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That’s what my grandmother asked my mother when Mom was moving her from her retirement studio apartment to the nursing home. And, for once, my wisecracking grandmother was being serious.

My own mother moved into her retirement apartment eleven months ago, leaving behind a whole mountain of “stuff” up in her former home in the mountains. You’d have thought a person couldn’t have kept that much in a 1,100 square foot condo, especially since she had been able to park in the single car garage all along.

Never underestimate my mother’s ability to keep stuff. My parents lived in their previous home for over twenty years and, if the cars were ever parked in the double car garage, it was only in those brief months before my mom transferred the remaining items from the home previous to that one.

A child of the Depression, Mom seemed to fear lack. She never wanted to run out of things. But as someone with the family ADD who had also experienced a car accident-related head injury in her teens, she also didn’t have many organizational skills, despite being raised by a mother who had a place for everything. Mom couldn’t remember where she stored up either her treasures or her supplies. She put away my kindergarten rug so it would be new for my first days of school, but the rug wasn’t found again—by her friend no less—until I was in 1st grade.

And, so it came to pass that this weekend, in anticipation of the upcoming sale of her condo, that our family had to figure out how to make it all fit into something. Luckily my brothers-in-law have a party rental business and March isn’t a big party time. Not only did we have access to their business truck, but also to the professional packing expertise of one brother-in-law and his adult son.

Yes, it could all fit, but should it? The answer is that some of it should and some of it shouldn’t, but there was no time to make those decisions. So, in good (recent) American tradition, we rented a storage unit. My husband’s overly patient relatives carried out both the nicely arranged boxes my brother and his wife had packed, as well as the random jumbled boxes of half a century, and helped us move those items to one more resting place.

As a woman with my own ADD, sandwiched between caring for my mother and my children, I was too overwhelmed to think about anything more than finishing the task at hand. I just wanted to get the items back to my own town where it would be easier to go through them—some day.

But not my daughter. Christiana could feel the nevermore of those empty walls. The absence of the healthy grandfather and grandmother who would take her brother and her on mountain excursions of discovery. The dreams of a lifetime’s work too soon ended.

So she went on a treasure hunt in boxes, digging through jewelry, photos, and letters that could show her who her grandparents had been. And, that’s when she really ached, especially for the grandmother who had been her friend, holding her hand since not long after her birth.

The stuff in the storage unit is a poor reflection of my mother’s legacy, even if it holds so much of her essence. She likes to point out the photos on the wall of my brother and me, as well as of our families—this she says was her life’s work. But her legacy touched more than her own.

My mother was the fun-loving single aunt to many before she had her own little distractions. From her earliest years, she led young and old in song and instrument. Even though she only spent around twenty years being paid to teach, she was called to be a music teacher throughout her life.

I don’t want to remember her for those things that overwhelmed her—and continue to overwhelm me. No, I want to remember her for the songs she put in our hearts.

And those will always fit, every single one of them.

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After a winter of very little snow, we are finally scheduled to get the “Big One”—or so they say. I knew the TV people were salivating at a chance to talk about snow—finally—so I didn’t necessarily believe their hype at first.

But . . . I am starting to believe. By this morning we had received only a light frosting of snow, mostly on roofs and the tops of cars. Then a few large flakes began to follow. While I was in the shower, the flakes begin hitting the glass block window in an unusually aggressive way—I almost thought I was on the Starship Enterprise hurtling along at warp speed (did I mention that for once I got to sleep in and, in those cases, sometimes I wake up a little unaware of reality?)

The early innocence of the first flakes reminded me of other times the weathercasters were right. October 1997 when my dad said he wouldn’t come visit due to snow. I thought he was crazy when I looked out at a few sparsely falling flakes. And then there was December 2006 when I couldn’t believe my kids’ school postponed their last day of morning finals due to predicted snow midday. Anyone in Denver back then remembers digging out from that one just in time to celebrate Christmas—before we got slammed by an even bigger storm.

When they’re right, they’re right. We need the moisture. The ski resorts need the moisture to finish their seasons. I should be happy about this. And, normally I might be. Every once in awhile it’s nice to remember the weather gets to call the shots, even if it means I’m going to spend several hours trying to clear snow from a parking lot.

The irony is we had scheduled tomorrow for moving day from Mom’s condo. My brother was going to be driving in from Oklahoma to help. (Haven’t you heard? There is another “Big One” hitting Oklahoma and western Kansas.) For sure we won’t have my brother’s help, but I don’t think any of us wants to trudge through over a foot of snow while loading up a truck, let alone drive up and down the mountains in a truck during a winter warning.

So we wait . . . and try to formulate Plan B (or C, D, or whatever!) The forsythia blooms and tree blossoms should have known better, just like I should have known.

Nonetheless, in that hush before large storms cause havoc, it’s easy to forget the “what ifs” and just give in to the beauty as the snow begins to blanket our world. The dusty, parched earth breathes a sigh and begins to drink after a long, dry winter.

Christiana went to physical therapy yesterday again, but since it’s Spring Break, we weren’t there during a crowded times such as when she often goes. As such, there were a few regulars there with more interaction going on. One patient, apparently, has a comment on physical therapy he likes to make and we got to hear it. His theory: physical therapy isn’t about getting better—it’s about learning pain tolerance.

Ha, ha—of course, he was joking, I think. Most of the people there yesterday looked like pretty fit people who wanted to get back in their games, whatever those games might be. As someone who has been out of my game before, I can understand the adult patients’ perspective from a different angle than my daughter can.

As I said before, in high school, when I was in pain from running, I didn’t want to make time for the exercises. I was too busy for exercises—I just wanted to get back to my form without having to squeeze in time for something extra in my life. In some ways, kids can afford to think that way because they do heal quicker than older people do. But if your form is leading to your pain, it doesn’t really go away—it just goes in remission.

When I competed in high school and college athletics, I think our attempts at healing from injuries were more like slapping a Band-aid on the problem. We treated the location of the problem—the what—but not necessarily the why of the problem.

And the problem has followed me much of my life. Five years ago I ended up with plantar fasciitis, which led to weight gain. Pretty soon my back was aching due to imbalance with my pirriformis muscle. By forty-three, this former athlete was starting to get out of her chair like a much older person.

I had already begun practicing yoga, but yoga’s healing, though long-lasting, is often a slow process. When I went to my doctor, she suggested adding Pilates to see if I could avoid having to go to physical therapy for the problem. I thank her so much for that advice. The twin practices of yoga and Pilates did deal with the pain and eventually I could get out of any chair without any trouble.

“Fast” forward through four years of yoga and three and a half of Pilates, and this past Saturday I was able to run my first 10K in over a decade. At the Colorado Masters Running/Racewalking Association award ceremony, I stared in awe at those in their 60s, 70s, and even one man in his 80s who were still running 10Ks—and many faster than I did, by the way. They either were blessed with good form and genetics or somewhere along the way they learned how to run better so that they weren’t damaging their bodies so much.

Just Friday night I was explaining the hidden blessing of Christiana’s injury to her friend—a logic I know makes no sense when you’ve only had to give up an activity for several weeks or months versus years. When you’re sixteen, you can’t imagine losing the ability to do something for forever—even though there are many young athletes who have lost those abilities in their teens.

You can pay people to teach you how to run with the proper biomechanics. But if you get injured and you have insurance, your insurance company is going to help you pay somebody to teach you that along with paying them to work you through specific exercises to heal whatever your injury is. The approach is no longer about just healing the knee, but also about figuring out how to change so you won’t, sooner or later, lose the ability to use your knee just because how you do things destroys the joint.

While going to Christiana’s sessions with her, I’ve realized I could have benefited from some physical therapy after all to go along with the yoga and Pilates classes. Thankfully my instructors shared quite a bit of information on physiology while they were putting me through the sometimes painful moves. Nonetheless, I am listening and trying to learn more so that one day I can be that 80-year-old person getting my medal from the Colorado Masters.

In the end, changing biomechanics is about more than learning pain tolerance—it’s about doing what you can to be free to choose how to use your body for as long as you can.

The psalmist’s words begin to run through my head and, once again, I hear the music, played at our church each Holy Week, while the words of Psalm 22 are read and the altar is stripped.

Maybe these words are melodramatic compared to our family’s situation, but not being able to help my kids, despite years of effort and seeking various types of support, brings me to my knees. I am a mother who has tried to balance teaching my kids to deal with the world while trying to help them through the difficult areas when they don’t seem to fit with the world and its expectations. I have always struggled with knowing when to push them through a difficulty and when to advocate for them or find them help.

When they were toddlers, I had such illusions that I could teach them independence. I had them do things for themselves. I asked them to say what they needed. I tried hard to show them they weren’t helpless against a world, full of systems and people, where they would encounter both the fair and the unfair.

This week has left me wondering if I will ever figure that out. Not for them, not for myself, not even for the other quirky kids who are mystified by so much of this life.

To all the parents out there who think they control their kids and how they respond to life, I challenge them to look closely at who their kids were when they came to them. If having twins taught me anything at the beginning, it was that babies come with their own personalities—and sometimes with their own baggage. Whether that baggage is based on biological conditions or just on who they are, I cannot say.

What frustrates me is when I encounter people in the helping professions or the educational system who either don’t get this or have forgotten this in their pursuit of goals for the kids. From time to time, like over the course of this previous day, my encounters with this lack of understanding can temporarily drive me to despair.

When the experts spend too much time living in their theoretical realities and not in the kids’ realities, they can make decisions based on mistaken assumptions. And what a cost there can be in that.

My daughter doesn’t clam up in therapy because she is a rebel at heart. She is frightened and unsure how to take the next step. Yes, she’s in therapy to “get over” that, but she needs understanding first in order to help her stop digging in her heels. A simple sincere “You’re right; that’s tough and I want to help you figure out how your responses can change a little so that you feel better” goes a long way. But if somehow a counselor assumes that the reason she isn’t listening is because she thinks all authority should be questioned, then the ability to reach her is lost.

No matter how it appears to educators, my son, who is more of a rebel, knows very well the personal cost for him of doing too much homework—or having undone work hanging over his head. Many kids like him—those who find it so hard to focus on additional work after a day hard at work in school—have been sacrificed on the altar of homework since their early grade school years. Teachers said they could do it—and when those kids knew they couldn’t, they stopped trusting the authority of the adult leaders.

How I wish I could have spent those homework hours doing more hands-on activities with him, such as reading together, playing games, and creating things, instead of trying to play the role of the “good” parent who enforced the “no play until homework is done” rule.

My kids are good kids, even if they don’t fit in the box of the educational or therapy systems. How do I get educators and therapists to see that they are being crushed by the assumption that they are just willful kids instead of kids who resort to defense mechanisms to try to protect themselves? Wouldn’t they skip classes, turn to substance abuse, sneak out, etc. if they were really trying to stick it to us all?

But no, they go to their classes. They come to the therapy sessions. And when they are not heard regarding their difficulties, parts of them start to die.

Yes, they drive me crazy with their inability to do things the usual way, but over time I’ve come to concede that much of this really is an inability, not just a personal decision to toy with us. I have lived with them long enough to see the destructiveness of telling them they can do things easily that are in truth hard for them—or that they can’t—at least yet—do at all.

Do I think they shouldn’t ever have to do hard work or learn to do things in a new way? No.

However, aren’t they already working hard by trying to conform to systems that don’t suit them?

How will they continue to avoid despair when so often they are told if they were just trying harder, things would get better? If the experienced professionals can’t see how hard they are already trying, how will those professionals ever help them to find the help within themselves that they need?

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Psalm 22:6, NIV

That verse reflects how my daughter often feels after these encounters—even when those in charge only want to help her change.

Sometimes the help I have sought for my children seems to be the opposite of what they need. And that makes me want to cry out:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22:1a, NIV.

Then I remember other words:

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. Psalm 22:24, NIV.

Sometimes, when one of my kids has seemingly hit a wall, I can finally let go of what hasn’t worked.

So today I looked out the window, saw the early blooms on the forsythia, picked up my heart, and began to seek, once more, the help my kids need.

That’s when a new, creative way of doing things occurred to me—and I knew that, despite appearances, my cry for help had been heard.

I remember when I used to promote, with pride, that I was detail-oriented. (Bird walk: I recently read that using that term is passé in résumés. Whatever. No doubt I am passé, too.) I’m here to tell you that I had no idea how many more details there were when you manage matters for a family and a parent, as well as for yourself.

Our refinance, Mom’s sale and the need to move her things, Christiana’s health appointments, Jackson’s 504 meeting, both kids’ recent math challenges. Yikes. Lots of papers, phone calls, and e-mails to add to the usual papers, phone calls, and e-mails. No wonder important (and not so important) papers keep morphing all over my office—and the kitchen and the dining room table—and probably lots of other places where they don’t belong.

I have to remind myself that managing all these newest details is leading to some very good results, even if it isn’t leading to much writing!

Our loan closing is about to get scheduled, the condo will soon be emptied out and sold, the physical therapy is not only helping the pain but promises to bring improvement to Christiana’s future activities, the 504 meeting will help with Jackson’s work, and the tutor should help turn around the twin downward spirals in math.

I “get” this, I really do. Thank goodness Michelle and I were able to get away for a precious twenty-four hour period this weekend. All we had to decide were things like where to eat and what to choose from the menu—as well as to give in to the decision to leave the details behind for a few hours.

Too bad we couldn’t decide to purchase those colorful sterling silver and stone bracelets the clerk promised us he could mark down from $1,900 to around $600—the devil really is in the details after all.

When you struggle with certain everyday aspects of life, it’s amazing how much relief you can find when the struggle is reduced even a little bit.

Wednesday, after I took Christiana to the doctor, we stopped by a King Soopers that we knew carried the Udi’s gluten-free blueberry muffins she likes. But this particular King Soopers, unlike those in our neighborhoods, carries a multitude of gluten-free products.

Christiana may have been sick, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the ear-to-ear grin on her face. In both the freezer section and the baking section, she encountered a multitude of the products we use—and several more we hadn’t discover yet. In the store her walk turned almost Tiggerific.

Kinnikinnick chocolate-chip muffins and frozen-waffles. Chebe breadsticks. Amy’s macaroni and cheese. A full assortment of Bob’s Red Mill products, including brownie, pancake, and chocolate chip cookie mixes. All gluten-free products in a non-specialty grocery store not too far out of the way for us.

I wondered why until I realized this was the King Soopers closest to Beau Jo’s. The shopping center at Yale and Colorado Boulevard is definitely developing into a celiac’s best friend.

What a difference from our experiences last month. The supposedly simple act of eating just got a little bit easier for our family—thanks to the businesses that cater to this growing market of people who are just as hungry—if not more sometimes—as the rest of us.

And that makes all the difference to this family.

My life is spinning with all sorts of detail-related activities. When that happens, it is so hard for me to focus on the creative or enjoyable side of life. I’m just trying to wade through the papers, appointments, and phone calls—which is not my favorite way to live.

At least some of that wading promises to make life easier down the road. Last Saturday we got an offer on Mom’s condo! I have been worrying after sending out eleven months of double living expense payments for Mom. Add the donut hole expenses to that and you can see why she is not in a good financial position. That’s why we accepted an offer that was a few thousand below what we wanted because, by bickering over a few thousand, we might lose more than that.

The minor details involved signing the offer and getting Mom to sign a Power of Attorney form for the transaction. The major detail, however, is clearing out her place—by the end of this month!

You have no idea how much we’ve already removed from the 1,100 square feet place, but the garage is still almost as full as it was a year ago when Scott and Lori packed it up. Mom’s been moving some stuff around for about fifty years—and the valuable is mixed with things that should have never stayed a week, let alone half a century. Most likely we will have to dump these items all together in a truck and then put them in storage to go through later.

I am so not good at dealing with stuff, although I’m somewhat better with someone else’s items than my own. I wish I had room in my yard for one of those storage cubes so I could just work on going through the things a little bit every day. But short of setting the cube in my driveway, I’m out of space here.

Then there’s our own refinance that we began in January. Somehow they didn’t have all the items we sent them, so off they went again. Next I had to write a letter describing what we would do with any cash out—I guess consumers’ splurging on unnecessary whims (because we are worth it, no less) is no longer priceless to lenders—don’t worry medical bills and necessary home repairs are no splurge. Plus, I had to explain why I got a Kohl’s card. Um, because Kohl’s will give me a bigger discount on the clothes we already buy if we use their card—thus saving money. All this jumping through hoops just shows how tight credit really is these days, given that our credit scores hover just around 800 and we have around $160,000 in equity in our home.

If we get all the papers in and all the lenders are happy enough, then we just have to avoid closing on Mom’s sale and our refinance in the same day!

Now, this afternoon I need to turn back to all those phone calls and e-mails with the school, tutor, various medical people, etc. No wonder I want to run away . . .

which is precisely what I’m going to do this afternoon. Before we knew the condo would sell, I had planned to steal away to it for a precious twenty-four hours, just me and a close friend who has her own life full of detail-oriented activities. OK, so now I also have to hand over a paper to the realtor and allow the appraiser in while we’re there, but there will be no kids, dogs, husbands, mothers—or any other of their related details—to attend to.

The value of an “almost” detail-free get-away: priceless.

or two, plus a bunch of other medical professionals. Yes, I’m still not playing a doctor, but I’ve seen a few medical people since my last post. Grr.

On Monday, Christiana made it in to see a physical therapist for a quick assessment. The next day she returned for a more thorough evaluation and is now in the process of learning to walk again. Yes, the way she walks, runs, sits, stands, etc. has led to her knee strain and all its pain.

I arrived mid-session since I had been to visit my own doctor for a thyroid re-check. That is one routine I do every six months, so I don’t even have to go through the maddening process of deciding if I need to go. The doctor’s not going to give me my medications if I don’t come in to let her hit my knees with the rubber mallet and prod my neck—and stick out my arm so the nurse can remove some of my blood.

Band-Aid-covered cotton ball freshly in place on my arm, I drove (safely—I promised Dr. Papner I would) to the P.T. session. When I came in, my daughter was walking in front of a mirror. She looked like the Winter Warlock re-learning his “walk” in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. However, you can bet she wasn’t singing “Put one foot in front of another . . .”

Place walking on the list of things that people in our family haven’t seemed to learn to do right as we’re growing up. We’ve already found out that we don’t breathe, swallow, or blink correctly. What are we busy doing when we’re supposed to be learning those basics? Trying to climb out of our cribs too early?

Anyway, I feel pretty confident that not only have the medical people directed us in the right direction toward her healing, but they are also working to correct the biomechanics behind what led to the injury. I know Christiana doesn’t appreciate the extra pain and work now, but it beats getting to start re-learning how to do everything in your mid-40s. Trust me on that one—although I probably would have disagreed when I was 16, too!

Add a visit to her doctor’s office this morning to make sure she didn’t have strep or the flu (with her having too many absences this year already, she needed proof), one for my mother tomorrow, and our regularly scheduled DBT session, that will make six visits for us this week.

At least Christiana has met her maximum out-of-the-pocket expenses for this plan year, but I can just see the actuaries figuring out how to raise premiums since families like ours actually have to use our medical plan.

Oh yeah, we do pay, one way or the other.

Not on TV. Not on stage. Not in a telenovela. And, not in Real Life.

In fact, just for a few moments here, I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the days when people assumed doctors were gods. Then, all patients had to do was report symptoms and wait to hear the pronouncement of the cure.

Now we all turn to the Internet to do research before we even decide to go the doctor. Maybe that has something to do with high deductible insurance plans, too. Who wants to pay full price for a medical appointment to hear that rest is the only cure?

Anyway, I’ve recently been faced with a trifecta of health concerns for my son, daughter, and mother.

As I have already blogged, I missed the boat on getting my son to the doctor in time to get him treated for Influenza B. Consequently, he spent five days with fevers and now possesses a cough that will wake the dead. That should be helpful for getting caught up in his studies and running track—not!

Then there’s my daughter. Her knee has been hurting since soon after she began track practices. The trainer and coach suggested ice and non-running workouts. That hasn’t really made a difference, so now we have to look at different options.

First, we went to the Boulder Running Company for insight from the running shoe fitting professionals. She’s now in a good shoe based on some running quirks I (!) observed that might be causing the pain. In fact, she has been wearing the shoes for everyday just to see if they will stabilize the problem and they are definitely helping.

That’s the good news. But do we still need to go see a specialist? The trainer looked at her knee on Friday and told her she needed to go see someone else. Help—I need an idea of what kind of someone else, especially when she’s trying to get healed enough so she can get back on the track during this season. Orthopedic doctor, podiatrist, physical therapist—who?

For my mother, the consequences of indecision might be even more devastating. At least in her case I know to start with her primary care doctor—Medicare and the supplemental insurance will cover that visit. Mom passed out, just sitting in a chair, waiting to go into breakfast at her retirement center. She figured it was just low blood sugar, so she didn’t feel the need to hurry to tell me. Which she didn’t.

Great . . . when I found out three days after the fact, I had her blood sugar numbers in hand and I could tell it wasn’t due to low blood sugar. In fact, her number was a little high, but not high enough to cause real immediate trouble. Last summer when this happened, she was dealing with intense heat and blood pressure medications that were keeping her heart pumping too slowly to deal with the heat. But it’s definitely not hot and we’ve changed the medications.

Now what? As I delve into the recesses of the Internet, I see it could be all sorts of bad things—or not.

And that’s why, as soon as I get the vital sign numbers from the retirement center nurse, I’m going to let the doctor play the doctor.

A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers

A Cup of Comfort for New Mothers

Yesterday I came home to find an envelope from FedEx. Cup of Comfort for New Mothers had arrived with my story in it!

“The Rope” is about my late pregnancy realization that I only had so much control over my future parenting journey. I was just starting to understand how difficult it was going to be care for two people—and yet help them to be who they were and to live in the world outside our home.

When I read this work I had written when my kids were five, I realized how little I knew then about what we would need to face in these years since. That’s the funny part about becoming a parent, you know that certain things are going to be difficult, but you don’t really KNOW what that means until you are living them.

I knew I loved sleeping in and soon would, instead, be sleep-deprived. I realized I would miss spontaneity. I could tell already that homework was not the most joyous parent/child encounter. I was sure I would miss out on a lot of exercise and there would be less time, money, and space. Nonetheless, I also knew I didn’t want to miss out on being mother.

I used to get annoyed when parents of older kids would say, “Just you wait.” As if I were stupid. I could see that things were different. I mean, to every person who would knowingly say, “Your life is really going to change . . .” when I was pregnant, I wanted to reply, “I know that—why do you think I didn’t pursue this parenting gig right after I got married?”

Yet, re-reading this story outloud to myself, I wanted to say the same things to the thirty-five-year-old me that other parents had said to me. Especially in light of what’s happened over the last several months.

In the current session in DBT, we are studying interpersonal effectiveness. There are four other families with teenaged daughters in the group. None of us knows why the other girls are in DBT or what other families have experienced. What we’re all there for is to do the hard work of moving beyond their pasts and improving all our presents and futures—finding a way back to enjoying the journey, if you will.

Wednesday night, for most of the time the parents and girls met in separate rooms. We parents were each asked to state one thing we want for our daughters and then describe how we feel when they don’t seem to make any progress in this area.

The pain in the descriptions was evident in a way it isn’t often during our meetings since we are focused on doing a lot of exercises—verbs.

I don’t imagine when we held our newborn baby girls that any of us thought for a moment that one day we would end up in a room in a hospital, working desperately to get those girls back on their journeys in a way that would allow them to be happy and productive. The journey to that room was not one any of us wanted to take.

The story I wrote ends like this:

My husband and I have since learned that there is more than one rope to hang on to and more than one river to navigate. The excursion that began with my body continues to take us both to places we had never planned to go. We can only hang on for dear life and try to enjoy the journey.

Everyone in that room has been hanging on. But, we need to remember to enjoy the journeys, too, even if we’d rather have known—instead of KNOWN—about certain phases of the journey.

Even KNOWING what I KNOW today, I still would have chosen to take this journey.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert