Alaska Dreaming

alaskaFor as long as I can recall, my mother has talked of wanting to go to Alaska. When she was younger she dreamed of wanting to go and work as a missionary among the Native Americans. As a wife and mother, she set this dream aside … but the longing has never gone away. Something about the place fires her imagination.

When I used to visit her at the memory care facility in Georgia, one of the hardest parts of walking away and leaving her behind was knowing that, although she was still living, her life was pretty much over. An occasional visitor was the only relief of monotony in days filled with the drone of the television set or staring at the four walls of her bedroom. This, for a woman who had filled her own days with quilt making, cookie baking, and volunteering at church every time the doors opened. (After tending to her own home and husband, of course.) She and Dad traveled all over the country those last years of their marriage, making a special trip on their fiftieth anniversary. But they never made it to Alaska.

Now that she’s with me, her life has gotten better. Her lift recliner is squarely in the middle of the family room, where she is in the middle of all our comings and goings. She goes to daycare four days a week, so she can interact with people her own age. I’ve made efforts to help her find a church home, but she seems content going with us. And when we go places, she hops in the car and rides along. This summer she’s going to go visit my sister Kathy … and if I can manage it, we’re going to go visit my other sister in Washington, too. I’ve never been to Seattle, so this is on my bucket list, too.

As I think about making the trip west, though … Alaska is just a little further, beckoning me. We could take a train to Vancouver (another place I’ve always wanted to see), and then … what would it take to make it to Alaska?

I don’t know if we can do it. But I’d sure like to try. What wouldn’t I give to be able to say that I was able to make my mother’s dreams come true?

 

 

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31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 18: Need Less

monkey-breadWhen I was in junior high, my mother used to be able to feed her family of six on $50 a week. We ate a lot of homemade soup and homemade bread, yet somehow I don’t ever remember feeling deprived. I had this hippy friend, Larry, who looked a little like Jesus and played the guitar like a dream. A recovered addict, Larry looked like a zipper when he stood sideways and stuck out his tongue … and could put away a dozen pieces of my mother’s monkey-bread. She would see his jalopy pull in the driveway, sigh, smile, and break out her mixing bowl.

We were not wealthy, not by a long shot. We didn’t even have a television set, and “family vacations” consisted of driving to one or the other grandparents houses, or camping in the woods. I look around my children’s rooms, crammed with all sorts of toys and clothes, and wonder if in fact they would be happier with less.

I know I would be. When you have boxes and boxes piled up in the basement, it’s hard to find what you need when you need it. Drawers stuffed with clothes actually make for MORE laundry, rather than less. And then there’s the books, shelf after shelf of volumes read once, then stored in perpetuity.

But I have come up with a great way to pare back to essentials: Move every year or so, and only take along one truckload. Simple, right?

My plan this year, to get things pared back to the right size:

*  I will get rid of ALL clothes that I haven’t seen on one of us in the past two years. Coats, shoes, boots, snow gear, all of it.

*  Take the children’s books my kids have outgrown to the local church school (I was in their library and was surprised at how threadbare it was), and the rest to the seminary. Parenting books to the Salvation Army.

*  Find a local recycle center that will take computer crap, and have Craig take one box a week until it is all gone, except for what he needs for his job.

*  Save only the Christmas decorations I truly love. Recycle the others.

*  Tear the recipes out of the dozens of cookbooks I have on my shelf that I truly intend to try, and dispose of the others. Seriously, I keep making the same 12 meals over and over — why do I need 46 cookbooks?

What’s your favorite way to simplify?

 

Weekend Ponderings: Somewhere in Time

Saturday night, Craig and I hired a sitter and went down to the Terrace Room where the Grand Hotel Orchestra was playing Big Band and soft pop tunes.

It had been some time since Craig and I had spun around the dance floor like that. Years, maybe. Our swing was a bit creaky, the waltz a bit wobbly … I hadn’t thought to bring my leather soles, and my slide-in sandals were about three inches taller than I usually wear.

Even so, it was wonderful. Sipping wine, listening to the sultry vocals, and watching couples hold tight to each other — it was a wonderful night of romance. In my mind’s eye, years and pounds rolled off us as we swayed to the music.

Upstairs, reality awaited. Each of us had a child in our bed, unwilling to sleep until we had returned. And to be honest, neither of us could keep our eyes open much past ten. But ah, for that hour … it was magic.

The thing I loved most about Mackinac, that isle of enchanted memories captured so well in the classic Somewhere in Time, was its ability to slow time almost to a standstill. And then, just when I least expected it … to rewind.

I’ve been back a few days now, and that lesson has stayed with me. Surely it doesn’t take the hundreds and hundreds of dollars it costs to stay at the Grand to achieve this kind of contentment. Just a little time, a little peace — and a whole lot less technology.

I think I’m going to turn off my computer now, and see if hubby’s up for a bit of slow dancing in the kitchen!

Scars

In her post “Scarred for Life,” Antique Mommy Tina shares with the world (via Good Housekeeping magazine, you go girl!) the reason why, in her own words, “You can keep your Mederma, I like my scars. They tell the story of who I am….”

Today, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I had an opportunity to reflect on the significance of such scars in my own life … and in that of my children.

It has been three years since we celebrated Christopher and Sarah’s baptism (the adoption papers were actually finalized in August, but we celebrate their baptism day as the day they officially became part of our family, and God’s as well). Memorial Day weekend may seem like an odd choice for this celebration, since it is usually a holiday associated with death. And yet, it is also a time for memories …. and as any foster-adoptive family knows, our lives are defined by the memories. (The one to the left here is one of my favorite early memories of Christopher … I think it was one of the first times I heard him laugh out loud.)

Memorial Day Weekend … when we remember loved ones who are no longer with us, either because they died (like my husband’s sister and all our grandparents), or because they are no longer a part of our everyday lives (like their birth family and my extended family). They are gone, and yet the slate is not wiped entirely clean … these people continue to touch us (for better or worse) each time something happens to bring them back, if only in the mind’s eye.

After church today we visited a place that has big memories for Sarah, the “brown park” with the big red swing she used to ride for what seemed like hours when she was just a year old, kicking her feet and waving her hands. She loves that baby swing, though she is getting much too big for it now.

Tomorrow will be another big memory day as we go to the Toledo Zoo … We went there for Halloween 2002, about three months after we first got the kids. Baby Sarah in her little cow outfit, Christopher the bee, and Cheyenne the fairy princess. I have this photograph sitting on my desk, and occasionally Sarah will come up and put one grubby finger on it. “This was when Cheyenne was living with us.”

“Yes, it is,” I agree. Then she’ll go off and draw a picture of herself holding hands with her big sister on the white board I keep in the corner of my office for just such an occasion.

Someday we may have to answer questions about why we didn’t try harder to keep their siblings with us. Nor do I doubt that some of the scars my kids carry have to do with losing so much, so early. The only question is what form those scars will take.

I’m hoping that if we love them enough, are patient enough and open enough, their scars will turn them into compassionate individuals. I hope they will give us the benefit of the doubt, and trust that we made the best decisions we could, given the information we had at the time.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, I’m offering a little prayer, that the scars my children have received over the years — some inflicted before they came to us, some the result of our own inexperience or simple human error or even my own sinful impulses — will not be the memories that define them.

Body of Christ, purify and sanctify, heal and preserve, and keep us in our woundedness from drawing away from one another. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Day in the Life of a Foster Mom

This is my final installment in the series about Come Be My Light, on the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and why she is the perfect patronness of adoptive and foster families.

The final point that I took from this book was the idea that we need to be prudent in deciding what we are — and are not — able to do to meet the overwhelming need around us. When our kids came to us (initially with their older sister) we learned the hard way that there was only so much that we could do. It broke our hearts when we had to walk away from their older brother, who had been placed in a group home and who every time we saw him cried and begged for us to take him with us. We couldn’t. We knew that. But that knowledge didn’t make it easier to walk away.

In Come Be My Light, I was struck by the boundaries the Sisters of Mercy — bombarded by unrelenting need on all sides, the sick and the dying and the dirty and the orphaned — responded to those needs with true grace. They understood that they would be of no use to anyone if they did not tend to their own spiritual and physical needs … and so they kept their sanity by setting up a daily regimen of prayer and meals and rest that fit the needs of their community members.

We who have a heart for the children of the world who do not have families must take a lesson from these holy, courageous women. We shall be no good to anyone, including those God has entrusted to us right now, if we do not settle within ourselves what we have (and have not) been called to do.

We must also resign ourselves to the idea that the time will come when we need to accept a hand from others, too. In the story that follows, I recount a time when that hand came from a stranger … and yet, there are those all around us who are willing to lend a hand, if we are willing to let the need be known. It’s humbling, all right … but God created us in community, to help one another all the way to heaven.

Cleaning out my drawers the other day, I came across five large envelopes of photographs that, judging from how little Sarah was in the pictures, are at least three years old. I spent the better part of the morning racking my brain, trying to remember the events of that year. Even with photographic evidence in hand, so much had slipped away from conscious memory.

Happily, I still had my computer journal. Even during those wild first months as a mom, I always made a point of sneaking away every few days to record the highlights for another time. Sarah’s wide-eyed encounter with the camel at the petting zoo. Christopher’s love affair with kosher pickles. Sarah’s preverbal efforts to imitate my bedtime crooning. Christopher’s uninhibited delight in fighting “Daddy monster” clad in nothing but a diaper and his Superman cape (Christopher, that is. Daddy was fully clad.).

It was also one of my primarily creative outlets those first six months or so. One hapless editor asked me to write a series of devotions based on the readings for that month … only to reject half of them because the reflections centered around my newfound vocation. “Enough with the kids, already!”

But I couldn’t help it. Those dirty-faced, shrieking, clinging little insomniacs had become … mine in a way that I had neither anticipated nor planned. Given that I was “only” their foster mother, it was arguably unwise. But it was too late; I was hooked. Which was a good thing, because we needed every pheromone our bodies could summon up in order to get through each morning … From the journal:

Day Four of our first week together.

4:10 a.m. Sarah is crying. Again. Craig feeds her to give me a few minutes of desperately needed sleep. (We were told she sleeps through the night after her 11 p.m. feeding, but she has not yet slept more than three hours at a time.)

5:05 a.m. Craig crawls back to bed just as the baby monitor erupts. Christopher. “I’ll get it,” I tell Craig. “You get some rest.” Apparently Christopher couldn’t remember where he was. I lay down next to him, my cheek pressed against the two dozen stuffed animals on his bed, until Chris goes back to sleep. When I finally get up, there is an unmistakable impression of Bob the Builder’s tool belt on my face.

5:38 a.m. Sneak out of Christopher’s room and back to my own bed. Sarah stirs in her crib, and I freeze, imploring heaven not to let her wake up again. Gentle snores
resume. Weak with relief, I stumble downstairs.

5:45 a.m. Passing by the kitchen, my stomach rumbles. Remembering that I didn’t eat until 2:00 p.m. yesterday, I grab a glass of milk and a handful of Goldfish crackers and eat them on my way back to my room.

5:52 a.m. Craig does not stir when I crawl back to bed.

6:30 a.m. Chienne knocks on our bedroom door and wants to watch PowerPuff Girls. We tell her to go back to her room, that it is not morning yet. She counters with an offer to watch Bear in the Big Blue House instead. When this, too, is refused, she howls.

6:35 a.m. Heidi gets up to put on Bear in Big Blue House, sets up Chienne’s nebulizer with her morning asthma meds, and stumbles back to bed.

6:40 a.m. Chienne is back. Wants to know if her asthma meds are done yet. (They’re not… she has managed to spill most of it on the machine). She wants breakfast – scrambled eggs and toast. Settles for sippy cup of juice – after her meds are completely done. I refill the nebulizer and sit Chienne on my lap to make sure she takes it all.

6:45 a.m. Sarah wakes up and wants to be changed and fed. Craig stumbles out of bed for the day.

6:50 a.m. Christopher wants out of his crib. I seat Chienne on the couch and tell her to stay there until I come back. “Spider,” Christopher says, pointing to the flowery paper on the wall. I change him and we rock for a few minutes. Then he grabs his sippy cup and joins his sister watching Bear.

6:55 a.m. Chienne announces that she has to go potty, then calls to be wiped. She then wants her hair “detangled,” brushed and put in a ponytail.

7:05 a.m. Bear is over. Winnie the Pooh begins. I go downstairs to the kitchen, wiping up last night’s dinner and throwing a load of clothes in the laundry. Sit down with Sarah to give her an asthma treatment and hear wails. Someone has hit someone.

7:10 a.m. Older two kids are hungry. Christopher eats a plate full of grapes. Foster
mother said they always eat eggs and toast. Kids refuse eggs. Don’t want toast either. “I’ll kill you,” Christopher adds for emphasis. It unnerves me, hearing such awful words come out of such a sweet little face. Finally, Chienne settles for salami and cream cheese, Christopher takes dry cereal. I eat Christopher’s toast, and wash it down with Chienne’s orange juice (which she has refused as well.) Sarah is cooing from her bouncy seat.

7:20 a.m. Christopher sees me playing with the baby and decides he wants to be held. “Bunny book!” he coaxes.

7:22 a.m. Chienne sees me reading Christopher the bunny book, and throws herself into my desk chair 10 feet away. She wants me to teach her to read. Right now.

7:30 a.m. Time to get dressed. Chienne wants her PowerPuff t-shirt, which I cannot find in her bag. Put on pink shirt (over loud protests). By the time Christopher is dressed, she has ditched pink t-shirt and dived head-first into the clothing bin, pulling each piece of clothing out for inspection. At the bottom she finds a red velvet dress that is three sizes too small for her, which she insists on wearing. When I refuse, she runs out of the room and slams the door. Three times. I bite my lip and count to twenty.

7:50 a.m. Everyone but me is now dressed. Older two children are drawing with crayons and markers. Christopher finds a permanent marker in the “washable”
can. I explain that the marker isn’t really “magic,” and that unless we get washed up pronto he will go to his wedding with pink knuckles. “No!” he exclaims (the one word he uses with any regularity.) My request that we wash up is greeted by temper tantrums.

8:00 a.m. Christopher is screaming for no apparent reason. Screams again when Craig tries to pick him up. Wants Mommy. “He certainly seems to have bonded to you,” Craig comments mildly before going to get changed.

8:01 a.m. Chienne demands to sit on my other knee. “When are we going to the park?” she asks. I wrack my brain in vain to recall any such promise. We settle for a trip to the neighbor’s swing set – after Mommy has her shower.

8:05 a.m. Christopher pitches a fit when I leave him alone with Craig to take a shower. Bangs on the bathroom door despite Craig’s best efforts to lure him away. Craig gives up and goes to clean up the breakfast mess.

8:12 a.m. I come out of the shower to find Chris in a full-blown crying fit. Snot and tears everywhere. It takes five minutes just to get him to stop crying.

8:17 a.m. Chienne starts yelling because we have not yet gone to the swing set like YOU PROMISED! Craig takes the older two next door for a three-minute swing.

8:20 a.m. Sarah whimpers. Needs a change.

8:30 a.m. Now Sarah wants to eat. I hold her off fifteen more minutes with her binky.

8:45 a.m. I feed Sarah. Craig escapes to work. It’s not even noon yet, and already I am ready for bed. Mother’s group meets at the church at 9:30, and there is no way I’m going to miss a free hour of babysitting. Time to get the show on the road.

9:00 a.m. Still not on the road. Have stuffed a large backpack full of diapers, changes of clothes, sippy cups, crackers and fruit snacks, crayons, toys, Diet Coke and Excedrin Migraine. You’d think we were leaving for a month instead of an hour. By the time all three kids are in their car seats, the older two have managed to kick
off their shoes and socks and are screaming for snacks. I shove the stroller into the back end of the van, put on Elmo’s Greatest Hits, throw a handful of animal crackers into the backseat, and mentally tune out the din.

9:05 a.m. Sarah starts screaming. The car seat was not installed correctly, and tilted to one side as I rounded a corner. One hand on the wheel and one eye on the road, I reach back to push the seat back into its upright position. There is no place to stop the car, and no way I can get to the seat without releasing the other two little ankle-biters into traffic.

9:20 a.m. I pull into the church parking lot, shove the shoes back on the kids’ feet, and grab the giant backpack. The door is locked. “I hafta go potty,” announces Chienne.

9:22 a.m. A puddle has formed around Chienne’s ankles. Christopher suspects a babysitter is on the horizon, and goes into a full-throttle wail. Sarah sees the other two crying, and joins in. A sympathetic mom finds me weeping on the sidewalk, and helps me usher the kids inside.

9:30 a.m. Children safely in the nursery, I pour myself a cup of tea and find a seat. The speaker today is giving a talk about how important it is to find time to pray
each day. Heads are nodding, eyes avoiding contact. We know, we know. Now if we
can just convince our kids…

A few days ago, a writer friend of mine said that she was finding it hard to write now that she had three children under the age of five. “Don’t worry about getting published right now,” I suggested. “Just keep up your journal … It’s amazing how quickly the memories disappear if you don’t get them down.”

Then again, looking over that particular journal entry, maybe it’s a little like labor: The mind naturally blocks out the really painful stuff, just so you remember the joy.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of the poor,
you see the poverty of our nation,
and are praying even now for courageous
men and women to step forward and enrich it.

Blessed Mother Teresa,
Patroness of Extraordinary Families,
pray that we might follow your example,
and take to our hearts those who do not know love,
welcome into our homes those who need family,
and feed with our own hands
those who are starving for the Bread of Life.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of Calcutta,
We need not travel to India to see
the impoverished spirit of a nation.
Pray for us, that we might be ready
to shine with the hope that is in us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.