Becoming Mom: Life, Full Circle

mom

Mom and me on a Girl’s Day Out. October 2015

It’s official: The Saxtons are about to add another place at the dining room table, and we’re going to become a multi-generational household. Heaven help us.

On November 17 I’m going to be flying with my mom from her memory care facility near Atlanta, to bring her on an “extended visit” with us here in Indiana. We’ve found an adult daycare and a fill-in caregiver for while I’m at work. And I try not to think too much about what she’ll say about my housekeeping skills. I’m hoping she’ll be so happy not to be where she was, that even our chaotic household will be an improvement.

If you have ever made the choice to bring a parent to live with you, I’d love to hear from you. What are some of the things you did to make the transition easier? If your parent has dementia (like mine), what are some of the things you wish someone had told you ahead of time?

 

 

 

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Even When…

Sarah 2005Today over at Extraordinary Moms Network I posted a little ditty that almost perfectly sums up where I am as a parent today. Go ahead and have a look … I’ll wait.

She’s fifteen now. Fifteen going on thirty. And I swear to you, there are days when we look at each other and wonder, How on earth am I supposed to live with THIS for three more years?

At least. Best case scenario.

If you ask her, she drew the short straw in the Mother Lottery. Her model yells (or yells back). Drinks (a glass of wine at LEAST twice a week, usually while daughter is giving me the stink eye). Is woefully unfashionable. Cramps her fashion style (“No, you may NOT wear black eye shadow”) and sense of propriety (“Yes, you must wash the pen design off your hands before Mass”). Worst of all: HER mom makes her do chores (like a SLAVE, like emptying the dishwasher and setting the table EVERY DAY and cleaning her room).

I’ll admit, I do get crabby sometimes myself. The only time I wake up without the sound of a howler monkey in my ears is when I’m on a business trip. Each morning I fall over the dog, who is cringing under my feet the moment she enters the room. There is not a lipstick, cookie, or bottle of nail polish I can buy that has a snowball’s chance in hell of winding up anywhere but in her room. She speaks, and the room turns blue. She sees her brother, and drama ensues (a fight or teary-eyed accusations of neglect, depending on the day). Her first mother tells me she was just like this at Sarah’s age, which she says to be comforting but actually terrifies me.

But here’s the thing … I love her. Her color. Her exuberance. Her insatiable need for love that induces her to cuddle up to me as close as possible on the couch at night, and plead for her father to tuck her in at night. I try to imagine what it must be like for her, to BE her. I see how she struggles. And I wish I could swish a wand and make it all better.

But that’s not what I signed up for. That’s not what love is about.

Almost fifteen years ago, we signed up for this. God knows if we’d known the wild ride in store for us, we might have run screaming for the hills. But we didn’t. So we didn’t.

Do I love her as much as I’d have loved “my own child”? I don’t know. There’s really no way to know. But this much I can tell you:  She has taught me, the hard way, what it means to really love someone. Because true love most often comes not in the shape of a heart … but of a cross. It means not loving because, but loving even when.

 

Crowned with Peace

Queen of PeaceToday was the annual PeaceFest at our parish, and Bishop Rhoades was the homilist at the event. He mentioned that this year marks the centennial not just of the apparitions at Fatima, but also the year the mother of Jesus came to be known as “Queen of Peace.” In his book, The Life of Pope Benedict XV, Walter Peters notes: “On May 5,1917, he decreed that the invocation, ‘Queen of peace,’ be added to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  [pp. 224-225]

This fascinating icon, which I found on the Villanova University website, was written by Father Richard G. Cannuli. It depicts a woman of Middle Eastern origins, reminding us that Mary is revered by both the Christian and Muslim traditions (the Qaran refers to her as “Maryam”). And so it is fitting to ask her to pray for peace in the world for all her children. But in these recent weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about her more and more often, wondering what she would say to us about the pathway to peace even within our own land.

During her own lifetime, the Holy Land was a hotbed of political unrest; zealots and Romans and simple families like her own just trying to survive in a climate often full of conflict and tension. As she saw her own son begin his public ministry, how she must have prayed as she saw him get drawn into the political turmoil. Where did she find peace, at such a time as that?

As I watch my own children grow older, and their own lives erupt in conflict and confusion, the temptation is to rush into the middle of it, trying to solve their problems for them, trying to make them choose prudence. But at 15 and 17, that isn’t always going to happen. And so, when I cannot protect them … Mother Mary, stay close by, and pray for us all. Give us the peace that comes from knowing One who is never surprised by anything we do, loves us just the same.

“How Was Your Trip?”

It’s a question we’re getting a lot these days, now that we are home again from our family excursion to Costa Rica. The truth is, the effects of this trip will stay with us a long time. The friends we made challenged us, blessed us, and made us look at the world — and ourselves — in new ways.

Dios te salve, Maria, llena eres de gracia; el Senor es contigo…

"Angie" at midwife'sOur experience at the Center was eye-opening. One fifteen-year-old girl, great with child and terrified of the pain of labor and delivery, had a healthy baby girl … and returned just days later with a dehydrated infant whose umbilical cord had become infected. “Angie” did not want to be a mother, she wanted to go back to school. But the hospital sent her back to the Center to learn how to care for her infant, and to care for herself, and to take up the mantle of maternity. Another mother, “Patricia,” seventeen with two children, came alongside Angie and empathized with how hard it was, and how important.

Benedita tu eres entre todas las mujeres, y benedito es el fruto de tu vientre, Jesus.

In a few days, Angie’s smile had returned, and her daughter’s cheeks began to plump. I had not touched the baby, except to smile at her in passing — it was critical that the mother bond uninterrupted with her child. But there were others in need of holding, in need of changing, in need of singing. There were older ones, too, who needed to be reminded of how much God loved them, too. We colored and sang and read aloud in my deplorable Spanish. Soon ten-year-old Lola was reading, too.

Labor room - before

Labor room – before

 

Baby Room Costa Rica 001

New Labor Room

Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores,

When my own family joined me and the Spanish-speaking volunteers who had started the trip with me left, things took a different turn. Susana, the woman in charge of running the Center, a no-nonsense “Tico” (as they call themselves, native Costa Rican – as opposed to the indigenous Cebecar who come from the mountains to have their children) had very different ideas about how much babies should be held. Susana was of the mind that there was too much house-cleaning to be done, that they should be left alone to go to sleep.

At one point just before I left, we were all getting ready for the new bishop to visit the Center, to give his blessing to the women there. Susana had everyone busy scrubbing and tidying the common areas; after doing the breakfast dishes I went out on the porch and tended the children so the others could work undistracted. Around noon lunch was served, and Susana told me to put the baby I was holding in his crib so I could eat my lunch. I had just gotten him to sleep, and the moment his head hit the pillow, he started crying. So I picked him up again … and Susana grabbed him from my arms, took him to the sink, and doused him in cold water. Above his screams, she lectured me in Spanish. Even if I could have understood her, I doubt I would have listened. At that moment, I just wanted to grab the baby and run. Instead I stood there, rooted to the floor, as she wrapped the baby in a towel and handed him off to his mother to nurse. Gradually his sobs relented and he drifted off to sleep.

I realized at that moment it was time for me to go home. A journalist from the diocesan paper came ahead of the bishop, to do a story on the Center. I chatted with her about my visit, about setting up the laboring room and sharing about the Center with people in the United States. At that moment, my daughter came up cradling a kitten, who was rapidly declining from the combined factors of not enough food (his mother had run off, and he had to subsist on whatever the dogs didn’t eat from the mealtime scraps) and too much rough handling from the older children. Animals serve a utilitarian function in Costa Rica, something Sarah had a hard time understanding. “Why don’t you take him to the vet? He’s going to DIE!!!” she sobbed. Seeing the cat’s neck was nearly devoid of fur, I wondered if he had mange. Gently I took the animal from her grasp and set it down so I could give her a hug. “I know. It’s hard. Life here is harder that it is in the States, honey. We can’t really change that. All we can do is love them as long as we are here.”

She looked at me, accusing. “You don’t care about that cat! You’re mean!!!”

Ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amen.

Her words rattled me a bit. Yes, her teenage outburst wasn’t unprecedented. And I knew it would be impossible to explain to the satisfaction of her tender heart why I was not taking a more active role in saving the kitten. Just as I had not been able to persuade Susana that the babies needed the stimulation I had been giving them, that I was not just spoiling them. When two worlds collide, there is always the risk of misunderstanding. But it is also at this crossroads that transformation can occur.

It had been years since I’d been engaged in any kind of missionary work. Frankly, I should have learned more Spanish before undertaking this trip … though I quickly learned that not all the indigenous women were fluent in the language. I saw these women sit at the back of the church, unable to go forward to receive the sacraments, and wished I had been able to teach them. I saw the mountain of suitcases containing baby clothes from previous volunteers, and realized that they didn’t need more onesies. What they needed was for someone to tell them, in their own language, how much their Father in heaven loved them and their children.

Saida and KennethThese young mothers could not count on the support of husbands, or even the financial security of a job back on the reservation. Based on what I had seen, it was very likely some of them would be back the following year, with another baby. Would someone be ready to teach them then?

During my time in Costa Rica, I was reminded of how short and hard life can be, despite its wild beauty. I saw that love does not always come wrapped in soft flannel and warm water. Sometimes it simply stays, bearing silent and prayerful witness to the longing of the human heart. And sometimes, love cries along.

Mom McGinty (or “what parents won’t do to help their kids succeed at school”)

Like many parents of children who have special learning needs, I try to stay in touch with their teachers — trying to strike a balance between supporting and not hovering. (For the record, I don’t always achieve it — my kids will tell you I hover WAY too much. I tell them that when they start passing all their classes, I’ll stop.)

This week Christopher’s English teacher invited me to attend a class so I can see my son in action. They are reading a Sherlock Holmes novel called The Valley of Fear, and apparently he is tuning out and generally not getting his work done. So … TA-DA! Mr. Reed and I have conspired to let me slip into class as the villain of the story.

BOSS MCGINTY.

mcgintyNow, I’m not sure whether my cover will be blown five minutes into class — quite possibly it will, since I used Craig’s jacket and shirt, and repurposed my traditional Halloween mask. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

And who knows? Maybe Chris sees to what lengths I’m prepared to go to get him on the right track and take up the challenge to help himself. Or (what is more likely), will be so EMBARASSED at the sight of his mother in drag that he will do anything to keep me from reprising the role.

So … what’s the most outrageous thing YOU have ever done to help your child succeed at school?

UPDATE: Last night the teacher emailed me to give me an update on his after-school tutoring session with Christopher, and indicated that my presence in the classroom might not be so crucial anyway. So I guess I’ll just squirrel away Boss McGinty for another day!

This experience did teach me something important, though: When we are willing to go the extra mile for a teacher, that kindness is often reciprocated in multiple ways. Something to think about – how can you bless a teacher today?

Filling up the “Love Banks”

Do you have a child who has sensory issues or who for other reasons does not always respond positively to hugs or other normal signs of parental affection? This is very common in foster and adoptive families as well. At the “Refresh” conference in Chicago this weekend, I shared one idea that has worked well for us — we call it “Filling up the Love Banks.” It allows the child to communicate the kind of touch (and the duration) he or she needs to the parent in a way that respects boundaries and makes the child feel safe and loved.

When I sense that Sarah (or Chris) is in need of a hug, I ask her, “Do you need your love banks filled?” This will generally produce an immediate, positive response. She strips off her socks and shoes and sits on the couch with me, her feet close to my lap. Gently I stroke or put gentle pressure on the instep, musing aloud, “Hmm… let’s check your hug bank first. Is your hug bank full?” If she wants a hug, she says, “No, I think it’s empty.” Then she cuddles up to me and we hug for ten seconds or so. Then I touch the same spot on the foot again. “Is the hug bank full yet? No? Let’s try again.” We hug again, a little longer this time. Then back to the foot rub… until she says the bank is full.

Next, it’s the “kiss bank,” on the other side of the foot. We give butterfly kisses and raspberries, “Mommy kisses” (on the forehead) and fairy kisses (blowing the bangs from the forehead). Buffalo kisses, in which I swish a lock of my hair across her cheek, seem to be a favorite, with “baby buffalo,” “mommy buffalo” and “daddy buffalo” (bigger bunches of hair) each taking a turn. Each time, we check the foot to see if the “Kiss Bank” is full.

The ball of the foot is where the “tickle bank” resides. We like “rub tickles” at our house, gentle pressure on the arms and calves. If your child has a history of abuse, you may want to skip this one at first if you think it will create a trigger. Or you might let your child tickle YOU. Always check every couple of seconds to see if the “tickle bank” is full.

Finally, the “face trace bank.” The child closes her eyes as with one finger the parent traces the eyebrows, eye lashes, nose, lips, and ears. Finish by swooping the whole face in an oval, just beneath the hairline to under the chin.

Feel free to improvise as you discover the kind of affection, respectful touch your child responds to the best. At first you might start with a simple foot massage or scalp massage. Put on some relaxing music. Choose a time of day when you are most wanting the child to relax and “wind down.” This can be a great way for parent and child to bond in a loving, appropriate way that teaches the child to establish and practice healthy boundaries while still getting the love he or she needs to feel happy and connected.love-banks

 

Perfect Fire

j0438992Today is the Feast of All Souls, the time when we remember loved ones who are on their final journey toward God in the shadowlands of purgatory. It is the final purification, the “testing by fire” (1 Peter 1:6-7) that begins for most of us in this life, and must be completed before we are ready to see God. This work of perfection is sheer grace — but it also costs us something.

C.S. Lewis whispered of it in Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the
dragon scaling of Eustace
, and in The Great Divorce in the
killing of the red lizard.  In both cases, death was the gateway to true resurrection.

And so, today we remember the “little deaths” that are part-and-parcel of the Christian life. I don’t know about you, but I experience this most consistently in family life, while trying to guide my children as they seem hell-bend (pardon the expression) on doing just exactly what they please, thank you very much. And none too shy about telling us exactly what they think of our efforts to get them back on track.

Eternal rest grant to us, O Lord . . . Make your perpetual light shine upon us.

At this rate I don’t know if we’ll get them to walk at graduation . . . but I’m hoping that we will all grow in grace in the process.