Label This Mommy to Be

I’ve recently had the pleasure of being told that I’m Advanced Maternal Age, which in acronym form (AMA) is often interpreted as Against Medical Advice. I also had a young maternal aged ultrasound technician tell me that technically the medical field calls it Elderly Maternal Age, just not to our faces (smart!!). I suppose I can give them credit for softening the blow by using the term advanced versus elderly, but I have some proposals that I believe should be seriously considered by the medical community:

State of the Art Maternal Age
Modern Maternal Age
Leading-Edge Maternal Age

or leave age out of it completely and call it:

Maternal Maturity
Maternal Ambition
Maternal Master
Prepared Pregnancy

I will admit I have a favorite that I have shared with every Dr., NP, nurse, and ultrasound tech I’ve seen, and when I say “shared” I mean I told them to call me this from now on. I kindly and non-hormonally insist on being called Distinguished Maternal Age. It has a sophisticated and classy ring to it that doesn’t make me want to run to WebMD and research every possible ailment my “advanced” body or baby might incur in the next 10 months.

As much as I appreciate the constant reminder of why I should feel anxious about this pregnancy this is an example of how harmful labels can be. I find it curiously amusing that every health care professional tells me how important it is to stay calm and avoid stress and anxiety while I’m pregnant, yet they trip over their own feet scrambling to grab their prescription pads as soon as the number “35” comes out of my mouth. With the amount of blood draws, and finger pricks, and UA’s, and ultrasounds I’ve had in just 4.5 months I’m surprised they don’t call it Defying the Odds, Reckless, Throwing Caution to the Wind, Ballsy Maternal Age.

If you must “call” us something then I’m requesting it be something that doesn’t instantly fill us with the fear of God. Distinguished Maternal Age makes me feel like I should be sitting in a posh garden coffee house reading about the philosophy of parenting and blogging, which is what I happen to be doing right now thank you very much. I am so distinguished!

Firework (make ’em go “Ha Ha Ha”)

In 2010 my husband and I honeymooned in the beautiful country of Vietnam. We have many incredible stories from our trip, but there is one story that really stands out as it includes 3 lovely Vietnamese pointing at my husband and dissolving into laughter.

We spent the first half of our trip in the cities of Hanoi and Saigon and were unable to rent scooters because it is understood that it would be much too dangerous for tourists to ride anything motorized in the city. Just crossing the street is taking your life into your own hands. We were, however, fortunate enough to spend our last 5 days in a secluded resort on the beach. With the jungle on one side and the ocean on the other, the resort was willing to rent scooters to tourists with the naive assumption that not much harm could be done in such a peaceful setting.

We decided that a day on a scooter would be a lot of fun and would allow us to travel to see the biggest reclining Buddha statue in the world. Three Vietnamese employees brought us to the front of the resort to give us a brief demonstration on how to use the scooter. They showed us how to turn the scooter on (turn the key), use the brakes (squeeze the handles), turn it off (turn the keys the other way), and that was our training. They handed us our helmets and my husband excitedly jumped on. I, on the other hand, have an aversion to risking my life. With my husband at the wheel of a new “toy” I felt it best that he first take a trial run around the large circular entrance without me. It turns out that this was a wise decision.

My husband had no trouble turning the scooter on (great success!). He took off at a comfortable speed, and just when I thought I had needlessly been too cautious, he leaned into the left turn of the driveway. This is the moment when fireworks and gut-busting laughter erupted. Sparks began to fly as the kickstand on the scooter dragged along the asphalt and sent Pete bouncing from left to right like a violent weeble wobble. Pete would lean left, the kickstand would hit, “TING,” sparks would fly, the bike would jerk sharply to the right and Pete would have just enough wherewithal to avoid tipping over. He would overcorrect and the kickstand would hit again, “TING,” sparks flying. It was a beautiful and scary show of lights and sound. At first, the 3 employees tried to hide their laughter, but I could see their little shoulders shaking, and eventually, hands were over mouths and the guffawing could not be contained. Watching Pete on this scooter was like watching a little boy in tee-ball hit the ball and run to third base. He was so confident, but it was so wrong!

It felt like my husband’s trip around the entrance was happening in slow motion as the employees graduated from trying to conceal their laughter to outright pointing at him while he barely stayed vertical. When he made it back around to us, he unabashedly adjusted what was left of the kickstand to it’s proper place and confidently said to me, “you ready?!” Of course I said, “Hell No!”

I mean really honey…you almost set the jungle on fire with your kickstand flare.

The employees were also second guessing whether or not they should still allow us to rent the scooter. I can only assume that after our very risky rental they were forced to develop 100’s of pages of disclosures, formal training, and a driving test that would ensure they never again rented to another clueless yet confident American.

To my husbands’s credit, he was capable of a few successful laps on the scooter with it’s kickstand in the upright position, so I took a leap of faith, fastened my helmet on tightly and reluctantly climbed onto the back. I like to think that my husband “ignited” the best day of our entire vacation and as much as I tease my husband about his inability to assess risk, I’m thankful for our adventures (and our survival). I truly believe it’s about balance. He will always create fun and I will always try to keep us safe…after he practices on his own a few times.

Tao of Toddlers

My 2 year old son, Isaac was doing his very best to patiently wait for his cousin Brayden after a basketball game. I use the term “patiently” loosely, as Isaac was running the length of the gym , sliding feet first into the mirrored walls on each side, and then licking said mirrors, all while laughing hysterically. Then, Isaac spied his favorite thing….older kids doing something without him (how dare they!). Isaac is drawn to older kids like a moth to a flame, desiring to do everything they do regardless of how complicated or dangerous the activity might be. An adorable 4 y/o boy and 6 y/o girl were playing a game of tag, and Isaac immediately began his attempt to keep up, running as quickly as his little legs would carry him. He was completely oblivious to the fact that he was being ignored and was in no way a part of their game. It took a few minutes before the older boy finally acknowledged Isaac. This sweet, age-appropriate bossy boy, pointed his finger at my son’s chest and said, “we’re not playing with you. It’s just me and her playing…not you!” I watched from afar as Isaac tried to understand what he was being told. The boy attempted to confirm that Isaac understood the limits he had just set. He stopped pointing his finger and made the fatal mistake of raising both arms, shrugging, and saying, “ok?” This was the moment Isaac decided that a hug was clearly the appropriate response. Isaac gave both kids a big squeeze as if they had just nominated him President of their exclusive “We’re Older and Bigger Than You” club. Within minutes, the hearts of the older kids visibly softened as they began to make room for Isaac in their play. The older boy took Isaac by the hand, guided him to “base” and then taught him how to tag. My sweet son decided that tagging should be hugging instead, which they graciously tolerated. Even when Isaac began tagging his own reflection in the mirror, they laughed with him and then patiently redirected him to their game. By the end of the evening these 3 beautiful children were friends. My heart melted as I watched this loving interaction and I was struck at how 3 young children had innocently illustrated the power of loving-acceptance and kindness. I couldn’t help but think of my own life and the times I have reacted to others in a way that wasn’t at all what I hope to model for my son.

Watching these kiddos taught me:

  1. When we judge, we lose the opportunity to forge a new friendship
  2. We can be forgiven for our misguided behaviors and thoughts
  3. Someone “different” can teach us a new way to play the game of life
  4. Loving someone who has hurt us can heal more than one heart
  5. We must believe we’re worthy before expecting others to believe the same
  6. When we are vulnerable we find ourselves loving others before judging them
  7. It’s easy to love those who are kind to us. It’s courageous to love those who hurt us

I’ve hoped to model for my son a love for others that is fearless and authentic and vulnerable, but as I watched this evening unfold, I realized that these qualities already live and breathe in young children. They don’t need adults to demonstrate these virtues, they need us to foster and protect them, as they face the hurts and disappointments that come with growing older. What I thought was my responsibility to teach my son, was actually a lesson I needed to learn from him.

The next time I’m tempted to judge someone, I’ll think of these 3 children and remain open to experiencing a new (and possibly more joyful) way of approaching life. And, the next time someone tells me that I don’t belong, I’ll remember that the most appropriate response is to love them anyway!

Packing Light

I had recently escaped a job that felt like a 1-year marathon. I crossed the finish line thirsty for a healthy environment, hungry for a boss with no relation to Satan, and pissing myself from relief that I was finally done! I was fortunate to be moving on to my first Supervisory position, and I was determined to make a good impression and lock in a positive reputation from the very beginning. With that being said, I was thrilled when the department’s VP gave me the chance to travel out-of-town (with my husband) to attend a formal dinner alongside senior leadership. This was a rare opportunity for exposure to a group of people I wouldn’t otherwise interact with, and I certainly wanted to make it count!

The day of the dinner, my husband and I did some sight-seeing, and then realizing he didn’t pack his tie, we swung by Target and bought him a new one. After a relaxing day, we returned to the hotel, and I started to primp and prep for the important night ahead. An hour before we had to leave I began encouraging (otherwise known as nagging) my husband to get ready. He was adamant that as a man he could be ready in a measly 15 minutes. Once the show he was watching (about surround-sound systems, or 4-wheeling, or Italian cars, or Grateful Dead, or sex, or all of the above) had ended, he finally made his way into the shower. As he shaved, I filled him in on the people who would be at the event and what positions they held. We were hard-core “first impression” prepping. Then, 5 minutes before we had to leave, my dear, intelligent, capable husband turned to me and said,

Where are my pants?”

I remember thinking…”please be referring to your underwear. We can do commando and have a great story to tell later. You’ll shake hands with important people while experiencing total floppy freedom…it will be liberating.” But, no…he meant the pants that you wear over your underwear. Pants are such a given requirement that even the signs about “No service” only mention shoes and shirts.

I will whole heartedly admit that I went into full crazy-wife freak out mode with thoughts of homicide and divorce in no particular order. I was halfway through painting my toenails, but didn’t have time to finish as we sprinted to the car and map-quested the nearest Target. (Side note: I am a social worker and my husband is a therapist, so we did not map-quest Nordstrom). We had 15 minutes to buy my husband a pair of pants and get to the resort for dinner. At Target, my husband bought a sturdy pair of black, stain-resistant, 100% cotton, Cherokee pants that paired with his silk Calvin Klein jacket and shiny Calvin Klein shoes in that classic beatnik (I don’t care what you think of me) way we were both hoping for. While he drove like a bat out of hell, I tried to keep my shaking hands from strangling him and attempted to finish embellishing my toes. While parked in the car, my husband threw his seat back and put on his brand new Cherokees that were a charming inch and a half too short. We half-walked, half ran into the resort’s lobby while I imagined how we might sneak in 20 minutes late without being noticed, and how we could sell our disheveled look as the new modern Zoolander “Derelict” fashion trend. As we hurried towards the conference room I heard someone yell out my name. We turned around to find my Vice President leisurely sipping a drink at the bar. When we joined him, he explained that the time on the invitation was incorrect and that the dinner didn’t actually start for another 40 minutes.

We were 40 minutes early!

We were 40 minutes early, yet my toes looked like a 2-year-old had caught me sock-less in my sleep and my husband was dressed like he stole pants from a 16-year-old Boston Market employee. Thank God I already HAD this job!

The next day, my husband (who spends $300-$500 on new speakers every 3 days) returned the tie and pants for a whopping $22 refund. He is now convinced that there is no need to pack for trips because he can buy what he needs once he gets there and return it when he’s done.

I can honestly say (and maybe you know someone like this too), that my husband is the luckiest person I know. He can make the biggest bonehead mistakes and it literally always works out for him. If the tables were turned and I had forgotten my dress, I can guarantee you that Target would’ve been out of all sizes except XS, my boss would’ve caught me changing in the car, one of my heels would’ve snapped off as we hurried through the parking lot, and when we arrived at the resort we would’ve been informed that the dinner was actually the night before. My husband’s good fortune in these circumstances is the reason I haven’t throttled him yet. However, everyone’s luck runs out eventually, so in the interim I’m working on increasing my hand strength…preparation is key.

Marriage has taught me that many of the moments we feel disappointed or frustrated with our significant other can instead be perceived as adventures….pant-less adventures. When I look back on that night I realize that it was always going to be a funny story…even if we had ended up being late. Maybe the hiccups in life are meant for us to hold our breath till they pass, and enjoy a good laugh afterwards!

One Year Ago

I found myself crying the whole time I wrote this. My intention was to make this post concise, but as I began to reminisce, it didn’t feel right to leave anything out…especially since so many of these memories are the most powerful and life-changing ones I have. I have done my fair share of venting about the chaos at work these last couple of months, including how bummed I was to have to travel on Super Bowl Sunday instead of being with my family and I have grown weary of listening to myself blather about not feeling well the last few weeks. With that being said, I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on where I was this time last year, and I’m shocked and disappointed at how easily I lost my perspective when life got busy! Today, I am choosing to reset how I respond to the stressors in my life, and to jumpstart that reset, all I have to do is take a few minutes to recall what life looked like for me this time last year. One year ago, I was completely debilitated and had been for over 4 months. I wasn’t just weak or weary…I was profoundly incapacitated. I was on approximately 10 different medications whose side effects made me so ill I lost 40lb in less than 2 months. I had seen multiple chiropractors, acupuncturists, reflexologists, massage therapists, dentists, endodontists, 6 different neurologists, visited the ER 3 times and was finally hospitalized for infusion therapy for 3 days with zero progress. I was unable to work, unable to drive, unable to run a simple errand or clean my house. I was unable to do most of the things we take for granted every day. The loss I experienced from no longer being able to participate in everyday tasks didn’t hold a candle to the grief I felt when I couldn’t care for my one and only newborn baby boy, Isaac. I had wanted to be a mother since I was able to push my dolls in a toy stroller and when I finally had the blessed opportunity, I couldn’t provide the basic things a mother gives her child. I couldn’t feed my son, I couldn’t bathe him or play with him or even laugh with him. I couldn’t comfort my son when he cried. My heart breaks as I recall a time I was holding Isaac and accidentally scratched his forehead with my fingernail. He cried so hard and so loud that my dad came running in from another room to hold him, soothe him, and quiet him because the pain I was living with had seized my ability to be my son’s comforter.

photo-6

One year ago I sent this email to my Primary Care Physician: I’m happy to tell you that I have a 4 week old beautiful and healthy son. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to enjoy him or take care of him on my own because of chronic migraines that I’ve been having since the beginning of my 3rd trimester. I’m sure that between the loss of my brother during my first trimester and the hormone changes in my body, I presented the perfect breeding ground for migraines. My MRI was normal and although we’ve tried lidocaine shots to my head, acupuncture, reflexology, chiropractic treatments, Imitrex, and a steroid, I’ve had no relief. At this point my neurologist has prescribed me Topomax (so I can no longer nurse my son), and he says it may or may not help, but even if it does help it would be at least 4 weeks before I get any relief. I can’t live in this pain and without the ability to care for my newborn son for another 4 weeks, but the neurologist (Dr. Marzulo) tells me that there are no other options. Even after I’ve researched things like Magnesium, B-12, all the triptans, Amitriptyline…he offers me nothing. Every night I fight the urge to go to the hospital for treatment as I deal with a level 10 migraine. I’ve contacted 3 other recommended neurologists (Dr. Win Toe, Dr. Fechtel, and Barrows Neurology) but it’s weeks before they have openings, and again I just can’t go on like this. I’m truly at my wit’s end and do not know what to do at this point. I was considering going to St Joe’s ER just so that I could get some relief and establish a relationship with a neurologist at Barrows. I’m reaching out to you because I don’t know what else to do and I know that you care about your patients. Do you have any insight or advice? I’m trying my best to advocate for myself and make wise decisions for my new family but I’m at a loss. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you Dr. Smith. I followed my doctor’s advice and went to St. Joe’s emergency room and several weeks after my ER visit, I was admitted to Barrow’s Neurological for infusion therapy. On January 5th, I was discharged from a 3-day stay at Barrows with no improvement. My husband and I decided to move in with my parents so they could help care for our son and their daughter. From the hospital, we stopped by the pharmacy to pick up $1200 worth of meds that, “could help me feel better in 4 weeks,” but in the meantime would make me feel like I was being poisoned. It was in the drive thru pharmacy where I lost all emotional control. I had never been so terrified in my entire life. I was watching my life, and the life of a son I couldn’t bond with, pass me by. It was by far the darkest, scariest, most hopeless time in my life. We arrived at my parent’s house and I was in so much pain emotionally and physically it’s all I could do to get inside and sit down in a chair without collapsing in the driveway first. My mother-in-law shared with me later that she was struck by the fact that I didn’t ask to see or hold Isaac as soon as I came inside (since I had been away from him for 3 days). When I look back on that day, the only thing I can remember is that I felt absent. I was already gone. I was no longer significant. My life was slowly slipping away and I was just watching from the sidelines. I don’t know that I even thought I could be or ever would be Isaac’s mommy. I didn’t think of myself as a source of life he needed or a source of life at all. I no longer mattered and soon would no longer exist. One year ago, I would wake up morning after morning, and with my eyes still closed I would pray, “let this be the day I feel better…let this be the day I get my life back…let this be the day I turn the corner…let this be the day I start living life again…please Lord, please God Damn-it, PLEASE!!!!!” I would slowly open my eyes, gently turn my head and feel that same pain that showed up day after day month after month, stealing my body’s ability to operate. I would instantly be reminded that I had to face another day of ice packs and heating pads, medications and dizziness, nausea and diarrhea, stabbing pain, throbbing pain, aching pain, and rubbing my face and head with so much intensity that my face would swell and become hot to the touch. Another day of trying to eat, another day of telling my family I was not feeling better, and another day of watching my son through a veil of fog that viciously divided me from him. Another day added to my list of convincing reasons that this would never end. I would spend each day participating in Isaac’s care in whatever way I could manage. Sometimes this meant laying on the floor next to him forcing a smile through the tears…stroking his beautiful face while telling him how very sorry I was that he didn’t have a mommy who could give him what he needed.  Other times it meant feeding him half a bottle until the pain was so intense my mom would lift him from my arms and my dad would help me get back to the room to lie down where I would cry from the pain and from the shame that accompanied the sad reality that I couldn’t be a proper mom. While Isaac took his naps, my parents and I would read every devotional in their house out loud, and I would use this time to search for the tiniest seed of strength, peace, hope, joy, wisdom, or solace to get me through the remainder of the day. Looking back now, I can see what precious moments these were with my parents and The Lord. As I felt myself falling apart, The Lord was using this time of struggle to build an even stronger bond with my family and with Him. The rest of my days were mostly spent lying on the couch or trying to eat something to keep up what little strength I had left. I would begrudgingly survive the day until I could take my cocktail of tranquilizers at 8pm and go to bed. The only thing I looked forward to were the hours I got to sleep under heavy sedation and be rescued from the pain that had tortured me for 12 waking hours. Most evenings my husband, dad, or brother would massage my head and shoulders long enough for a bath to be run. I would take my handful of pills, and then I would lie in the tub until the water was cold silently crying out with all my being, “PLEASE heal me or take me! I can’t endure any longer!” Writing this brings tears to my eyes as I remember sinking under the water to scream in anguish at the top of my lungs knowing that I would never be the mother I had always dreamed of being. Those baths, alone at night, I could so clearly see my future…laying in bed and slowly rotting till there was nothing left of me but breath. I would lay in the bath while the water drained, imagining all of the hurt and pain and disappointment going with it. By this time, the medications would begin to kick in, someone would help me get back to my bedroom and then my mom, or dad, or husband would sit on the side of the bed and stroke my head or lightly tickle my arm while I cried myself to sleep. I’ve often wondered if they ever intentionally took turns tending to me, as I can only imagine how draining it must have been to take care of someone so hopeless and scared. One year ago when I was left home alone, I would lie prostrate on the floor with my face in the ground and scream at God to take me, begging him to relieve me of my suffering and the suffering I was causing others, whether it was healing or death. IT DID NOT MATTER! I don’t write these things to be dramatic. This is how it was for me one year ago. It still frightens me to think back on those days and just how hopeless and alone and desperate I was. My stomach hurts when I think of the things I prayed for and when I remember that spirit of darkness that surrounded me with thoughts of letting go. With no light left, I would ask my parents and my husband dozens of times a day, “Am I ever going to get better?” I’ll never forget the terror I felt the day my husband asked me, “is this how our life is going to be from now on?” In a reaction of pure fear I screamed, “You can’t ask me that! I need you to believe that it won’t be like this forever and I need you to tell me over and over and over that it won’t be forever!!!” I required others to be confident that this was not the end, because I was no longer capable of believing in or even hoping for better days. It was during this time that countless friends and family held that hope in their hearts for me (for us) and there will never be words to adequately thank them for holding on when I no longer could. One year ago it was almost impossible for me to socialize, and if I did, there were painful consequences for days afterwards. I attempted to participate when I could, even though I knew there would be a price to pay. On Superbowl Sunday I took one of my dad’s Percocet’s just so I could be around family and friends for a few hours, and the next day was spent in bed recovering. I had missed all of my nephew’s basketball games, so I made up my mind I was going to go to the last game of the season no matter the cost! I attended the game and left during every time-out to avoid the music and loud announcements, but afterwards my pain escalated to an 8 for 3 straight days. Prior to my hospitalization, I attended my little brother’s 30th birthday and wasn’t able to move or converse at length due to the pain. I sunk into the couch attempting to protect others from the misery that surrounded me. I will never forget the sincerity in my nephew’s voice when he asked, “do you want me to sit with you so you’re not alone?” He sat with me and he made me a plate for dinner when the food was ready. Later in the evening, my oldest brother joined us and he held my hand while I rested my head on his shoulder. I don’t know if either of them will ever know the comfort they provided me that night while I tried to participate in a life that was always an arm’s length away. They were holding me together with love and I felt overwhelmed by their selflessness. Life was all around me and I was an outsider begging to get back in. Each gathering I attempted to be a part of only solidified that I wasn’t really living…I was painfully fading into the background. One year ago I told my husband that everyone would be better off without me. Isaac needed a mommy who could take care of him, take him to the playground, get him ready for school, help him with his homework, FEED HIM FOR GOD’S SAKE! I no longer saw value in my life. I said, “If this is living then I don’t want to live!!” This was the day my husband told me that I had to stop proclaiming that there was no hope. He made it clear that he would not accept my resignation as a mother or a wife and that one day we would reach the end of this terrible road together. This was the day he made me go outside and walk 1 short block while I cried in pain. He made me walk so that I would be reminded that the sun was still rising and I was still breathing. He made me walk to remind me that there’s beauty outside of what I was feeling…that there was beauty even amidst the ashes. He made me walk so that I would know that HE trusted there was light at the end of this dark journey and that I needed to hold on for him and for Isaac. He made me walk because I could! One year ago, many lovely friends visited to assure me that they had faith I would one day be well again. They brought me food I couldn’t eat and gave me love I desperately needed. Family and friends came by to hold me, cry with me, rock me in their arms, pray for me, and embrace and love on Isaac. So many people brought their light into my room of shadows and they will never know to what extent they gave me the comfort and hope I needed in the very moment they were present with me. I remember the dear friend who did my family’s grocery shopping each week and the friend who brought us a hot meal every Wednesday so that for one evening my incredibly benevolent parents wouldn’t have to worry about cooking or doing dishes. The love that was so graciously poured out on me and my family carried us through the bleakest of days and I cannot think of a way to appropriately express my gratitude to each and every person who gave of themselves with such compassion and generosity. One year ago, I knew that my maternity leave was coming to an end and I would be expected to return to work. Prior to having Isaac I had landed the job of my dreams and had been scheduled to start the first day I returned from FMLA. After my hospitalization in January, I sent my new boss (who I hadn’t worked a day for) this email:

“Dear Kelly,

I absolutely hate to be sending you this email and I pray that the next time you hear from me it will be nothing but good news. I have had debilitating migraines since having my son. My husband and I have had to move in with my parents and I was just recently hospitalized for 3 days with no relief from infusion therapy at Barrows Neurological. Most of the neurologists believe this is hormonal and will pass with time so I am hanging onto that hope. I am going to have to extend my leave to 16 weeks. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. I did not intend to start my new job by letting everyone down. I’ve always been a healthy person and this has just been the most horrible time of my life. I am so looking forward to the day that I can take care of my own son and step back into life and give 110%. I am so sorry.”

By February, my pain had retreated to a constant 5, but I was still unable to fully care for Isaac or myself, and the idea of trying to work seemed an impossible feat. I constantly worried that even if there was a day I was well enough to return, I would already have a reputation of someone who avoids work if she has the right excuse. I imagined the conversations my soon to be co-workers were having about me, and they went something like this: “She probably had her first kid and has decided she doesn’t want to work anymore.” or “How long can a person possibly have a migraine?” or “We shouldn’t have offered a position to someone right before she had her first baby.” or “Why doesn’t she just resign so that we can hire someone else versus dragging it out while we’re drowning in work?” What I desperately wanted them to know was that I couldn’t care for my firstborn let alone fathom the possibility of learning and working a brand new job. I couldn’t tell them that there was nothing I wouldn’t give to be able to do just one of those things. I couldn’t tell them that for me, it was just a pipe dream that I would one day be a functional mother to my son AND work a full-time job. I had begun to bitterly digest the idea that I would most likely lose my job, but even worse, that I would let down a group of women that I greatly respected and admired and who would never know how desperately I wanted to work alongside them. The following is a voicemail I left for my brother right around this time:

In mid-February, I did finally receive that dreaded call from my employer letting me know that if I didn’t return to work by 2/28, my job would no longer be protected. As I heard those words from HR, I had 2 thoughts: “This is it, the life I’ve known is over” and then, “Renee’, this is it, God has a plan for your life and you are not in control.” I don’t memorize Bible verses, but my massage therapist later quoted Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but that verse burst to life for me and was branded on my soul the split second I heard that I would probably lose my job. I finally embraced the realization that if I could will myself well it would’ve happened months ago. I acknowledged that I was not in control of what life doled out, but that I could choose how I reacted to the hand I was dealt. I had a choice…I could continue to crumble, lose all hope, and accept that the life I dreamed of was over, or I could let it all go, step away from the helm and TRUST that God had a plan for my life and that His plan is always good. This is when I finally felt that supernatural peace and strength I had been pleading for all those months. I realized during that phone call that I truly had no authority over how my life would proceed, but I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was surrounded by love, and that no matter what happened to my health or my job, The Lord had a plan and he would give me the strength and grace to see that plan through. I felt this truth (Jeremiah 29:11) in my inner core…a truth that gave me a peace so real that I can only describe it as being from God. I spent the rest of the day struggling with how I would tell my husband that I would most likely be unemployed soon, but when I finally gained the courage to say the words out lout, he also sensed that same inexplicable, “crazy” peace. We just KNEW that we KNEW that we would be okay. As Bob Marley so wisely sang, “everything’s gonna be alright.” My husband and I decided that I would attempt to go back to work on 2/28 and we remained prepared to accept that this may not be a successful endeavor. The day before my return was like every other day had been. I had the same level 5 pain and found it difficult to imagine that the next day of waking up early, getting ready, driving myself into work and starting a brand new job would be any degree of manageable. The night before, I took my regular handful of sedating drugs and my nightly bath, but then something different happened. I went to bed with more peace than I had felt in 5 months. As I fell asleep I remember saying a prayer of gratitude. I was thankful that I no longer felt the urge to control what happened to me and that I could unreservedly rest in The Lord and His plans for my life. I could see that He had used my brokenness for something good. He had used this chapter in my life to deliver me from the prison of worry. Releasing worry and anxiety from my daily routine was a freedom I had never had in my life. Roman 5:3-4 says, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” I was nowhere near rejoicing, but I could finally see how He was using this time in my life to transform me, and I could finally lean into my faith with confidence, because He had made himself so real to me through this trial. The weight of worry had been lifted and I felt lighter. When I woke up the next morning I was pain free for the first time in 159 days! One year ago today, I arrived at my new job and although the familiar pain visited me throughout the day, it never came close to what I had endured day in and day out for the last 5 months. February 28th, 2014 was the day I was finally convinced that I would be well again and that God wasn’t just going to give me the strength to live through the pain…He was going to see me through to the other side, and all the while I would be made stronger through the journey. On my way home that day I called a precious friend (who had prayed with me all of those months) and I cried as soon as I heard her voice. I was so overwhelmed with disbelief that I could barely get the words out, “it’s a miracle! There’s no other way to explain it. It’s a miracle! My pain level is manageable! I’m going to be ok! I worked….I can’t believe it…I worked! God is so faithful!” It had been so long since I had been capable of functioning at this level, that I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe this!” When I walked through my parent’s front door I saw them standing in the foyer anxiously waiting for me to return. I don’t think I was able to get a word out before we were tightly holding onto each other. I realize now that they were there because they knew I would either be ready to celebrate or in desperate need of comforting and they are always there when their kids need them. I was finally able to tell my parents that I had turned a corner and that one day I would be myself again. The gratefulness, relief and joy we all felt stunned us into silence. The following 7-8 months, I continued to have significant daily pain, but NEVER resembling those previous hopeless months. I continued with medications that made me feel terrible and injections in my head to help control the pain, but none of that weighed me down because I was ecstatic to be living again. We moved back home and began to see our little family develop the way we had always envisioned. I felt nothing but gratitude on the days I would work long hours and then arrive home to take care of my son, because this was far more life that I thought I would ever be capable of living. Even with chronic pain, I was finally in a place where I could be a mother, I could spend time with my family and friends, I could work again! I never felt more blessed and as I reminisce how far I’ve come in 1 year I’m reminded that every day is a blessing and can never be taken for granted. One year ago my husband held me in his arms and promised me that, “a year from now, you will not be in this much pain. A year from now, life will not look like this or feel like this. Renee’, so much will change in a year!” I could not see the future he imagined, but today, right now, 1 year later, we have a life that is blessed beyond measure. Revisiting the past year has done exactly what I imagined it would. Writing out my story has helped reset my outlook on life. Before I begin to complain about anything I face, I must remember what I’ve survived. It is my desire to use these lessons in life to shift my perspective to what really matters and avoid complaining about the things that don’t. I also want to use these lessons to help me remain mindful of the many priceless yet mundane experiences that make up this crazy life. I want to BE PRESENT. When we take our son to the playground, I must remember to stop and be aware that walking outside used to be an impossibility. When I throw my son in the air and hear his adorable giggle, I must remember that there were days I wasn’t capable of holding him in my arms. When I feel the pressures of work, I must remember the day I realized I might never work again. When I don’t feel 100%, I must remember there was a time I wasn’t healthy enough to even become sick. I must always remember that right here, right now is precious and beautiful and should never be taken for granted. And, when dark times visit again (which they most certainly will in this damaged world), I must remember that no matter how torn I feel or how dark the clouds around me, The Lord has a plan for my life and it is always good. No matter the trials I am sure to face in the future, I will remember that a year from this trial I can once again say, “One year ago….”

 

What a difference one year makes!IMG_7336

 

Slip of the Tongue

A few years back I had some suspicious symptoms which lead to several cardiac tests that made me feel older than I am….or reminded me that I’m older than I act. First, I had to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours that would sound off a dramatic series of beeps each time it detected something irregular (like intercourse), then I had a stress test (which is as yoga-like as it sounds), and finally I was scheduled for an EKG.

The day I went in for my EKG a nice young nurse took me into the exam room and explained that I needed to undress from the waist up and put on a cozy hospital gown with the opening in the front. She also instructed me to lie on the exam table on my left side with my left arm straight above my head, and my right arm behind me and out of the way. When she left the room, I did as I was told, and being the prudish woman that I am, I fussed and fussed with the opening of my gown to make sure that both my nipples were covered…OMG, I’m such an old maid that even typing the word “nipple” makes me blush! Let me try that again…I fussed and fussed with the opening of my gown to ensure that all confidential areas were kept off the record. I was in just the right position to retain my dignity when a young, very handsome, MALE technician walked into the room. I was mortified at my vulnerability as he professionally proceeded to administer the EKG (in my chestal region OR what my best friend and I fondly refer to as the boobelarea, which sounds like a disease you can contract in Africa). With his hands so very near the “twins,” I felt out of sorts, sweaty, violated even…but in a 50 Shades of Grey way. As if he had done this a thousand times he asked, “What symptoms were you having that prompted the cardiologist to order this EKG?”

I smoothly responded, “I was having shortness of breasts.”

SOB!!! <Apparently there are many interpretations of this acronym!>

This slip of the tongue did NOT make things LESS awkward, but it sure did make for a good story once I got the heck out of that office! My advice to you: When you’re in an uncomfortable situation, use “private parts” puns (intentionally or unintentionally). If you don’t laugh then…you will most certainly laugh later! J

My Teenage Antithesis

I was a challenging child and a head-strong teenager. I’m the only girl of 4, so I argue that my uniqueness made me appear more difficult than I actually was. My poor dad did not know what to do with this ball of emotion who made every decision based on feelings versus critical thinking (or even plain old regular thinking). Aside from the natural trials that came with being the new and strange creature in a house full of testosterone, my dad and I spent many years figuring out how to navigate each other’s shared stubbornness. My adolescence was spent butting heads with my father like the bighorn sheep you see on the Discovery channel. He was constantly trying to protect me from myself and I was constantly insisting on being myself.

Then there is my little brother.

Thank the good Lord my parents had my younger brother to remind them that they had 1 more opportunity to raise a normal child. He jokes that he learned at a young age to sit back and observe me…and then do the exact opposite. My little brother is one of the kindest, supportive, thoughtful men you will ever meet, and I humbly like to think it’s because of me. He patiently listened to me cry over every boy who didn’t like me back, hugged me through each world-crushing A-, and perpetually encouraged me through years of bad hair and acne. It’s obvious that I was selflessly preparing him for marriage with a “How to Listen and Talk to Women” bootcamp of sorts….

This might be a good time to say “You’re welcome Ryan!”

I’m sure you all have had conversations in your lives that go something like this, “So and so is an incredible person, especially considering the environment they grew up in. It’s amazing how well they’ve done for themselves!” This is how I feel about my brother growing up with me. It could have gone 2 ways. 1. He could have avoided anything that resembled emotions or feelings or femaleness for that matter OR 2. He could have chosen to become strong and kind and believe in the existence of reasonable women. Thankfully he chose the latter, but he wasn’t always the angelic brother I’m painting him out to be.

One night I was having a particularly heated debate with my dad, with lots of eye-rolling and sounds like “pshhhh” (both coming from me of course). I’m sure the argument had something to do with my dad not understanding how much I liked the much older guy who wanted to take me to the drive-in movies and that my love life would forever be destroyed if he didn’t let me go. The volume of my crying and the shade of red filling my father’s face had reached epic proportions. It was at this moment of intense sound and color that my little brother (my teenage antithesis)…my sweet, yet shamelessly crafty brother walked in and said, “Dad, can I have your keys so I can wash your car?”

After talking myself down from the “strangle my brother” cliff, I decided it was time for me to sit back, observe, and learn from him. This might be a good time to say, “Thank you Ryan!”

The Most Important Resolution

Two years ago I unknowingly made the most important New Year’s resolution of my life. At the beginning of each year, a girlfriend and I convene at our favorite local restaurant and devour delicious food and wine while writing New Year’s goals, such as lose weight and drink less. In 2013 I made an unlikely goal that continues to bless me beyond measure.

My family is close. I wish I could still compare us to the Cosby Show, but that reference has sadly been contaminated, so let’s say we are Brady Bunch close minus the blended family and having a maid. My sister-in-law once shared that when she met my family she found it a bit uncomfortable that we all hugged each other hello, but then she really had second thoughts about dating my brother when we also hugged each other goodbye. “Are two hugs in one day really necessary!? It just seems unnatural!” she said. In total, a gathering with my family is valued at approximately 24 loving embraces. For the record, this same sister-in-law now initiates and even asks for hugs! Yet another victim of my family’s affection – Victory!

Everyone in my family has always lived in the same state and we spend time together on purpose even in between holidays. We genuinely love being together…it’s weird I know! In 2012, one of my older brothers and his family (a beautiful wife and twin girls) moved to Seattle for a wonderful job opportunity that could not be passed up. It was a very difficult goodbye, and although I tried to guilt him into staying, I was proud of him for making the decision to do what was best for his nuclear family. Thankfully, our entire clan was able to gather twice that year (once for a week in Durango to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and then again in AZ for Christmas). It almost felt like they had never left. They had been living in Washington for a short 9 months and in those 9 months we had spent 3 weeks together, so it seemed odd that I felt such a strong urge to make a New Year’s resolution around communicating more often with my family.

I met with my friend at the first of the year and we set physical, spiritual, professional, and relationship goals. My relationship goal for 2013 was to call or text my family members at least once a week. That night I sent a text to my 3 brothers promising to do a better job staying in touch with them throughout the year. I’m positive the text also included something totally mushy and estrogen-sounding, but I can’t recall exactly. I remember feeling an enormous urgency to put more into my family relationships, especially my family in Seattle. I had no idea how important this goal was or how timely.

Unthinkably, my brother Burt died in a tragic accident 5 months later. Of course, no amount of communication could have replaced what we lost, but I will forever be grateful that I now have voice mails, texts, videos, and countless memories of our communication from those 5 months. I have voice mails of his laugh and videos of him saying “love you Ne’!” I have texts from him that make me giggle. What little comfort one can have after a loss like this, I am thankful for the comfort these messages offer me in my moments of intense grief. We loved each other and told each other often.

I didn’t meet with my friend in 2014 as I was still reeling from the loss of our precious Burt and very much in survival mode. After a 1-year hiatus we will meet again this Saturday and I can’t help but ask the Lord to help me set goals that truly matter. I pray that the intentions I set for 2015 will be bigger than myself and have broader and more positive impacts than I could possibly imagine.

What will be your most important resolution for 2015?

Love from Different Planets

Remember the book, Men are from Mars Women are from Venus? My husband and I could fill that book with real life examples that illustrate our ability to live on different planets and yet love each other deeply and with no regrets. Our differences were never noted in a larger public forum than during the unforgettable toasts at our wedding. One of our favorite examples came from my father-in-law who summed us up well when he said, “In thinking about this marriage I was at first struck by the apparent differences between Renee’ and Peter. While both were born in Arizona, Renee stayed and Peter left. She grew up in Arizona in a large family with three siblings; he grew up in New York in a small family as an only child. They grew up in different places and under different circumstances of religion and world views. She is from a mid-west conservative background; he is from an east coast liberal perspective. And yet, once past these obvious differences, there are many similarities….they share a love for…food (he loves to cook, she loves to eat), sports (she loves to play, he loves to watch)…with all of these shared values and characteristics, these two are certain to have a loving and happy marriage.” Truth be told, we do have a loving and happy marriage and I believe one of the many reasons is because we celebrate our differences (by pointing and laughing at one another).

One of our many “how in the world did we end up together” moments was wonderfully highlighted 2 years ago while I was pregnant with our first child. A dear friend had taken me to the hospital due to contractions and Pete met us there shortly after we arrived. To set the scene, I must say that with the exception of being pregnant with a beautiful and healthy little boy, the 9 month incubation period was less than ideal. To put it gently, Pregnancy made me its Bitch. I had ALL of the normal icky pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, teenage acne, back pain, stomach cramps, constipation, insomnia-inducing heartburn, exhaustion, and tooth pain that certainly would have lead to an unnecessary root canal if I hadn’t stumbled out of the Endodontist’s chair, pushed past the doctor, ran frantically out of the office, and called my dad from the parking lot swearing that I would NOT go through one more unpleasant thing during this pregnancy. In addition to these lovely symptoms that most women are prepared for, I also became completely debilitated with migraines during my third trimester. I admit that when I have severe pain in any part of my body that lasts longer than 30 seconds you can be sure to find me on WebMD, Ask.com, Answers.yahoo.com, CDC, livestrong, everydayhealth.com, and any other website (credible or completely bogus) that caters to neurotic women who can’t help but diagnose themselves based on information they receive from everyone BUT a doctor. With that being said, by the time I made it to the hospital, I was full of worry and fear about my health and the health of our baby. The 3 of us began talking about my worries and fears, and in an effort to lighten the mood and lower my blood pressure, Pete suggested that we review each other’s search history on our phones. He thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the variety of topics that occupy our minds on any given day. I bravely (yet another dissimilarity) went first. My search history looked something like this:

Can a migraine cause a stroke?

How long before a migraine leads to a stroke?

What symptoms appear before a stroke?

Can Tylenol tension headache hurt a baby at 32 weeks?

How long can I take Tylenol before it damages my organs?

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor and do I have one?

Obviously, Pete’s point had been made and we laughed at my lengthy anxiety-provoking “keyword” searches. Then it was my husband’s turn. He resisted at first, but eventually I was able to wrestle his phone away with my super pregnant lady strength and here is what I read:

Off-road vehicles

best sound system

speakers for sale

fastest luxury vehicle

and the most telling of all….

Does sex help with migraines?

We laughed so hard I had my baby. Kidding, but for a small and relieving moment I forgot all about the pain that had stolen every one of my waking moments for 3 months straight. Laughing at ourselves and at each other has been exactly the gravitational pull that has brought our 2 crazy planets together, and no matter where we are in life I’m proud that my husband and I continue to celebrate each other’s diversity in ways that would get us into trouble with any HR department.

Mama Bear

This week’s writing challenge (Hindsight is 20/20) helped me realize how much thicker my skin is now, than it was even 5 years ago. The idea of going back in time to apply the perfect comeback to a situation that had previously stunned me into silence (that’s a lie…I was stunned into sniveling in the last stall of the women’s bathroom) isn’t as enticing as it might have been before my 30’s. However, what hasn’t changed is my intrinsic “mama bear” response when those I love are treated poorly, so I decided to use the challenge to reply to the email below as if it had been originally sent to a dear friend or family member. The email below was written by a co-worker, and sent to me at 9:42pm for no other reason (that I can think of) than he could NOT stop thinking about me. Ha!

From:  (Jim) 


Sent: Tuesday, November 03, 2009 9:42 PM


To:  Renee


Subject: Perception is reality?

Renee,

I hate to be the one…but I really like you and I want you to know my perspective. I think your laughing is seen as distracting to others around us. I want you to realize that sometimes I think “perception is reality” to a certain extent…sometimes it’s not warranted…we must be mindful of those around us. Has anyone ever been honest enough with you to tell you what I’m telling you?

Jim

Below is the email I would’ve sent had I found my friend crying in the last stall of the bathroom due to this late night self-esteem crusher.

Jim,

I hate to be one of many…but I really feel sorry for you, and you need to hear my perspective. I think your curmudgeon-ness is rubbing off on others around us. You need to realize that my friends laugh and general happiness present a unique leadership opportunity for you. As Stephen R. Covey, writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change: “To change ourselves effectively, we first (have) to change our perceptions.” You COULD choose to lead other trolls out from under the bridge, and begin perceiving laughter as a sound that brings joy and tolerance to the workplace. Sometimes we have to “face the facts” even when they are difficult to live with. You must be mindful of how your glum face and ogre-like presence tends to make others miserable. Has anyone ever been honest enough to tell you that you’re a sad little man?

Renee’

I also could’ve been less wordy, but still got my message across with a little hard-core Christian sarcasm:

Jim,

Everyone hates you but God. He loves you unconditionally! Isn’t that great news?!

Renee’

And of course there’s the response that could only have been sent with sincerity if I had spent a week praying for wisdom:

Jim,

God loves you!

Renee’

In 2015, I pray that the Lord gives me the grace to be a vessel of love and forgiveness even when my flesh has every reason to be angry and hold a grudge. I pray that I will be an example of His love regardless of the personalities I may bump up against. Until then, I have 10 days to behave however I want! 🙂