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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert (Puppy Pick-up Road Trip)

Could barely watch as our old car crept onto the ramp of the vehicle that would tow it away. No, it wasn’t my father’s Oldsmobile—but it was my father’s Mercury, as well as my mother’s Mercury, before it became ours.

My father planned to go on many adventures when he bought a new Mercury Sable in spring of 2001. But soon after its maiden voyage—a joyful college reunion where he and my mother and their returning classmates of fifty years earlier were honored—he received a diagnosis of cancer’s return. Instead of driving off into sunsets to see his grandchildren, children, and friends, as well as sites previously unknown, he became a passenger in that car, chauffeured often to treatments and procedures back and forth through the canyons forged by the Big Thompson River. Nature’s beauty remained a constant companion on those final journeys he never chose to take.

This would not have been the car my mother chose for herself. But when he died before a year had passed since its purchase, the car was too much depreciated for her to sell it without a loss. So instead she drove off in it on her own solo adventures, as well as those with family members and friends, to locations near and far.

When my mother stopped driving almost six years later, that car came to us for our own adventures, both with and without her. We called the car the Grandma-mobile—which wasn’t really fair since she never would have chosen such a large car with such a long front end. This car most definitely did not fit the picture of what our two 16-year-old drivers preferred, but its ability to seat six worked well when we drove our kids and their friends during the period when their graduated licenses did not yet allow them to drive alone with their age-peers.

You know how the story went. Yes, I ended up with my father’s Mercury, which didn’t fit the picture of what a certain 46-year-old mother wanted to drive either. But we were grateful to receive a good car with low mileage, which was a much-needed answer to our burgeoning transportation needs.

That car played a big role in our own family stories and travels and transitions. It drove off to college loaded down with too much stuff, but returned home with two parents ready for a time of greater rest. The Mercury later transported our family to the sacred grounds where we laid my mother to rest. I picked up my daughter from her first year at college in it so she and I could take a classic western road trip to pick up my new puppy—not that my father would have ever allowed a dog in his car, let alone a puppy leaving his mother for the first time!

When this mom finally got a car more in tune to her dreams (a MINI S), my son Jackson was grateful to inherit the Grandma-mobile. True, he was no fan of parallel parking it but he most definitely appreciated the get-up-and-go as well as the ability to work and play without having to juggle cars with us. Unfortunately, the car (and its driver) got-up-and-went a bit too fast on an icy day last November, leaving the driver unscathed but every panel on the driver’s side damaged—enough so that the insurance company totaled the car due to its age—an age that reminds me just how long my father (and then my mother) have been gone.

Seems fitting that my father’s car left us on the last day of Mercury in retrograde. You may not believe in the power of the stars over our lives but this concept is just the right metaphor for saying goodbye to his Mercury. Astronomically, Mercury in retrograde is the time when the planet Mercury appears to reverse its orbit due to its position in the sky—which looks a whole lot like going backward. According to the StarChild site (linked to NASA), it is not doing so, but “. . . just appears to do so because of the relative positions of the planet and Earth and how they are moving around the Sun.” Astrologers, on the other hand, see Mercury in retrograde not only as a time of complications in areas such as transportation and communication (as Mercury is the god of both areas), but also as a time for returning to past connections.

So, Dad, thanks again for the Mercury—though we never, ever managed to keep up with your standards and plans for its cleanliness, we did our best to live up to your dreams of taking adventures in your chariot of choice.

Farewell, oh fleet-footed one—turns out you were just what we needed after all.

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

(c) Christiana Lambert 2010

Most all was calm, most all was bright. That’s how this Christmas felt after so many years of distress and darkness. I’m not a person who expects a perfect Christmas, but it’s been a long time since our Christmases felt normal-enough in any way.

First there was the Christmas Eve when my mom fell and we couldn’t deny anymore that who she was was slipping away. There would be three more Christmases with her—each one with less and less of her present. But the first Christmas without her here at all, I could hardly imagine “doing” Christmas, knowing she would not be part of the celebrations at all, except in our memories. And so we created new traditions, even down to changing almost everything about the way we decorated.

But my mother was not the only one who had changed in a big way during all these years. The Christmas after Mom’s fall, my daughter—and our whole family, of course—was also freefalling into a developing mental illness—something with which we had no experience. After initial improvements and a couple seemingly reasonable years, her descent accelerated, all while we were trying to figure out what she needed from the distance as she attended college. Last Christmas, though seemingly bleak enough, brought the present of a different diagnosis—which has led to more appropriate treatments—and a renewed sense of hope—for her and for those of us who love her.

Though I still miss my mother at Christmas—and always will—I am learning to accept her absence and to find comfort and joy in the new traditions, just as I did in the Christmases after I lost my father. For most of us beyond a certain age, figuring out to how celebrate again after losing our grandparents and parents and other older loved ones is a life passage through which we must live. I am finally coming to terms with what Christmas means now for me without both of my parents.

However, a renewed feeling of calm and hope for my own children—something I took for granted years ago—is the most precious gift I have ever received. I treasure these things and ponder them in my heart.

Of course, this Christmas season, though more normal than it has been in years thanks to our daughter’s improved outlook, has not been perfect. Now my husband’s parents are in decline, even if not so precipitously (mentally) as my mom had been. And our son is suffering lingering effects from a concussion he received mid-month—time will yet tell how well he heals.

So crazy how hard it sometimes is to feel the true joy of the greatest miracle of all time when you have been seeking other more personal miracles in the lives of those whom you love. And yet, in my own dark nights of my soul, I continued to understand the longing for light to come into this world—and have clung to that light even when joy itself has seemed elusive except in the smaller moments. I remain grateful for the miracles—small and large—that have happened in our lives.

I open my arms and heart to receive this gift of a Christmas that has had more laughter than tears—something I haven’t been able to say for many long years. One of the greatest miracles is that I can still believe in a merry-enough Christmas after all.

God bless us one and all—especially if this is one of those Christmases when you are still trying to convince yourself to continue believing that one day, you too, will again celebrate a merry-enough Christmas.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Memory is usually one of my strong points—or at least it was until I was really deep in the sandwich of raising my kids and watching over my mother. And even if my memory is nothing like it was in my youth, it’s still pretty good if I am listening and/or participating in something. So why can’t I remember much about one particular activity from my freshman year in college? Usually the phrase isn’t “What happens in Bach Chorale stays in Bach Chorale.” As far as I know what happened is that I practiced with the group every Monday night until we performed a good part of Bach’s St. John’s Passion during Holy Week.

I now realize this experience should have been a big deal. The St. John’s Passion is very difficult. And while I come from a very musical background—having played piano, clarinet, oboe, and violin, as well as having sung in parts since I was 10—I am a generalist who has never taken musical theory—or practiced much individually—I’m rather a musical bum. Or as my music teacher mother finally said of me and my brother, “I don’t know why I wasted so much money and energy on your music lessons if you were just going to turn out to be jocks.”

That is, musical “jocks” who didn’t take musical preparations as seriously as we took our physical workouts. My brother has almost perfect pitch and we both picked up reading music easily with our first piano lessons back in kindergarten. In some ways music was so much of our early childhood that we don’t even know how we know what we know and too often we get by on that easily developed knowledge.

From time to time I discover I “know” many parts of the St. John’s Passion my choir is practicing even if I can’t tell for certain what all I have sung of this music. For certain, my choir did not sing the words in German, but I have had particular English phrases from the songs stuck in my head ever since that one “lost” year—and I sing them, too—just ask my dogs who have been called malefactors many a time.

So it seems very strange to me that I can’t access exactly what I did in those practices. Did I find the music hard or not? Shouldn’t it stand out if it seemed that way? Maybe my malleable 18-year-old brain was just in the middle of constant learning and it found the music neither harder nor easier than anything else I was learning in my first year of higher education. I do know that while the choir itself was geared toward generalists, music majors who did not have time to be in the traveling choir were required to participate in this choir instead. Perhaps we amateurs were paired with these people deliberately as I do remember one person who I would say was my mentor during rehearsals.

Fall trimester Monday rehearsals seemed hard because by Monday night I would realize just how little I and my poor time management skills had accomplished over the too-short weekend. But by the second and third trimesters, I also had added track practices—that jock thing—and sorority meetings. It’s possible I was just in a daze at choir practices due to panic over what all I had to accomplish after my longest day of the week ended and before I could go to sleep.

Whatever the reasons, I don’t really know what I did or did not do in that choir. I did decide I didn’t enjoy being in the choir enough to do it and track together for several months. Ever the generalist, I didn’t really care about all the music theory and jokes bandied about between the director and the music students. However, what I most learned from the experience was that I liked Bach.

Bach still appeals to me, even as my brain feels so much less malleable than it did when Bach and I first met, well, first met in choral singing anyway. The genius of what to me is a call and response between the various vocal sections of the choir is just a marvel and adds so much to the meaning of the pieces. I love all the counting—even when I get lost. Learning German is a bigger stretch and though I loved learning foreign languages in my early days, I am glad that I learned these songs first in English—the emotions of the words I don’t yet understand are stuck to the notes in my mind already.

Each time I practice this particular music I re-discover a little bit more of what I learned so long ago. So glad to get back to these specific works of Bach that somehow are a part of me—despite my not giving them the attention they deserved the first time around.

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

Freezing Out the Grapevine, @1990

My daughter has the misfortune to work alongside a very chatty woman this summer. After hearing some of this woman’s topics, I agree with my daughter that her ability to work with the woman at all indicates just how well she deals with customers, even when the customer at hand is internal. But if that woman suggests one more time that my daughter should get married and/or have a baby, I’m going to go down there and have more than a chat with her!

Just kidding, I’m not really going to butt in on this conversation, but what is up with this woman who is also a mother of a young adult? Why is she acting as if all my daughter needs to do in life is get started on a marriage and a family? Why is this her business and what year is it anyway?

Both my mother and my mother-in-law expressed more than a little bitterness about how they were treated when they did not get married right away in the 1940s and 1950s. These women—gasp—finished their educations and worked professionally, not marrying until each was 29. I might have married a few years younger than they did, but I most definitely felt no pressure from them to start my own family right away—which I did not do. However, my daughter is just barely 22 and not yet out of college. So far she has only worked summer jobs, internships, and work study positions–give her a chance to use some of her education in a professional setting, please, before she faces family-related decisions.

While I understand changing life’s plans to care for unexpected births, I do not think people should actively pursue marriage and families without a plan for how to do so without needing help from others. And I am not the kind of person who wants to wedge another growing family into my home.

I’m stating my position here—I am not going to provide child care for a grandchild. I have waited a long time in order to not  be taking care of someone else—my kids, my mother in her final years—and I am not putting my own plans aside now that my time has arrived. Watching my mother’s decline also taught me that health is not a given. I don’t want to wait so long for my own time that that time never comes.

Please, if a person does not have the means to support a family, do not go out of your way to encourage her or him to start one anyway. Meddling of this kind is even crazier in the current times where job growth for young adults has been so tenuous and many, such as my daughter, will have student loans to pay.

Besides, thanks to the scheduling and poor advising in the department of her major at her college, though she has 122 credits, she still has two semesters left, despite needing only 11 credits. Talk about an expensive way to finish a degree. So, no, my daughter does not need to hurry into having a child—she needs to focus on how she will provide for herself come next year.

And, while we’re on the topic, ask me how I feel about people getting married straight out of college. For all those for whom that worked really well, I am very happy for you. But in my family, my brother’s very happy college relationship ended with an early divorce, thanks to the couple’s inability to transition into living on their own together as grown-ups. The real world is very different from college. Better to take some time to see how the relationship weathers the real world; if the relationship remains stable or grows during the transition, then nothing has been lost in waiting a little bit to make the final commitment.

Life transitions are huge and very personal. Questions about babies and marriage—none of your business, OK? These areas should stay private for many reasons. Can’t figure out why some people seem to think idle speculation or gossip about these very big changes is harmless. In past times we had meddlers such as the relative in Sense and Sensibility who could not stay out of Elinor and Edward’s love life—now we have The National Enquirer and reality TV—and, apparently, meddlers such as the woman who works with my daughter.

Talk about the weather, talk about what you did last night, but for God’s sake, stop acting as if topics about getting married and having babies are matters of no consequence. Have your own baby and/or marriage, but leave others to their own timelines.

And, no, I’m not babysitting for you either.

Still life by Christiana Lambert, 2010

Still life by Christiana Lambert, 2010

So after my last posts about biology and how it should not affect the ability to get an education, biology is back on my mind. Is biology destiny? And how do you confront biology that might be a bit flawed in one area—can systems and/or willpower change approaches?

Why do I ask? I’ll tell you why—I’ve just moved my daughter again and it’s a lot like moving my mother, even though my mother’s no longer here to demonstrate her lack of organizational abilities for my daughter. Yes she had dementia, but the moving difficulties were really more related to lifelong patterns and approaches. Neither of those two could load a dishwasher in a way that makes any sense to me—nor to even those in the family who are not quite as obsessive about it as I am. My spatial abilities are specialized while theirs might be or have been almost non-existent.

You see, ADD runs through the family, but how that manifests varies in each of us. Besides, I am not certain how far along the scientists are in tying what difficulties to what genes in this area. And though our family participated in one of the first big studies involving ADD and genomes, it wasn’t the sort of study that provided any information to the participants. We have no idea if in some lab somewhere, a scientist looked at all the traits reported and started to make sense of how the information on our DNA connected with our behaviors.

As for my mother, we know little about her biology other than the fact she had a head injury in an early car accident. By the time we were helping her, she was hopeless when it came to packing, either because of the biology, accident, and/or lifelong patterns.

I pray there is still help and hope for our daughter—and, consequently, us. If nothing else, she hasn’t had any head injuries and she’s young enough that she still can learn and still search out tools to help her.

The girl loves her stuff! And as an art major, she has a lot of supplies, too, that she actually needed at one time or still needs. Bins, stacking organizers, shelves, dividers, etc.—I keep trying to find something that will help her keep it all semi-together. Would it be too much to ask her to search out solutions herself, even if they might not be successful? Ask my family—while I have found some really good solutions for myself, there are many more I have tried that just did not work for me. When your mind isn’t wired to realize that there should be a place for everything—or that such a concept even exists—you have to concede you need help and search for whatever tools that work for you—and keep searching when you haven’t found a reasonable solution yet.

The Battle of Too Much Stuff is a constant in this household—and it would be so much better if I could rally more troops to fight against all that stuff instead of having troops who add more stuff to my stuff. I am dealing with my own biology on this—I don’t need other peoples’ stuff and biology to exacerbate my own disabilities. Really.

Love my daughter and loved my mother, but their stuff? Not so much.

(c) 2009 Lori Lange, Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

(c) 2009 Lori Lange,
Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

My American literature professor spent a lot of class time discussing author Ernest Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” concept. I admit that I am macho enough to admire some of the themes from Hemingway’s works. I suppose that goes back to the German-American pioneer spirit imbued in my genes, or at least in my upbringing.

Well, I have that grace. In a crisis it takes a lot for me to become that cliché character in movies that starts hyperventilating at the first sign of difficulties.

I have walked through many fires and not been burned—even when I have been singed.

I get that I have not worked full-time for years and that when I have worked, it has been as a freelance writer and editor or as a volunteer or as a daughter, wife, or parent. I don’t always know programs or letters, such as Photoshop or SEO optimization. But know that other than some word processing I was taught to do on a Wang system (and, yes, that really was a big computer system in a time long ago, not something obscene), I have taught myself everything. I was handed a manual and told if I read it, then I could probably learn how to create spreadsheets—I’ve been through Lotus, Quattro Pro, and Excel all on my own and I’m damn good at spreadsheets—not because I’ve been trained, but because I’m the sort of analytical person who loves the clarity spreadsheets can provide. I’ve switched from the WordPerfect I loved to Word because my work needed to be put into Quark in chart format—which I learned to do from doing it. Software programs come and go—and I learn them when applicable to what I need to do.

When my circulation boss left right before the auditor called, I figured out how to prepare the requested reports and proofs for the auditor. I read industry resources and called contacts and got the information I needed to meet the requirements and then exceed those as I had more preparation and time to develop my own systems.

In fact, the only time I have been trained to do much of anything in my work life is when I standardized financial data for a McGraw Hill company—I was rather in awe that I got to work for a couple months just learning—what a concept, right? Before I was done with that job, I was the person who created the new training manuals/programs for two specific industry groups.

Writing and editing? Not trained except as a college student and with the introductory studies in my graduate publishing program. But once again, I have utilized written resources and contacts, although I have not really got into watching online videos—I’m not so auditory in my learning style that I have converted to that type of learning, although it’s good to know that I can if I am stumped.

And I can’t tell you how many times my MBA studies have been relevant in both my volunteer work and my family life. I’ve used operations management techniques for standardizing and improving back room operations for large volunteer-run clothing and equipment sales and my knowledge of accounting and finance for analyzing financial reports as oversight for the local school district, a non-profit preschool, and any other volunteer organization I have supported. Plus, without my MBA, I doubt I could have proven to a large hospital and our insurance company just why the billing was wrong and why we were the ones owed money, not the institution.

Then there is all I had to do to “rescue” my mother from the details of her life as she fell into dementia. I had to jump in to her finances and analyze what she had and hadn’t done and come up with a plan for catching up and going forward. I had to manage her healthcare, finances, possessions, and real estate—and still find time to love her and my own kids who were still at home.

At the same time my daughter experienced her own health crisis (the one that led to the big billing problem) that required weekly if not more frequent medical trips as well as handling the human side of that crisis.

Even so, during these twin crises, I was still editing, volunteering, and exercising, as well as managing our own household finances, appointments, possessions, pets, etc. Everything that was essential was completed, but at the same time I didn’t feel I could commit myself to outside work and do it justice.

Those days are past. I have been baptized by fire and am ready to share my abilities with a worthy organization. No, my path has not been straight and I am not an expert in one particular thing. But if a computer program is spitting me out for not having “x” years of experience in this or that, then I will never get a chance to show just how much I can do. I need a hiring manager who has the imagination to understand the assets my life experiences, character traits, and my skills are and how they can add to an organization’s value.

On the other hand, I realize that there is still so much for me to learn about the way workplaces are now. Just because I have an MBA, that doesn’t mean I think I should start at the top. But know that I am a loyal person and when the time comes that I get a chance to dig in and begin at a lower level, I will put my powers of learning to whatever tasks are at hand and grow both myself and the organization that hires me.

I am relevant in so many ways—what I call “grace under pressure” is now called “grit”—and that I have in spades.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Which is ridiculous because I had loving and active parents for many years of my life. They saw me graduate, get married, and have children. They loved their grandchildren and visited me often once I was a grown-up.

Yet some days I just can’t believe they are gone. That all we had together has come and passed long ago. My grandparents lived so long that I never expected the times with my parents would be over before my own kids were barely out of the home for college.

1962 (Don't worry--my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

1962 (Don’t worry–my dad was a happier person than in this picture, but A. He is a Lange and they look this way in pictures and B. I think my toddler brother is acting his age and frustrating my father!)

Oh, given their illnesses, I would not have asked either of them to live another day. But healthy? Oh, yes, I’d have taken that. And to have extended my days of watching and worrying over their care to a time when I was not in the middle of raising my own kids. Everyone got shortchanged.

I try not to spend much time in regret or anger, especially knowing that others have had losses much earlier, but then there are the days when I just miss them and it still doesn’t feel right.

My dad has been gone for twelve years. How is that even possible? The good news is that when I recently saw pictures of him in his last months, ravaged by cancer, I realized I had almost forgotten how he looked then. My memories have reverted to the way he had looked the rest of the time I knew him—which is such a blessing.

I pray the day comes for me with my mother when I forget all that Alzheimer’s stole from her—and from everyone who loved and relied on her. So though she died just over three years ago, the mother I knew left for good over six years ago. My rational self knows that I am an adult woman of over half a century (!) but sometimes I feel exactly like a motherless child. I suppose that is a feeling many of us experience from time to time for the rest of our days—until we leave our own (adult) children feeling like motherless (or fatherless) children.

1964, Trina

1964, Trina

You don’t have to watch too many television shows or movies or read too many books to find the theme that because we love, we hurt—and conversely, because we have been loved, we also hurt. This is a universal part of the human experience—and if we have been truly blessed, we have been loved well from our very first days.

I am so grateful that some days I do feel like an orphan, not because I was abandoned at a young age, but because I was loved so well—and know exactly what I am missing.

Perhaps it’s Holy Week that brings these emotions to a surface, but, thanks be to Holy Week and its culmination in Easter I know that one day none of us need be orphans any longer.

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

Dick and Mae, Christmas 1981

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor—and I don’t even play one on TV. When you don’t visit doctors too often, it’s easy not to put much thought into what makes a good medical experience. Once upon a time I was fairly neutral about the whole seeing a doctor thing. Would prefer not to have shots or get prodded, but never responded with too much anxiety—no, I saved that for the dentist’s office where my shoddy tooth-brushing habits would catch up with me back when I was growing up. But other than my having to pay the piper, I couldn’t have been treated better by my dentist and his assistant—I mean, who now would give a young adult a free wisdom tooth extraction for college graduation?

What Doc knew instinctively was how to treat patients as if they mattered—even though he was my father’s friend, all patients really did seem to matter to Doc. Our family loved his care so much that even after we moved to a larger town with more dentists, we drove 40 minutes each way to stay with Doc and his excellent care. When carsickness caused me to throw up—on him—Doc looked little more than irritated and then knew to schedule me for the second family appointment of the day thereafter.

Even though all doctors I encountered were not Doc, I didn’t really think about them that much, but my mother did. She’s the one who later switched me from a doctor with a cold manner and minimal listening and analytical skills—the same doctor who years later would fill in for her doctor during the woman’s maternity leave and procrastinate reading Mom’s treadmill test until he decided results required an emergency flight to a cardiac center. It appears Mom was right about his lack of thoroughness.

Not until I was almost a mother did I understand the awesome responsibility of choosing a doctor for and coordinating care for loved ones. In the last weeks before our twins’ birth, I struggled to decide which pediatric practice would work best for our children. I finally made a choice based on both practical reasoning and a gut feeling. Turns out the kids were in good hands, not only for medical care and developmental tracking, but also for how they were treated from their earliest days. At my son’s 18-month appointment, he picked up a block and beaned the doctor in the head. The doctor just smiled and said, “Hey, that was overhand—that’s quite advanced for his age.”

By now, after overseeing both ordinary and more serious medical care for my kids all the way to adulthood, as well as taking over helping my mother through her final years and sitting in on some care for my in-laws, I am what could be called an “old pro” at it—if in fact I could get paid for all my experiences.

I notice when a doctor is doing more than looking at numbers from a report or relying on obvious symptoms. I can see when a doctor is listening to the story, looking for the subtle. And then, of course, it’s just so obvious when the doctor really enjoys interacting with the patient in the room. I have a doctor who delivered our babies and later performed my hysterectomy—a few years ago I realized that her focused attention in my now routine appointments is almost shocking when I compare her with other doctors I’ve visited. She is so much better at the relationship part of the doctor/patient experience than most.

I learned enough in my MBA classes to realize that most doctors aren’t just practicing medicine, but they are also managing a business. It’s a tough line to walk between keeping a practice running in a timely manner and giving each patient the individual care needed. The way providers get paid makes it imperative for them to be more efficient in delivering care—which can sometimes make a medical encounter seem rushed, especially since much of the payment comes not from the patient but from the insurance company.

That means that doctors are more often “rewarded” financially for the quantity of patients served than for the quality of the encounter with each customer. Any business encounters this classic dilemma when trying to find the right balance between quality and productivity, but service providers—especially those not paid by the true customer—have a bigger dilemma.

Nonetheless, another thing I learned in MBA classes was that simply listening to customers and providing empathy is a pretty inexpensive way to provide quality. Good doctors know this already—my guess is that wanting to do so is one reason Doc and others like him chose to study medicine in the first place.

Here in our own home we are still in search of a solution for the medical condition(s) that led to our daughter’s very disappointing ER visit. However, the doctor she met last week looked at her the whole time he examined her and paid attention to the signs of pain. Will he be able to discover what’s troubling her body? Who knows, but at least she felt heard—which is surprisingly rare for someone who has had enough encounters with medical practitioners in her short life that she could work as a quality control auditor for patient care.

Doctors who treat us as individuals with conditions and/or symptoms versus as a diagnosis code probably stand a better chance of getting the diagnosis right. Good patient care is good medicine for what ails us—even for those times when all that ails us is the fact we have to give up time and money for routine care—but especially for those times when we are in pain and afraid.

Thank you to the doctors out there for whom care is both noun and verb—and for whom the word patient is also an adjective that describes the type of care they provide to us when we visit them as patients.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

There are no guarantees when raising children, no matter how hard you try to do the “right” things for them—for some families, getting those children to adulthood leaves behind plenty of scar tissue for all involved. For the most part you try to move forward despite the scars. Then something is said or happens that is like a spark to the tinder that is your buried emotions—anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, and whatever else connects you to the pain.

From personal experience, I understand my children are not easy to help, so I do have some empathy for those educators and mental health professionals who worked with them. However, I’d have appreciated receiving empathy back from more of them. It’s hard enough to deal with challenging situations with your kids without encountering people whose presumptions get in the way of resolution—when the people in the helping professions turn the problems back at parents based on what they assume is true, we parents feel very alone and begin to lose trust in finding answers from professionals.

For example, just because one of the big problems facing educators today is uninvolved families or families who do not support those in authority does not mean that every student having difficulty fitting into a school system has that problem.

Two of the closest friends I met through PTA and school accountability committees also raised boys every bit as beat up by their school days as my boy is. Again those families had two parents in the home, regular family dinner times, attendance at church, expectations that they would respect authority, and parents who volunteered with the schools and participated in the community activities. In our own ways, we were the Ward and June Cleavers of our generation. We were the families whose kids should have fit like gloves into the schools, but did not. And when our families turned to the schools for help, we were rebuffed. Of course, we also looked to outside help—paying for counselors and tutors—but first received few answers from the schools and little empathy. Each (now) young man and his family continue their educational struggles to this day.

Our son’s troubles began in grade school while our family was dealing with his grandfather’s terminal cancer. Those troubles never went away, but we did keep searching for solutions. High school found him older, but us not much wiser about dealing with his difficulties or how to work in partnership with the school.

Despite having read the 27-page educational analysis report our son had received after costly consultation with a trusted local university, the special education director at our son’s high school asked him questions such as, “Do you want to be here? Don’t you think you should do your work?” Nothing the report said or that his experienced tutors said in 504 accommodation meetings ever changed the school’s willingness to follow the university’s suggestions.

And for us, “Do you check the school’s online system often to see if he’s turned in his work?” Of course, she knew the answer—the system recorded logins. We had stopped checking frequently because the data was updated too infrequently for us to base consequence decisions on what we saw. Besides, why did she think we spent money out of our pocket to have his abilities/difficulties assessed? Partly because we wanted to see if some knowledge could help him to keep up with his work better.

Meanwhile, while our family life had become more and more disruptive due to the homework battles waged with our son as we tried to be responsible parents who supported the school, our daughter was falling apart. She did her work—and worried about her twin brother. She tried just as hard not to cause any more trouble in our family. Add in one grandmother on her way to becoming lost to Alzheimer’s and our girl became one sad kid. Did the family conflict and her grandmother’s illness cause her depression or did her biology exacerbate the problems?

What I do know is that when she was finally hospitalized for those problems it was hard to find mental health professionals who really attempted to recognize the role of biology within her difficulties. So much focus from them fell on the family. My kid didn’t do chemicals or sneak out of the house, but was treated as if her depression were a form of rebellion and we were treated as if we were just too stupid to see that she was lying to us—just as all the other kids did. We tried so hard to complete the prescribed family counseling (20 weeks or so) but finally stopped when we realized it was making things worse for everyone. I could have understood if they taught us and her to work with her biology but the program acted as if biology had little to do with her problems.

What did I learn from these experiences with schools and mental health treatment? First of all, that too many professionals believe that a one-size-fits-all approach works for all. And, secondly, that if it doesn’t then the problems stem from the family.

So, we muddle on on our own. Thankfully, we have met helpful educators, disability coordinators, tutors, student services advisors, and counselors along the way—I thank them with all my heart.

But to those who questioned our devotion, just know that if we could have made our kids fit better into the world just by trying, it would have happened. Please stop blaming the families who seem to have been dealt more challenging cards than others—so many of us are trying so much harder than you’ll ever know. Somehow the systems also need to try harder to figure out how to help those who don’t fit the molds.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Where did this month go? Well, once we heard my brother Scott and his wife Lori were coming to visit with their four grandchildren—all boys, aged six and under!—we had to get in gear to have a house that would be safe enough for the youngest two who were not quite two and half years and 15 months. The first challenge was dealing with our non-stop messes of dog hair, dirt, and mud, especially in this in-between weather season.

But beyond that we had to think more about real hazards. It’s one thing to have to re-develop those eyes in the back of the head for watching a puppy—it’s entirely another thing when the stakes are so high because you are dealing with little people who also put everything in their mouths. At least we already had gates thanks to the dogs and their muddy paws.

Seriously, although we had twins, at least we weren’t outnumbered by our children when we were together. Dealing with four boys is nonstop chaos. We had all these ideas for getting out of the house, but had forgotten how much work it is just to get out of the house! Thank goodness I had saved the blocks and the Brio train set—although it would have been a good idea to have cleaned the pieces before I had all the “free” help beside me launching the pieces into the bathtub and the surrounding areas. And then there was Jackson to help by playing with the older boys with Nerf guns and the game systems and Christiana to do some artwork with them.

Thankfully only the youngest got sick—pink eye and a double ear infection. When the medications kicked in, he forgot his troubles and got happy once more. With vigorous hand washing and sterilizing, we all stayed healthy and thus happier too.

So glad our winter weather stayed away until after they left. Not only did they have safe travels, but we also had the great outdoors, as in visiting Red Rocks Amphitheatre, or the minor outdoors, as in the local playground, for running off a lot of energy. There is no way our modest 1940s house was up to containing five adults, four kids, and two dogs all day and all night.

Furgus loved the kids way more than they loved him—you can only take so many wet willies, you know? However, he didn’t care what they did to him—he just loved the attention. On the other hand, due to Sam’s unknown shady past, he stayed in his crate or played outdoors with Furgus, coming out to socialize freely only after everyone born in this millennium had fallen asleep.

We adults also snuck off—women on one day and men on another—to get incredible Chinese foot and body reflexology massages at Ying’s Hairstyles here in Englewood. Too bad Scott and Lori can’t get those every week for dealing with the challenges of caring for all that energy—the energy the boys require of them and the energy the boys have day in and day out!

Yes, the visit required a lot of energy from those of us who aren’t used to dealing with little ones every day, but the children also brought a lot of joyful, youthful energy into our normally quiet home.

And when the whirlwind of their energy and activity left our home, we took off with our own family on our own high-energy adventure to ski at Copper Mountain for a couple days. Thanks especially to all the gorgeous snow that dumped on the slopes while we were there, skiing required even more of our energy than usual.

Even home again, the activities kept up as Sherman and Christiana had to plow the snow that dumped in Denver and she and her boyfriend finished their spring break here with us. By the time she and her friends left to return to school, we were exhausted.

Between all the young kids and older kids here over the last week or so, I’d lost a lot of my own energy. So yesterday I focused on recharging my batteries with a hot bath, a good book, some yoga and ZUMBA, and a good night’s sleep. Which means I’m ready to run—literally—just as soon I finish writing this and just as the sun has warmed up enough to melt last night’s ice from my paths.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert