Monday, May 30, 2011

My Many Marathons

It’s been a week and a day since our friend, Bruce, died in a biking accident in Japan.  His wife, Maryann, is a dear friend of mine.  We’ve been skyping every few days since last Saturday.   Maryann is coping as well as can possibly be expected, but it’s still really hard.  She told me that I could post a link to her blog:  It started out as a blog about her new life in Japan as a chaplain's wife but ...clearly God had different plans.
I don’t think the reality of his death has totally hit home over here. We have the ability to make so many choices in this day and age, it’s hard to clue-in that this is something I cannot change. I keep nodding my head and thinking, “surely not,” as though God offered some sort of plan-for-our-life and I can accept or reject it in the same way I pick out a new couch and then change my mind and take it back.  
I also kept wondering, "WHEN will I stop CRYING?" Then, about the third day in, I realized that I won't stop crying. Maybe I’ll stop crying on the outside, but I’ll always be crying on the inside about this one.  It is going to be unbearably painful for a long, long time; not a temporary sorrow, but rather a permanent addition to our life.  Sort of like realizing that I’m in a race that I thought was a sprint, but is really a marathon.  For some reason, this realization made me feel better.    Not that I want this addition by any stretch, but now that I realize what we're in for, I'm better able to handle it and not looking for the finish line around every corner.   So, still crying, but no longer surprised over all my tears….(although, I do wonder, simply as a matter of VOLUME, how many tears a person can cry.  You’d think I’d get dehydrated at some point and just stop). 
Maryann spoke at her husband’s memorial service on Thursday, May 26th.  She posted her text on her blog the next day.  The funeral will be June 18th in Williamsburg and the burial is June 20th at Arlington National Cemetery. I've been so fortunate up until now, not to have lost anyone. I had NO IDEA how difficult a Memorial Day Weekend could be.  Yesterday a veteran offered me a poppy outside Sam's Club and it nearly killed me. I took it, but I couldn't even get a "thank you" out, just a teary eyed nod. I wish God would give some sort of warning, so I would know I'm about to get smacked in the face with stuff like that.
In the meantime, the people around me are living their lives, the sun is rising and setting and time is passing, regardless of whether I am noticing or participating.
The boys  have sort of switched roles in our household.  Will used to be the extremely difficult child and Ruslan –actually, he was difficult as well, but he was slightly less difficult than Will.  However, they have officially switched places.  Will has suddenly become relatively easy and cute, cute, cute.  When he first came, we were dealing with so many fundamental issues (like starvation) that I think he could really only focus on eating.  After that, it was potty training, then leg braces to get used to , then eye surgery, then he got a killer sinus infection and a few bangs on the head, plus the new language he had to learn.  Poor baby.  It was always something!!  However, in the past few weeks, he has really come out of his shell.  He’s been talking almost non-stop.  I can’t understand what is going on in there, but he clearly does have SOME grey matter to work with. 
On the one hand, he still cannot get concepts like, “Is Will a boy or a girl?”  He’s finally accepted that, “Will is a boy,” but I am certain this is just a matter of rote memory on his part because if I ask him about ANY other person in the family or neighborhood, he usually gets it wrong, even when the odds are 50/50!   We also have baby gates everywhere because he is still bound and determined to get into “off limits” rooms, and still totally obsessed with water and dumps it on the floor every chance he gets.  Certain circuits are simply NOT connected.
On the other hand, Will is either cluing into some other higher level concepts, or he’s just taking “cuteness” lessons.  He smiles ALL THE TIME.  He has picked up a slew of our family slang like, “how about” for “would you like,” and  “actually” for “you’re wrong,” and “STOP NOYIN ME!”  for “go away.”  Plus,  I was sitting at our window seat yesterday and he climbed up with me, put his hands on my arm and said,
“Mama.”  (tap, tap) “Mama, I want to say, 'Thank You' to  God.” 
I said, “that’s a great idea.  What should we say, ‘Thank You,’ to God for?”
“I want to say thank you to God for DADDY… and for JUMPIN.” 
So, Will held my hand and I said, “Thank you God for Daddy and for jumping.” And then he gave me a kiss and scooted down off the seat and walked away.
Ruslan, for his part, has become so hard to be around that….well, no one wants to be around him.  I’ve been trying to pin point what it is that makes that child SO difficult and the truth is, it’s not his disability, it’s his personality.  I consider this to be my problem.  As his mom, it’s really my job to teach him how to act.  Right now, he has NO IDEA.  We are working with years and years of reinforced helplessness, whining, habitual demanding, and a huge emotional deficit.  It’s really hard to live with.   I've been working on a blog draft called, "I Have Reactive Attachment Disorder" that spells it all out.  Things are actually getting better, slowly, but it’s a long haul.  

Monday, May 23, 2011

God's Perfect Aim

So, things had been going reasonably well lately.  My parents are visiting and I love my parents.  The kids were having a great time with them.  The boys are making slow but sure progress.  Bill keeps saying, “It's like watching the grass grow.  You stare and you stare and nothing happens, but if you look away and then turn back, you can see growth.”  He's pretty accurate.
Everyone is excited about summer.   We have about ten days left of school here.  The latest joke in the house was about Paul, who just turned twelve.  Last Thursday morning, I told him to go get a shower.  It went like this:

Paul, go get a shower.
Oooohhh! Can I skip it please?
No, you can't skip it.  You have to shower every day.  All humans wash!
OK but can I ....can I at least do my math lesson first? 

Paul is doing Saxxon Math, by the way.  It is among the most unimaginative, tedious, colorless, largest math texts ever published.   Nevertheless, better math than a shower. 

So, anyway, we were living in relative ease.  Then, about 6am on Saturday, I got an e-mail from my friend Maryann asking me to call her.  Maryann is the one I posted about back in November.  Her husband is a Navy chaplain and her family moved to a Marine Corp. base in Japan while we were in Ukraine.  Bruce and Maryann are among our dearest friends. We’ve known them for almost 20 years.  I came to the birth of their children, Bruce baptized our kids, they babysit for us when we take vacations….you know, the trust-you-with-my-kids-friends-for-life kind of friends. 

Bruce died on Saturday.  He was mountain biking with a friend.  He hit a rock at the bottom of a hill and fell over a 30 foot cliff.  He died instantly.  He was 41. 

I feel as though God glanced our way Saturday and said to His Angels, "Oh, right…Hang on a minute.  I just remembered something."   Then He grabbed that Saxxon Math text off our couch, hit everyone in my little circle full on in the face, HARD, checked to make sure everyone was bleeding, then threw the book back on the couch and left.

It's been three days now and I'm still flat on the floor, bloody and useless.  I look over and I see Maryann, barely able to lift her head and I can’t help her.   I can’t even hold her hand.  She’s in JAPAN.

Every time I have a quiet moment, I am sick with worry over Maryann and her kids.  I am distracted with grief.   I want desperately to fly to Japan and make everything all right.  This is the first time I have regretted adopting those boys because I think if I didn’t have them, I could fly over and DO something.   But, what can be done??

Monday, May 9, 2011

Broken Records

Vitals:  Nothing is really happening lately.  It's life as normal.  But, I decided to record the events of last weekend so my kids can mock my parenting and interested readers will feel competent in comparison.

Details:  So, last Thursday, Will came home with a note about a tick bite on the back of his head.  The tick was gone, but the site was red and swollen and he had been picking at in class.  I got some antibiotics, a bandaid and an appointment for the upcoming week to have it checked out.  The next day, Friday, Reilly who had been down with a sore throat, was diagnosed with Strep.  Seven children and I’ve NEVER had a child with Strep.  Go Figure.  Ten days on antibiotics and a family record broken.  The doctor assured me that she wasn’t contagious after three doses of antibiotics.  This was fortunate, since the next day, Saturday, we were planning to take the boy scouts canoeing.  None of us wanted to miss it, least of all Reilly.  I told her she could lay in the canoe all day and the rest of us would paddle her peacefully down the river.  What could go wrong?

Before I continue, I have to say in our defense that I did check out the rivers before we went.  There is a web site, that lists all rivers, by state, with color coded charts depicting water levels.   The particular river we were canoeing was listed as “Low Runnable, “ on the morning of our trip.  See?  I am a responsible adult, parent, and boy scout mom.

So, that day there was our family:  Me in a canoe with Ruslan and Reilly, Bill in his canoe with Will and Sharon, then Matt and Paul in their kayaks, along with three other single scouts in Kayaks, the boy scout leader (kayak) and two father/son teams, each in a canoe.  Before we even got all the boats in the water, one of the father/son teams had flipped their canoe. 

Two things became clear right away.  1.  This particular father/son team had NO experience canoeing and 2. The “Low Runnable” label on American Whitewater should definitely have read, “High Runnable.”   The water was about waist deep and there was a hefty current.  It was manageable, as in, you could stand up easily and not get pushed over, but it was hard to canoe/kayak against it, so that if we had to maneuver anywhere, it was going to take considerable effort. 

We thought about quitting, but the boat rack and our vehicles were already at the other end of the river.  Besides, this particular father had missed our instruction time with the boy scouts because he was on the road, ferrying cars back and forth.  Surely once we gave him a few pointers, he would get the hang of things.  We gave the novice father a flash lesson; in a canoe, you HAVE to keep your body perpendicular to the river’s surface or you will tip.  This is counter intuitive, because if the boat tips one way,  instinct will have you lean to the other side, in which case, everything goes wobbly and you are doomed.  But if you keep your body straight upright, you WILL NOT TIP.  I’ve even had people hang on the side of my canoe and try to tip my boat, but I’ve been able to hold it upright, just by sitting up straight. 

Another tricky part of canoeing is that the steering is sort of opposite.  In order to turn Right, you have to paddle on the Left side.  Plus, the person in the back of the boat is the one who steers.  The front paddler is just really there for power.   This is why Bill or I can be in a canoe, basically alone, and still steer fine, since we can just sit in the back and let the kids in the middle/front play around.  This is admittedly confusing.  The novice father had about a mile to practice before the first bend.  Bill stayed behind with him to help him get the hang of it and I went ahead with the boy scouts. 

At the first bend, they tipped again.  Unfortunately, they were behind everyone, so we had to paddle against the current to get the canoe, dump out the water, collect the boy, dad and paddles and get them going again.  We had about a half mile of peace, then at the first set of rapids, they tipped again.  More back paddling, dumping, collecting and this time, we put a more experienced boy scout in the canoe with the novice father hoping he could keep things upright.

After a few hundred yards, they tipped again. 

We decided to stop for lunch.  Regrettably, no one else was interested in napping besides me, so after a short lesson in water safety, we got back in the boats.  This time, we added Will into the canoe with me, Ruslan and Reilly. Will generally just sits happily in the boat, looking around with a smile on his face and taking everything in.  He’s not a problem, but if something goes wrong, he'd be totally helpless. This left Bill alone in a canoe with Sharon so that he could give more help to the novice dad without the added burden of little Will in the boat.  We also put the boy scout leader with the novice dad, hoping that since they were more equal in weight, they might stay upright.

Another mile down the river and the novice dad tipped again.  More back-paddling, dumping, collecting and just as we were getting them upright, one of the boy scouts noticed a rope swing hanging from a tree.  All them immediately pulled over and scrambled up the bank, taking turns on the rope swing.  I pulled over so we could watch and, as soon as he figured out what was happening, Ruslan wanted to try.  I hate having to constantly tell him, “no.”  Besides, where is the fun in life, if one never takes risks?  Reilly was already up the bank and Will had NO IDEA what was going on so Ruslan was the only one feeling left out. 

I tried to put Ruslan off, but he wanted to go so badly that I finally relented.  The dads were upright again and lined up next to us along the bank.  So, I left Will alone in my canoe.  At the time, this seemed rational, since he ALWAYS just sits still and smiles at everything, plus the more experienced dad was alongside us in his canoe, right next to Will and they were both in a slight inlet behind a tree.  I thought the dad could keep the canoes together, along the bank and out of the current since all they had to do was stay still (hint: if you are thinking, “what an idiot” here, you are on the right track).

I grabbed Ruslan and carried him up the bank.  Bill pulled over to get some video shots of the kids on the rope swing.  The water was cold, so no one thought of going in, they were just swinging back and forth over the water and back onto the bank.  Anyone passing by might have thought we were making a Tarzan film (with a well financed wardrobe department).  It’s really fun.  I put Matt at the edge of the water and put Ruslan on the rope swing.  His upper body is massive, so he had no problem holding on and Matt grabbed him as soon as he neared the bank and pushed him back toward me. I’m not sure if he ever went over the water, but he had a total blast and was squealing the whole time.  He loved it.

I looked over to see if Bill had been able to video tape his ride and noticed that Bill was just closing up his video camera and handing it to the boy scout leader.  I was about to protest when I looked further up the river and saw that my canoe had broken away from the pack and was headed backwards down river.  There was Will in his seat, smiling over at me and looking for all the world like this was just another part of the tour.  Back where I had left Will along the bank, the more experienced dad was standing waist deep in water and the novice dad was down the river, chasing their canoe.  In the time it took me to shriek in panic and hand Ruslan off to Matt, Bill was able to catch up to my canoe, grab it and hold it against the far bank. 

There was no help for it.  I dove in.  The water was so cold, it literally took my breath away.  I hate it when that happens.  It took maybe 15 seconds to get across the river, but it seemed like forever.  When I got to the boat, there was Will, smiling like it was Sunday morning and telling me, “Mommy wet,”  in case I was unaware.  The water was too deep for me to jump in the boat safely, plus the dad’s boat was still on its way down river.  So, we crossed back to the homeside of the bank and cornered the dad’s canoe.  It was so full of water, it was nearly sunk.  I jumped into a dry canoe with Will.  Sharon came over to join us.  This left Bill with the other two canoes and the task of dumping, collecting and setting things right again for the dads, while I went back to supervise the boys and get Ruslan. 

For a few seconds, I thought disaster was averted.  All the children and boats were accounted for.  I was heading back upstream and while the current was strong and I was alone, I knew I could do it if I concentrated and gave all-out effort paddling.  All was well, until suddenly, there was Reilly (you remember, the daughter with strep) in Matt’s kayak shooting past me down the river looking like she was being chased by a swarm of bees.  I shouted at her and she managed to turn around and tell me that Matt had cut his foot, "really bad" and was "bleeding everywhere."

Apparently, Matt and Paul were so concerned about the welfare of their brother that they had decided to pass the time riding the rope swing together.  While they were swinging out over the water, Paul pushed Matt in.  He’d landed on a stick that was sticking upright in the sandy bottom and had a sizable, deep cut on the bottom of his foot.  Reilly had panicked, grabbed Matt’s kayak and gone after us down the river.  Now she was panicking, thinking that Matt was going to lose his foot and I was panicking wondering if she was strong enough to make it back up the river.   She turned around and started paddling toward me.  I have to say, she is amazing.  I was thinking I might have to rope her off and tow her, but she made it back upstream, all by herself. 

Unfortunately, the first aid kit was with Bill in the other canoe. So, Bill left the dad’s canoe in the care of the dads and paddled back upstream with the first aid kit.  Apparently, Matt’s cut looked more like a gushing, gaping hole at that point.  I never got a good look at it, I’m just going by Bill and Reilly’s description.  I stayed away.  Matt was just on the verge of tears.  I knew if I got close to him, he would start to cry.  So, though my motherly instincts were shrieking in protest, I kept my distance and pretended to be busy corralling boy scouts and children, while Bill blotted the blood and got the foot dry enough to hold a few bandaids.

In the end, Bill and Matt flew off down the river to get Matt to an emergency room before it was too late for stitches.  They cleaned him out, sewed him up and after a special boot, crutches and ten days worth of antibiotics, he’s good as new!  Seven children, five of them boys, and I’ve never had a child with stitches, nor crutches.  Ever.  Another family record broken.   

In the meantime, we kept the novice dad with the boy scout leader, emptied the canoes, collected boys, snacks and paddles and we all shot off after Bill.  The boy scout leader and novice dad tipped one more time that day, for a total of six tippings on this one trip.  I think last year we had four tippings for the whole summer’s worth of trips.  Another family record broken.   

On Monday morning the tick bite on the back of Will’s head was the size of a small egg.  Luckily, we had an appointment for that day and after a quick culture, Will was diagnosed with Strep, as in, there was strep bacteria at the site of the tick bite, making it swell.  Another ten days worth of antibiotics.   I now have six children at home.  One in a walker, one on crutches, and three on antibiotics.  But I’ll tell you in the midst of all this, a small miracle.  On Tuesday morning, I finally unpacked the car.  We didn’t lose one item on that canoe trip.   We came home with all the shoes, all the paddles, all the life jackets, keys, snacks and electrical equipment that we left with (Yes, you read that right. What’s a canoe trip without a trusty GPS?).  Nothing floated off down river, lost on the roadside or gone home with a mystery family.  Another family record broken.   

Four broken records in one weekend….Its a record.