Tuesday, December 30, 2014

In case you were wondering #MotherhoodUnexpected

Those of you who have following me for a while (or those of you who might check the "posts" column to the far right) may have noticed that my posts this year have been way down. I even took off an entire month during the summer. No posts-- silence.

Now we are nearing the last few days of this year of low posts, and I am only weeks away finally getting to share with you why.

Yes, it has been a busy year as Eli grew from newborn to emerging toddler, Addison began attending more school, and Carter turned from stubborn toddler to a little man-- but my silence has been about more than simply being busy in motherhood. (Those of you who know how addicted I am to writing probably already guessed this.)

To explain, I need to back up just a touch.

I have accepted Addison's diagnosis. I love her dearly. I love our little family just the way it is. But something still bothered me.

Seeing and hearing the following things:

"The scan revealed no abnormalities. God is good!"

"We prayed for him to be born healthy, and he was. God is so good to us!"

"The doctors thought something might be wrong, but they were wrong! Isn't God just so good?"

cut deep inside my heart, and I couldn't figure out why. 

I realized that the health of these other babies had absolutely nothing to do with me or my babies, but my mind jumped into a dangerous place before I could stop it. And it hurt. Did this mean that if the situation had been reversed, that God wasn't good? If the scan had abnormalities, would "God is so good to us!" still be tacked onto the announcement? And did this mean that when well-meaning people looked at Addison, did they honestly that God would have been MORE good if he had allowed her to be born without Down syndrome? If he had "cured" her? If our prayers had been answered in the way that we wanted?

I couldn't sort this out in my heart. The answers seemed simple, but my heart wouldn't accept them.

So I started on this crazy project called "Motherhood Unexpected" during the wee hours of 2014. I needed to write through this in a deeper way than a short blog post. I needed to dive into this hurt and write through it. I needed to find peace so that when I saw these announcements, I didn't feel hurt-- so that I could separate my emotions from this in a healthy way because I had a deeper understanding of God's goodness to me in giving me a child with Down syndrome. Not as a mistake, or a lesser choice-- as GOOD.

Some of you know that I spent two-and-a-half years working on a different novel. I have since chalked that novel up to my "practice hours" as a writer. This new novel is NOT the novel that I posted about a few years ago. This is a fresh outpouring from my heart.

This novel is a byproduct of studying countless craft books (after learning from mistakes made on my first novel) so that I could "work smarter not harder" with my limited writing time. 

This novel was my creative refuge during this past year of constant diaper changing. This novel was the place spiritual warfare for my heart as I struggled through these concepts for myself. 

This novel is all the things that I want to say as I stare into the fresh grief of a mother's eyes who just received a diagnosis for her child and who is honestly wondering where the goodness of God is now?

Why a novel? Why not nonfiction? I don't know about you, but I love drama. I LOVE a really good story that just won't let me go. So I wrote what I love.

On my fb/IG announcement, I said it was my first "published" novel. Does this mean I am working with a publisher? Well yes, but not in the traditional sense. I didn't write that to be misleading. I wrote that to differentiate this new novel from my old novel-- which I did not, and will not be publishing. This one will be published on Amazon, available both as an ebook (but is far different from the smaller ebooks that I have previously published) and paperback. I chose the nontraditional publishing route for many reasons (for a different post!), and I am so thankful that this one will be available in paperback as well. I know this will make it so much easier for some of you to read it.

Over the past year, I have had a critique team, an edit team, a review team, and a fabulous editor and PR person who have all been amazing as together we whittled my dream into a product worthy of your time. (Yes, the acknowledgements page is quite long. So many people made this book possible!)

I am so grateful to the Lord for grace and strength to finish this book. My heart is so much more at peace after being able to write through this. I needed this in ways that I can't even explain to you (after you read it, I think you will understand).

My work has been wrapped up for a few weeks now (after a very long ping-pong manuscript game with my awesome editor).  Now I am simply waiting to hear back from different teams as they are reading to help me polish off the last of the edges, and yet I haven't returned to regular posting because I feel emotionally drained. Writing through this exhausted me in a way I have never been before. Struggling anew with the characters, writing through important truths, finding acceptance, realizing what I was missing when it came to God's goodness-- this took everything from me.

I'm hoping to be back up and running as usual soon. This rest time has been important for me.

If all goes as planned-- Motherhood Unexpected will be available for sale (on Amazon) the week of January 15th. 

I am hoping that you will read it. It is my labor of love to you. I am hoping that you will share it with your friends. It delves with painful detail into the experience of Unexpected Motherhood (in regards to having a child with a disability) that I think can really help others understand the experience of becoming a special needs parent (at least one version of this experience).

And last but not least-- thank you. Thank you for your patience with me here as I stepped away from the blog this last year. Thank you for your encouragement and support. Thank you for giving me the courage to write Motherhood Unexpected. Yes, that is in the acknowledgments too. (-;

I hope you have a very Happy New Year! I can't wait to start blogging afresh.

To conclude, here is my most popular picture this year (for obvious reasons):

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Christmas I Will Never Forget

I was not allowed to move. I remember lying on my side-- propped up on either side by large pillows. I was not allowed to eat. I remember hearing nurses nearby discuss ordering White Castle and eventually smelling the smells of greasy food and the rustling sounds of a takeout bag. I was in intense pain. I probably couldn't have moved even if I wanted to. And eating sounded exhausting.

I saw the twinkling of Christmas lights all around me. I heard soft strains of Christmas music punctuated by machines beeping loudly.

It was Christmas Eve. My back was severely broken. I was nine years old and all alone.

It wasn't my parents fault that a happy road trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa ended up breaking our family alongside a cold highway. It wasn't their fault that a stranger had a heart attack under a dark underpass, leaving his car parked in the middle of the road just begging to be hit. It wasn't their fault that because of how badly my back was broken I had to be taken via ambulance back to Chicago while my entire family stayed behind in a smaller hospital in Michigan.

I often think how hard it was for my mother to say goodbye to me. Her face was streaked in blood (she later needed facial reconstructive surgery), and I barely recognized the person who had always been there for me. And yet they wheeled me away from her after a tearful goodbye because in that moment she couldn't help me or go with me.

My older sister walked away from the crash to sit in a warm car nearby. It was so very, very cold, but I had refused the kind stranger's offer, holding myself up with my arms and fearing what would happen if I were to let go. I was told later that if I had tried to walk away from the car, I would have become paralyzed.

I remember the long ambulance drive, being taken away from my family while clutching the softest white teddy bear with a velvet red bow tie and smooth brown nose.

As the week progressed, I remember my Sunday School teacher driving two hours to sit next to my hospital bed to read me the Christmas story. I remember my violin teacher bringing some of her students to perform a show for me. I remember so many stuffed animals being thrown my way at one point I almost had to give up my bed for them to take over. I remember painful physical therapies in which I had to relearn to walk. I remember the back brace that I had to wear forever.

I'm a grown woman now. I'm 30 years old, and I am the mother. But yet every Christmas I get sad remembering how big the hole of loneliness was inside of me that night as I stared at the Christmas lights in painful isolation from my family. I was such a little girl, and yet that night I had to be strong. I didn't have any other choice.
I often think back to this Christmas that I will never forget and wonder what I'm supposed to learn from this experience that I still can't talk about. I can barely write about it. I know that it has been hard for me to trust after this. After falling asleep innocently in a car and waking in more pain than you can handle while staring at a completely shattered windshield and seeing your family covered in blood around  you-- it is hard to trust. I know that Christmas for me always holds some sadness no matter how much happiness surrounds me as I remember the day that easy trust was stolen from me.
When I think about my children and what Christmas experiences I want to give them, I always find myself so very happy when I can just be with them. Remembering what it's like to be separated from my parents during the "happiest" days of the year, I am so thankful every year when that is not my reality as a mother. Yes, we do presents, and yummy food is always a plus. Yes, we talk about the Christmas story, and Christmas carols are blasted 24/7 for far too long.

But to me, Christmas is successful when I can tuck my children into their beds safe and sound the night before. When they can wrap their arms around me and leave wet kisses on my ear. When we can watch a Christmas movie all leaning into each other on the couch in a giant pile of limbs (spoiler alert: tickling will ensue). When we can live our loud, messy lives together-- quiet moments blending into the unforgettable ones because of the intensity of joy that comes from simply being.
Lately I have been trying so hard to get to know my children better. It's so easy to just schlepp them around on my schedule, not taking their thoughts or opinions into consideration. But especially as Christmas approaches, I find a great need to really know them. Especially Addison-- who struggles to communicate well. I want to KNOW her. I want to be there for her. I want her to share her heart with me. Most days I feel that I am failing at this. And so as I wake up with every new morning, I try again. I try harder. I want my boys to feel heard. I want them to feel understood and supported even as they are so different than me. As we lie on the floor in front of our Christmas tree, I want us to discuss everything and nothing. As we make Christmas treats, I want them to have the gift of knowing that I am there for them. I want them to rest unfailingly in the security that I can offer as their mother.
And yet I know all too well that the security that I can offer them is minimal. So much is out of my control. Events that may separate us are always just a potential blink away. I have lived this. I know that I have to let my children go-- to (gulp) trust. I have to trust that while I can't control their safety or my ability to always be there for them, I have a loving Heavenly Father who can. A Father who knelt next to a hospital bed in that Children's Hospital so long ago-- providing strength to a little nine-year-old girl fighting back tears.
I don't feel the need to make Christmas BIGGER and BETTER, to plan elaborate schemes, or to give so many presents that it becomes difficult to be thankful for all of them. Mommy guilt and "I'm not doing enough!" worries don't control me at Christmas time.
I know that when I was nine-years-old, all I wanted for Christmas was to not be alone-- to not be in pain.

I am overwhelmingly thankful to be surrounded by my three beautiful children and handsome husband this Christmas season. I am grateful for their love to me. And I look forward to pouring out my love to them this season of celebration. No, my Christmas plans won't be up on Pinterest. But hopefully, these moments will be etched in my children's hearts. Etched and framed by the filter LOVE. I am thankful for the moments that we have to fill by simply being. Togetherness is a gift I will never take for granted.
Thank you to my friend Sarah Pinard for taking these pictures!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Vomiting Thankfulness

Thanksgiving this year was perfection. If by perfection, you pictured a cancelled trip, vomit, sores, a mouse, and- well, isn't that enough?

Last year Thanksgiving was so chaotic- Eli was days old. We were still wearing hospital bracelets when we stumbled into my in-laws Thanksgiving party. It was a daze. I felt bad that the kids didn't have the full "mommy is all there" Thanksgiving experience. I didn't even know where they were half of the meal. This year would be different- I promised myself. This year, Thanksgiving would be AWESOME.

So we planned. We planned a big trip to Michigan to see my parents and all my siblings. I was so excited. The cousins would play. We would sit around the table for hours with cups of coffee and talk with family the way you can only talk with family. I helped plan the big feast. I sent over recipes. I imagined us all bustling around Mother's kitchen- hating each other and yet loving each other at the same time (as only siblings can do).

Our bags were packed. The day of departure arrived. Except a big snowstorm arrived as well, so we had to push off departure by one day since this was the first big snowfall for Aaron's snow removal business. It's okay- we would leave Thanksgiving morning. No worries!

Thanksgiving dawned early. 1AM, I was awake. Worrying. In a good Christian way, of course (ahem.)

I fretted about the long trip and the weather and Aaron's safety working and if we would get left that day at all.

I fell back asleep. 4 AM. I woke up and worried some more. By this point I was so tired I then worried that I would be awake enough to drive the long trip.

I got back up around 7- dusted off a blog post I wrote a week earlier, drank a cup of coffee, and braved the day.

All was well, until 30 seconds later when I went to lift Addison out of her room. Strangest thing- her entire face was covered with red sores. Hmmm. So were her hands. And arms. And legs. Whoa- they were everywhere.

Long story short- we cancelled the trip to Michigan as she had a bad case of the very contagious Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. Disappointed, I unpacked the bags while quickly figuring out how to rally the day for the kids.

I would still make Thanksgiving awesome!

I placed the pie dough in to chill, I put rolls on to rise, I whipped up a sweet potato casserole, I put  chicken in the crockpot (since the turkey was frozen solid and singing "let it go"), I planned out the rest of the meal, and found that a few busy hours in the kitchen revived The Plan.

Somewhere in there Aaron arrived home, exhausted from his night out. Somewhere in there I medicated Addison for the itching and placed cream on her sores. Somewhere in there I fed the baby and entertained Carter.

The kitchen was humming, delicious smells were filling the house, children were quietly playing- so much to be thankful for!

Addison colored our Thanksgiving tablecloth, and I taped the construction paper pumpkins and turkeys the kids had made earlier in the week on the wall. The serving area was ready.
(I took shockingly few pictures of our magical day)

I dished out steaming food onto plates for my family. I worked hard to pull together this last minute meal, and I was proud of how well it turned out. A full Thanksgiving feast with no chance to prep or plan. I did it! I even had a delicious chocolate chip pie made with my favorite flaky butter crust. The kids were going to love it! Time to make some memories!

I was taking the plates to the table when I heard it.


In the hallway.

I ran to the hallway and there was Carter Henry, doubled over. The baby was crawling quickly to explore this fun new texture!

Carter spent Thanksgiving meal moaning on the couch with a bucket. Addison was scratching sores at the table. The baby was happily banging on the table for "MORE FOOD NOW!" before throwing most of it on the floor. Aaron looked ready to drop into the green bean casserole.

Just one big happy family.

We somehow stumbled through the meal. We then did baths- separate baths for every child- disinfecting after each one.

Aaron then immediately passed out (who can blame him- he was up all the night before.)

I got all the kids in bed, except Addison obviously wasn't feeling well because she wouldn't settle down.

I pulled her out to sit with me on the couch and watch a show. She loved this (although she spent the entire time crazily wriggling in an attempt to scratch while sitting still.) Finally around 9pm, she let me put her back in her room after more cream on her sores and more medicine.

Perfect. I was exhausted. It had been a long day, and I was ready for bed!

And then I heard it.


In Carter Henry's room.

I ran to him, helping him to the bathroom, changing clothes, sheets, and wiping up his room. I held him. I took his temperature. I wiped his brow with a cold cloth. I tucked him back in his bed and lay there with him, stroking his forehead and telling him that this couldn't have happened to a "nicer little boy."

When at last he started to settle, I snuck back to my bed. Oh blessed bed! How long it had been!

And then I heard it.

More vomiting.

In Carter Henry's room.

Same thing again. Helping him to the bathroom, changing clothes, sheets, and wiping up his room.

By the time I finally coaxed him to sleep, it was late. I was tired, cranky, and mad that Thanksgiving was considerably less than awesome.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in there before passing out- Aaron informed me that we have a mouse. Somewhere in the house. Taunting me. Tiptoeing around me. Terrorizing me. A.mouse.

Doing the math of the day, the sum of my additions did not end in Thankfulness. I wanted the magic! The warm fuzzy feelings! The happy family portrait!

And yet I was left with sick children, an exhausted husband, a mouse ridden house, an unappreciated meal, and- well- isn't that enough?

Sometimes it's hard to be thankful. It's hard to hold the pieces of perfection in your hands and be thankful for the brokeness.

And yet looking back now as our weekend spent together as a family- talking, cleaning, organizing, eating- we would never have gotten this weekend if we weren't all quarantined all together. We would have the busyness of the trip and rehearsals and church and nursery and- the list was endless. We wouldn't have been tearing apart and organizing and scrubbing down as a team if there wasn't Terrorist Mouse putting us on alert.

We have spent the last three days just being- together. The day after Thanksgiving, Carter was well and I could tell that Addison was noticeably more comfortable.
The baby took his first independent step. The boys started sharing their room (I GOT MY DINING ROOM BACK...well, as soon as the mouse is done with it.) We had long conversations over an extended pancake breakfast yesterday morning (there was nowhere to rush off and be.) The children wrestled with daddy. Tickles have been administered. Addison has been full of new words. We've gotten through a lot of chapters in our chapter reading book. We've had other meals together that were much better received by the children. Aaron has been so busy the last few months, I think this is the first chance the kids have really gotten to see him in a long time. The time together has been priceless. I've gotten my warm fuzzy, family portrait moments. They just weren't on the actual day of Thanksgiving.

But really- I would rather the warm fuzzy family portrait moments be scattered a little bit every day rather than only clumped together on one big day.

Because I am overwhelmingly thankful. I am thankful for it all- for the painful Thanksgivings and the ability to get through it as a family. To emerge the other side even more thankful for the boring, normal days.

Motherhood is hard, and sometimes it makes certain days seem impossibly difficult. But honestly I wouldn't trade it for the world. I am thankful for motherhood.

Thankfulness isn't about a beautifully decorated table and a turkey brined to perfection. Thankfulness is what holds you up on the days when everything falls apart. Thankfulness is the hand holding yours as you stumble through the valley. Thankfulness is the shoulder you can rest on when you just can't do it one more time.

And so, this Thanksgiving- I am thankful. Because even though the day was less than awesome- through it all I am reminded what really matters:

feeding your child a snack before you take his picture.

Well, that and other things.