of the bees: the bay window will shortly be removed, allowing the living room and sun room to be completely open betwixt the two. The insulation beneath said window will of course have to be removed as well, and there's the rub, if you happen to be a bee. And since I am rather allergic to the bites and stings of fuzzy buzzing things, and since the windows are now all in place, and since My Darling seems to rather enjoy applying Spray Foam Insulation into nooks, crannies, cracks and crevices (who doesn't? Have you ever? Oh, but you should...), there is no longer the multiple choice gamut of entrance and exit points for the pesky pests. Therefore, eviction is imminent.

And so it goes. The children are bathing in Vitamin D even as we speak, making holes in dirt, digging far enough to find clay (and sculpt unrecognizable forms from it), shrieking with laughter, and praying for more rain so that they can sploosh in the gigantic puddles that pool up in the yard. The laundry comes in stiff and fresh from a day in the brisk breeze, with that scent that only means summer.

And I am feeling unbelievably good. It is reminiscent of being pregnant with Reepicheep. Oh, how I loved that pregnancy! The Nausea Bug and Major Pukey retreated at exactly 13 weeks with her, and never again reared their nasty little heads. They didn't even bother sending scouts to see if the coast was clear for an encore. Not that I minded. That's how it's been with this Bean--which induces My Darling to constantly tease me that there may be more than one. Honestly, I can't imagine that to be the case...I would think I'd be carrying much bigger than I am. But you never know, I guess. (Though I will never say that to him!)

We will go see Chris again when I'm feeling regular, obvious movement. I have small moments when I think I might, but until I'm sure, I'm just going to go along being pleasantly surprised from time to time. At 15 weeks, 2 days, it's just barely early to begin feeling that little secret. I absolutely love this point in pregnancy (especially when I'm feeling so well!), when the knowledge of the little one becomes more concrete--but only for me. I revel in the glory of being the only one to know this little person, whoever they are.


I left off yesterday with the point at which my relationship with my dad changed significantly. Before I continue, though, a few things need to be noted for perspective's sake. First, the age thing. My parents had a very large gap in their ages (17 years), and when I was born, my dad was 50. Fifty. This comes in to play later. Secondly, things got so bad at home during middle and high school that I stayed with my grandma for several months at a time. This is one of the gazillions of reasons I love her so and feel so close to her. She protected me and cared for me and made me feel safe in ways that should happen at home. But she did not spoil me! She was strict about house rules, homework, manners, and all the things a good parent or grandparent worries about. She didn't mince words (and still doesn't) if something was on her mind.

Thirdly, I moved out of my parents' house long-term shortly after graduation, first staying again with Grandma, and then with friends for whom I nannied. This was, for me, the beginning of what I call The Bad Choice Years.

Those were the years when I (like so many people) searched for the love I really needed in my life. Since I had never been taught by my parents what that was supposed to be, I had no idea what I was really looking for. I tried the usual on my scavenger hunt--alcohol, mild drugs, smoking, vulgarity and promiscuity. I never found it, of course, but dammit, I wasn't about to stop looking. I became deeply entrenched in the despair of depression, and at one point, even attempted to end my life.

I saw this video linked on Jenni's blog and could not believe what I was seeing...I felt like I was on This Is Your Life. I can't not link it here . (One of these days I'll figure out how to put a video right here in my, though, I have bigger fish to fry.)

Back to the story.

After several failed relationships and near-misses, I fell pregnant with the Frog.

This is my little secret that isn't really a secret. Those really close to me know this. Those who are my friends find the kindness to use perspective, seeing this huge event in my life as the turning point that it truly was. This was the point where I actually began to grow up, when I learned what true love really is, and when I began to walk that amazing road back to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, praise God. Those who aren't my friends try (and try, and try...) to use it to hurt me. Sadly, even people in my own family use it this way at times.

But surprisingly, my dad never did.

At the time I became pregnant, I had mostly settled down. I was holding three jobs--cleaning motel rooms, working with the local marching band, and tending bar at a supper club. I was renting a room from a family I knew, and was in what I thought was a great relationship. It was the last remnant of the Bad Choices, and was The One I just Knew Would Work Out. Ah, the wrong assumptions of youth.....

I became so battle-weary from the Nausea Bug and Major Pukey that I was in the ER for IV rehydration multiple times. As soon as I learned the reason for my exhaustion and indigestion, The One decided he had better things to do, and promptly moved on. Because of the Battles, my doctor ordered me on absolute bed rest and high caloric intake so that I could gain weight, for Pete's sake, and so I had to make the decision to end all of my jobs. Which meant no income. Which meant no rent money.

Which meant moving back to my parents'.

My father did not speak to me for about two months.

Then one night, he just opened up. I guess it was probably just a little at first. And I think it might have been because right around that time, I met My Darling. And my dad really liked him.

Sidebar: My Darling and I met through his cousin J.L., whom I have known since the two of us were five and in the first grade together. J.L. and I reconnected through my mom (another story entirely), and I learned that this dear friend spent lots of time with two of her cousins--one of whom, of course, was My Darling. We all began to spend quite a lot of time together, and although I Knew From The First Moment That I Had Been Wrong About Everyone Else My Whole Life And This Was The Man God Made For Me And For Whom I Was Made, as I began to get to know him even better, eventually he would even come over to visit all on his own. I think this endeared My Darling to my dad--that My Darling didn't at all mind spending time getting to know me in the presence of my parents, especially my father. What man does that? I'll tell you: one with integrity, good intentions, and a good head squarely on his shoulders.

Again back to the story.

I don't remember the first conversation we had. I remember spending lots of time in the rocking chair in the study, with my dad drinking brandy and playing computer pinochle or spades or hearts.

He was never a drinker when I was growing up. His first wife was an alcoholic, and ironically, he detested people who could not control their impulses. Perhaps age softened him about this, and he allowed himself to enjoy the occasional snifter. Rarely to excess, or even a buzz. And only the good stuff--20-year aged Scotch. Expensive brandy. Really good wine.

When the brandy came out, so did his emotions, which was another new facet to my dad.

The conversation that meant so much to me, that really broke the barriers to my heart with him, was the one that made it OK for me to tell him, "I was afraid of you for years. I dreaded your presence, and wanted to be farther from you than I could ever get. And by the way, it hurt me deeply that all the discipline fell on me and C. and K., with none being meted out to J." And lots more, but that's the gist.

He told me lots of things about himself, some that I knew, and lots that I didn't. We both cried, and I although I knew that my dad could be a sentimental man, that part of him rarely seemed to manifest itself unless he was crying in the brandy.

I learned that he didn't really know how to discipline well, having grown up in the 20's and 30's in the South. Most times he was punished, it was with a switch of his selection. He was raised largely by his Aunt B. and a very kind woman he referred to as Mamie, but he didn't have a good male role model in the home until his Aunt B. married his Uncle A. Sadly, this was after a disastrously abusive marriage to a man who beat his Aunt B. when she was heavily pregnant, causing the loss of the baby's life, and ending the possibility for Aunt B. to ever have another baby. That baby was her first and only.

And though the politically correct TV psychobabble trend is to say, "That excuses all the bad choices he made when parenting his own children," I don't believe that. Because I was raised in a violent, loud, unloving home, where the thing that mattered most was what other people thought about our family--especially about our mother--and I flatly refuse to raise my children that way.
But it did help me to understand why he did some of the things he did.

And the reason for J. not being treated the same way? To his credit, my dad knew that he had messed things up terribly with me and C. and K., and he wanted to change...but at that late date, he simply didn't know how. Rather than beat J. and have him afraid of his dad, like the rest of us were, he just did....nothing. And by that time (J. was 15 by the time my dad and I came to this point), he also knew that he had been terribly wrong with J., and again, didn't know how to fix it. So he continued to do....nothing. I don't believe he ever forgave himself for that.

Oh, the dysfunction of it all.

There was so much more, so many conversations over lots of salty brandy, and it was then that I finally found the love of my father that I had scavenged for and craved for most of my life.

After years of anger and vile hatred of my dad, I was beginning to feel sorry for him, if not starting to have some idea of who he was as a man. And there I was, on the cusp of parenthood, terrified of what was to come...and needing my dad.

And finally, he was there.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Long time coming...

......sorry about that.

In the past two weeks:

Many areas around us have completely flooded, leaving roads closed, homes destroyed, families displaced, businesses forced to close, and spirits drooping. Thankfully, our home and family have been spared. The only flooding we had was in the yard, and was thoroughly enjoyed by the kids, who practically swam in the gigantic puddles.

My Darling's uncle was found, uh, "expired" in his apartment. Now, without going into too much detail, this dear man was one of 14 siblings, with 12 still living...and things are contentious between some of them at this point. Please keep this family deeply in your prayers, as they are certainly in need and will remain so for some time. I will have to put off writing too much though, because my temper's a little hot about all the hullabaloo in the family and I don't want to say something regrettable.

I have been reminded, thanks to another stellar post by Jenni over at One Thing to think about my dad. I've not written about him yet, and I need to. There are so many things that whir through my heart and mind when I think of my dad, and it's often confusing. Our relationship was something I still don't fully understand, and he's been gone nearly 8 years now (come July). I miss him. I'll always miss him. My memories are so mixed though that sometimes missing him is really painful and sometimes it's just a dull ache.

When I was a very small girl, I remember loving my dad so fiercely that it encompassed me. He was gone for days at a time because of his line of work, and I would miss him until my heart practically broke. When he would return home again, I would spend every minute I could near him, singing goofy songs with him, watching him work, listening to him make plays on words--my dad loved language, and often played with words in ways that confused and delighted me--listening to him tell stories, and listening to music with him. He loved classical (general term--all styles: classical, baroque, etc.) music and had a huge collection of records (remember vinyl?).

When it was time for him to leave again, I would hug his leg and beg him not to go until he'd have to ask my mother to kindly remove me. Sometimes he would drive off, sometimes we would take him to the train station or the airport, but always I cried. He would bring tokens of his trips for all of us kids. At that time, my oldest brother was in the Navy, and I was the youngest of three still at home. The three of us are close in age, but my oldest brother is quite a bit older--15 years older than I, to be exact. When my dad would come home, we would help him unpack, waiting patiently to see what he had brought for us. Sometimes it was a doll or a coin. Perhaps a shirt or postcard. Once he brought us each a work of art made from bark. (I have no idea what happened to those.) We looked forward to seeing him again, but I think we all really looked closely to see what he had brought, too.

Things changed in our home when I was about 8 or 9; I don't remember exactly when. All I know is that at some point I had to watch what I said and did very carefully. If the wrong thing was said, a backhand would be forthcoming. If something wasn't done right, there was hell to pay.

That phrase. "Hell to pay." Christians view hell as the eternal separation from God, and the teaching is that damnation is forever, period. Even from hell, if you were to want God, there is no chance of salvation anymore. When I was a kid, that hell for me was being constantly afraid.

If the dishes were done "wrong," you could very well be removed from bed in the middle of the night. By your hair. Dragged down the stairs. Made to stand in the kitchen and rewash the entire load in hot, hot, hot water. "Spanked" with the belt while you did it, especially if you cried.

I was afraid of being chased; it felt like I was always being chased. Up the stairs had to be my least favorite. It was instinctual to run that way, but not very smart. I mean, where can you go once you're up there? Also, ankles are easy to grab. To this day, I can't be touched on my ankles, especially on a stairway...I completely freak.

I remember running so many times...running to my Grandma's house or to a friend's house...anywhere but home. And once I was old enough to be at school as long as I wanted, I joined whatever I could just to stay anywhere but home. Tennis, marching band, yearbook club, Spanish club, musicals, whatever. Just not at home. There were a bunch of us who would "stay through" from the end of school until evening practices. And fall was heaven--tennis and then marching band. I was gone from 7:45 in the morning until 10:00 at night. I lived for the times he was gone on business and dreaded his return. He still brought things home with him, but I don't remember what they were. I don't think I cared.

All my friends knew what happened at my house. There were a few who knew that if I showed up past 8 or 9 at night with no ride from all the way across town, I needed to feel safe. They were my lifelines. None of them visited me at home. They were all scared of my dad.

I don't know what happened. I don't know why he became so angry, and why he was angry in my direction. My brother and sister were on the receiving end of it, too. The frustrating thing for us was that our younger brother (7 years my junior) was never "disciplined" the way we were. He pretty much did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, from the day he could walk. I try so hard not to be bitter about it, knowing that it wasn't his fault he didn't get the pants kicked off him. It's not easy to keep that in perspective though.

Our relationship continued to be in the toilet for years, until I came home one day.

I never thought I'd see the day, but my dad softened, and it seemed like it was literally overnight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Burn Out

Not me. I'm not burned out. No, but my refrigerator was.

A few weeks ago, we discovered that the freezer had kicked into hyper-mode (kind of like warp-9 or something) because the internal vents had been covered. This caused the temperature in the refrigerator to plummet, ensuring the destruction of many (farm fresh, extra large brown!) eggs, and the thorough freezing of things like mayonnaise and butter and grape jelly. Easily fixed, but certainly a pain in the rump roast, we were just happy that it didn't mean replacing a major appliance.

Well, after having been gone all day Friday and again Saturday, my Darling discovered upon our return that the temperature in the refrigerator, rather than plummeting, had taken our foods on a tropical vacation. It was about 50 degrees. Yep. Food goes bad quickly above 41 degrees. This is particularly good to know if you use your garage or back porch as extra food storage in the winter. But I digress...We were sensible enough to know that things like jelly and butter and lots of produce were probably fine (which is good, since we buy whipped butter in a big 5 pound tub from Sam's), but again with the eggs, the organic yogurt, all the meats, all the leftovers (which we actually eat around here, for Pete's sake!), the mayo....and about $300 worth of other groceries--these all had to be tossed out like so much compost (no, of course we don't put meat/animal products into the compost). That was the cheap part.

Apparently the compressor was the one that decided it needed a Tahitian beach to relax upon, and it took the rest of the group hostage while it trounced off on its foray into tropical paradise. So at 9:30 on Saturday night, as I had gone straight to bed when we got home--blissfully unaware of the impending events, mind you--my Darling came upstairs after much banging around in the kitchen, carrying a glass of water for his beloved (because he is just that kind....), and with a rather defeated expression on his usually relaxed (and otherwise very handsome) face. I asked him, "Are you ok??"

He shook his head, and proceeded to tell me what had transpired in our kitchen whilst we gallivanted (actually he and the Pickle were on a father-son retreat, and the rest of the kids and I were with friends holding a garage sale). The nerve of the refrigerator. The wretch didn't even have the sense to do the research into our finances to see if we had a budget to replace it. Ha. We didn't. Have the budget, that is. Of course, when something like the refrigerator decides it no longer likes it's current surroundings, immediate replacement is mandatory.

So on Sunday after Mass, we shopped. I believe we finally arrived home at about 4:30, hauling the new monster behind us. Please understand, I am the least picky person on earth when it comes to things like matching my appliances. I could care less about color, finish, or any of that nonsense. At this point, if it meets the job requirements--big enough to hold the food we need to have on hand and actually keep it cold--I'll take it. This means that I now have an almond and black stove, a white dishwasher, and a brushed stainless refrigerator.

The other secret that I love about appliance shopping is that if you look for clearance--display models, preferably slightly dinged (on a side or something), and discontinued--you can do what we did: you, too, can be the proud owner of a $1700.00 appliance for the trifling amount of $850.00. Ok, this is about $200.00 more than we really wanted to spend. No, actually it's more like $850.00 more than we wanted to spend. But this is one sweet appliance. Side-by-side, of course, with water and ice in the door, but with the ice maker in the door, giving us (the salesman was kind enough to point out) almost 20% more room inside the freezer. We need this. Most big families need this. Actually, we need a chest freezer the size of our van, but we'll take the 20% more business for the moment.


The major excitement for the week had nothing at all to do with appliances. That was just a bonus. Our major excitement was our first visit with Chris, our midwife!

We arrived at her house late on Thursday afternoon. It was a gorgeous day, so the kids headed out to her back yard to bounce their brains around on the trampoline and watch the horses and birds. Meanwhile, we had a lovely visit with Chris. We talked and laughed, we heard the Bean's heartbeat (!!!!)--after a fashion....I ended up having to drink a big glass of water to lift the uterus up out of the pelvis so she could find the little thing. And we discovered that my blood pressure was 90 over 50! She asked me, "Um, can you even stand up?" I said, "Not for more than two minutes..."

I love this. I love that Chris said, "Well, call me when you're feeling good movement that you know isn't just digestion and we'll get together and do this again." I love that my Darling said, "It'll be so nice to have her come back to our house..." I love that my kids are welcome in her home, and can crowd around the bed while she listens for their little sibling. I love that my Monkey listens intently to her voice, with a look of familiarity on his little face...and that when she used the Doppler, he was so attentive, and when Chris asked him, "Do you remember that sound?" he said, "Mm-hmm...." with a far away look in his eyes.......

I love that getting together with my midwife doesn't feel like a sterile, impersonal session of repetitive questions, but a visit with a dear friend. And that going to her house feels like going to the home of a close aunt. And that our time with her was well more than an hour, and ended with hugs all around and excitement in everyone's eyes--even Chris.

God has blessed us so well, and Chris is one of the best blessings a Mama could ask for.