Sunday, November 17, 2019

Flu Shot Friday

Where else can I brag on my kids, but here?

On Wednesday, a few hours before the kids and I were supposed to pick Brian up from work to take him to the airport, he called and asked me to leave early to pick up a package that had been delayed by the gross winter weather. The pickup easily added an extra 50 minutes to the trip. On the way home, we were stopped by unusual, heavy traffic. All told, the kids ended up sitting in the car for four hours straight without one complaint

My kids are just plain awesome. Plainly, awesome. So that’s what I’m dealing with here. 

Friday was our second annual Flu Shot Friday, when we  collectively get our flu shots, then go do fun things together. I told them that the one who won Toughest Kid Award would be able to pick the movie for that night. The top three rose to the challenge (Mac oblivious to both movie night and impending inoculation). Will and Neva both expressed nervousness, but when the moment came they took it like a BOSS. Barrett won, however, for taking it like a boss AND for not once complaining (“I can’t WAIT to get my flu shot!”). Mac cried a bit but was sunny again in a minute. We all marched out of there with suckers in hands and smiles on faces. I tell you, there’s nothing you can give someone that’s quite like the gift of self-confidence. 

Before their shot: “Show me your toughest faces!”

After their shots- “Mom, that was like nothin’!” (Will)

Their reward was a simple lunch at the Burger King playplace next door. “I’ve been wanting to go here for years,” said Will. “Ever since I was a kid.” They played there for three hours. When other kids left, they sat forlorn for a bit- then kept playing. Even after three hours, they would have stayed, but it was time to meet Grandma at Five Below. 

On the way to Five Below, I reminded the kids that we weren’t going there to shop for ourselves. We were supposed to be buying toys and supplies for our Operation Christmas Child boxes. And guess what? Besides Mac, who was oblivious to everything I said, I didn’t get a single complaint about not leaving with a toy. On top of that, I didn’t even get a single request for a toy. They really just wanted to find cool things for their shoebox kids. Will kept approaching me: “Can I get this for him, too, please?” Barrett was upset about not having enough for his boy. When I reminded him of some extra things he had at home that he could contribute, his face brightened. “Hey, thanks, Mom!”

Trying on superhero masks with Grandma 

At home, we heated up the leftover Burger King and watched Zootopia. I just kept staring at their faces while they ate their popcorn. They hobbled up to bed on their little legs, sore from the shots, and I kept telling them how proud they’d made me. 

This was one of those effortlessly happy days. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


It's October 23 at 8 AM, and I'm having an ultrasound. I tell the tech that I'm there for irregular bleeding, some minor symptoms - that I'm worried my IUD might have shifted. I've put this off for too long - for one reason or another, it's been months since I decided to make an appointment.

A squirt of warm lubricant on my stomach, and there we go. It's strange, experiencing this without a baby on board. Things look different.

“What’s that big white blob?” I ask. “Is that my uterus?”

“No,” she replied. “Your uterus is right here."

"Can you see the IUD?"

"Yep, I can. It looks fine."

"So what is that big, white blob?"

"Oh - it’s all just part of your pelvis; the doctor will go over it with you. I’m not allowed.”

Within fifteen minutes, I'm back in the waiting room, reading my book. The doctor won't be in until 9 AM for the follow-up. I'm feeling very grateful Brian is able to watch the kids and guilty that I unexpectedly have this huge block of time to do nothing but relax.

A stream of easy-listening hits plays through the exam room speakers. The Band Perry sings, “If I die young, bury me in satin...” Two songs later, Joey and Rory: “But you’ll be okay on that first day when I’m gone...” Jeepers

Finally, at 9:25, the doctor enters, shakes my hand, and gets right down to business.

“You’ve got a ten centimeter mass,” he says. “That’s the size of a baby’s head.”

My mouth drops open. I hold my hands together to form the size of a grapefruit. “This is in my body?”

He's a young guy, long hair, casually dressed, and his demeanor is something between astonishment and amusement. “Yeah,” he replies with a smile. “It’s most likely a dermoid cyst- they’re full of hair and teeth and stuff like that.”

I am still slackjawed. "Whaaa-?"

He explains they'll do blood work today for cancer markers, then schedule surgery as soon as possible. “Because of its size, we won’t be able to remove it laparoscopically,” he says. “We'll make the incision at your bikini line. You’ll be in the hospital for two days.”

My facial expression has not changed. I cannot believe I have a mass of body parts sitting in my pelvis- completely invisible externally- and now to spend two days in the hospital? “What?” I must sound like an idiot.

“Some people get out sooner.”

“How did I not feel this in my body?” I hold out my imaginary grapefruit. 

He shrugs. “You must have a high pain tolerance.”

He shows me pictures of dermoid cysts. Disgustingly fascinating. Their alternate name is teratoma, from the Greek word teras, which appropriately means “monster.” Apparently, when I was just a plum-sized developing fetus, a germ cell (one of those delightfully versatile cells that can become any type of tissue as the fetus grows) attached itself to the wrong place- in my case, my ovary- and has been riding along ever since. And as ovarian dermoid cysts do, mine had begun growing in earnest during my reproductive years- though later, it occurs to me that it must have put on all its size since Mac’s birth.

I ask more questions:
What other symptoms can this type of tumor cause? Bleeding, cramping, bloating, weight gain, nausea, localized pain. (I suppose I have had most of those.)
Will my health improve after its removal? Laughing- Yes. (This feels like good news, since I haven't even been feeling that bad. Maybe I'll emerge from this with more energy in general.)
Who will do the surgery? I will- unless it’s cancer, and then we’ll send you to a specialist. 
How long do I have to wait to have it removed? As soon as the bloodwork indicates it’s benign, I’ll get you in my books; you’re looking at about two weeks. 
Can I have a tubal ligation at the same time? Sure. 
Will you be able to save my ovary? We are having a hard time getting a good image of it. I won’t know until I’m in there. 
You really don’t think it’s cancerous? I really don’t. 

I thought of more later:
Will I experience other health issues if you have to remove the ovary?
Will I be able to see the cyst after the surgery?
Should I not be exercising? What is the likelihood of torsion? Of rupture?

Driving home, I feel astonishment and bewilderment, as well as relief, horror, and amusement. Everybody laughs about the aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding- “Inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord.” I feel confident that the cyst will be benign; still, the idea of it is so disgusting. I want it out.

This doesn't have to be a big deal, I tell myself. I've been carrying on normally. Nothing has to change. But after the appointment, true to the power of suggestion, I discover I can very much feel the mass inside me whenever I move, and it makes me positively squeamish.


Two days later, after Googling my head off, I am in a more sober headspace. The stupid mass is all I can think about. I've told my parents and Elisabeth, but I don't feel like talking about it to anyone else. I'm now aware that a dermoid cyst grows relatively slowly, less than 2 mm per year, and I find myself focused on the same stupid deduction: this doesn’t add up and it’s probably cancer. The math isn't reassuring: I didn't have this mass less than three years ago, and now it's 10 cm.

I want those blood work results something fierce.

The office is working with me to schedule the surgery. Meanwhile, I recognize how much this ordeal is throwing off everyone’s busy lives. My parents, Brian, and Brian’s parents are all figuring out how to take time off. November isn’t exactly a great time for this.  We settle on November 19th for the surgery.
Thanksgiving is November 28th. When will I get ready for everyone?
Dad turns 60 on November 17th. What are we going to do for him?
This is totally derailing Brian's hunting season. 

I want those results. 

On Friday, I’m packing to leave for a church women’s weekend retreat. I’ve been looking forward to this for months, but today, I do not feel like going. Everything in me just wants to stay home, cuddled on the couch with my kids. I walk down to the barn to close the doors on Brian’s cooling buck, and I find myself crouched down on the concrete floor, crying. I can’t leave. My kids need me. I can’t leave them.

Saturday, October 26 - I'm at the women's weekend retreat. It's the first time our church has planned one of these, and it's amazing. Robyn is teaching us about inductive Bible study when my phone lights up quietly. I grab it and run out the door and up the stairs to the lobby. It’s my doctor. 

“You sound nervous,” he remarks when I answer the phone. “Don’t be. Your tumor markers came back low risk.” I know this test is not conclusive, but he explains it’s the best result I could hope for, until they can conclusively test the mass itself. He seems genuinely relieved for me. “So you’re good to go for the nineteenth,” he says. “Take it easy until then, and call or text me if you have any questions.” 

I feel like dancing. I text Brian. I head back down to catch the end of the teaching. As soon as it’s over, I beeline for my mom. When I tell her the test results are good, I'm surprised to find that I'm crying again, relieved tears this time. I don’t deserve good results, I think. Other friends are fighting cancer, and their families need them, too. But I am so very happy

Time to get comfortable with my monster baby on board. It’s gonna be a few short weeks until he comes out. I find that the word teratoma brings to mind the musical Oklahoma! and I discover myself frequently singing that theme song without realizing it.

Initially, I expect that the mass will constantly be on my mind, but as it turns out, I often forget it's there. I keep working out - Erin, Bayda, and I are completing the Morning Meltdown 100 challenge together - but no powerlifting, per the doctor's orders. Honestly, life seems so hectic and heavy that fitness has taken a backseat in general. I'm thankful for the challenge; without their accountability, I probably wouldn't be working out at all right now. The doctor told me no lifting anything heavier than 20 pounds - he surely doesn't realize I have a needy thug two year old who lives in my arms. I keep wearing Mac around, especially when he's sick and cranky. Life goes on, and people need you. It's reassuring.

Other life issues have a friendly little way of popping up during the wait for my surgery, so my mind isn't really on it. Frankly, I find myself looking forward to a good, long, anesthetically-induced sleep. Nana and Papa are coming all the way down from Charlevoix to help with the kids for a few days, and everyone is excited to see them- although last week Barrett spontaneously burst into sobs and, when pressed, explained that he was crying because: "I don't want you to leave - Nana and Papa aren't the same as you."

Brian's taking several days back in Montana to try to fill his tag, and while he's gone, it's prep time. I need to get my to-do list checked off, and it's about as long as my arm. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the recovery will be shorter than predicted because man, these days are busy enough when I'm quick on my feet.) He'll be back just in time for the surgery, and I'm planning for him to find the house immaculate, the laundry - shockingly - 100% done, the boys' school lessons printed and prepped, and everyone's extracurricular bags packed.

I'm excited to deliver this little monster. 

On Sunday morning, the kids and I drive down to Royal Oak for my blood type and screen at the lab. What an adventure! We park in the second level of the parking deck (cool), take the elevator down to the tunnel (double cool) and find our way to the Imaging Center, where the phlebotomist good-naturedly lines up four extra chairs so that the kids can watch the blood draw. William and Barrett are transfixed and disgusted as they watch the tube fill up with blood. “What are they going to do with that?” William asks. The phlebotomist answers, “Oh, we’re vampires. We eat it like a snack.” He laughs at William’s dubious expression. Barrett throws his head back. “I’m never gonna, ever gonna, EVER gonna do that!”

With my hospital bracelet double-checked and snapped on for Tuesday’s surgery, we leave the hospital to get ready for Grandpa’s 60th birthday lunch. It’s a great day, to celebrate the best guy ever. 

Monday, the day before the surgery, is a very hectic day. There’s so much to do. My in-laws arrive around 7 PM bringing a car full of groceries and presents for the kids. Brian’s dad and I go over the dropoff/pickup/dropoff/pickup instructions- he’ll be handling taking the kids to school and picking Brian up from the airport while I’m in surgery. I fall into bed that night and have restless dreams- dreams that I have to bring the kids with me to the OR, that no one is there to watch them, that I’m barking instructions at them while they’re administering the gas. I dream that the surgeon tells me he can’t perform the procedure after all. I dream that I’m unexpectedly pregnant. 

On Tuesday, my mom and I drive separate cars to the hospital. We check in at 11, and it’s not long before they take me back to pre-op. My heart is beating a bit more rapidly than usual, but I feel happy to be there and excited to get fixed up. The surgeon greets me and says he’s been looking forward to this case. I imagine that pulling this cyst out is going to be immensely satisfying. 

He confirms that I’d like to do the tubal. This, surprisingly, has not been a difficult decision. There was a brief period this summer/fall when I wanted another child. Brian wasn’t sure, and he suggested we wait until the 1st of the year to decide. Then life swooped in and school started and I realized that, for a hundred reasons, our family simply couldn’t handle another member. And then I found out about this tumor, and knew it was the perfect opportunity to take care of the sterilization discussion we’d been having about who/when/why. We are all here; I’m confident of this. I’m looking ahead to experiences I’ll be able to share with the kids, untethered by nap schedules and breastfeeding. I’ve been extremely lucky to have four healthy pregnancies and four rockstar kids. So I tell my surgeon that yes, I’d like to do the tubal. The nurse reads off to me the procedure at hand: exploratory laparotomy, left cystectomy, possible left oopherectomy, bilateral salpingectomy. My mom and Becca come back to say goodbye. My mom, in true mom fashion, asks the surgeon to please make sure that the incision is nice and smooth and does not leave me with a pucker of fat. She asks the anesthesiologist if I can choose a flavor of gas. “Mom,” I groan. She prays for me, and they say goodbye. They wheel me into the operating room and we chat about children, until they give me the gas. Six or seven breaths, and I’m out.  

I wake up in post-op around 2 PM with a scratchy throat. My nurse’s name is Brian, but unfortunately my Brian hasn’t made it back from the airport yet. My first question: “Did they have to remove the ovary?” Yep. My surgeon shows up soon. Everything went well. The cyst, which ended up measuring 12 cm, came out without bursting, but since it was enveloping my ovary, they had to remove it. My tubes are gone and so is the IUD. I feel like I’ve done 100 abdominal workouts in a row. 

It takes several hours for them to procure a room for me. Brian makes it in and we chat for a while before he heads home. My mom is determined to stay with me until I get settled into my room; she doesn’t end up leaving until after 9:30. That first night is rough. Walking from the postop bed to the bed in my room is extremely painful, and it’s hard to control the pain after I get situated. Thankfully, the catheter is still in place, so I stay put all night. 

At midday on Wednesday, they remove the catheter and get me up and moving again. I’m feeling better every hour. Becca and Brian come to visit in the afternoon, and my mom comes in the evening to stay for a few hours. At that point, even though I’ve had no solid food for two days, I’m very bloated and uncomfortable. We walk, walk, walk- more of a shuffle at first, but I get stronger. That night, I sleep wonderfully, the nurses keeping my medications consistent.

Though I was hoping to be home in one day, I’m so grateful to stay for two. By Thursday afternoon, I feel prepared to go home- although a bit apprehensive about how it’ll be to manage the chaos. I’m hoping that the weekend will see me feeling ready for Monday- and I’ve learned that there’s no school Thanksgiving week, so that will be a nice break, too. My mom and dad plan to bring over a simple Thanksgiving meal; my siblings will be celebrating elsewhere. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad time for this. I’m so relieved it’s done. 

On the way home, Brian and I talk. We talk about hard things and future plans. Somehow, this feels like a new beginning, a resolution of sorts. We sit in the parking lot of the pharmacy and hold hands, expressing ourselves in quiet voices, listening to each other, pausing to get the words right. At this moment, this whole experience feels like a gift.

A couple days later, on Saturday, I'm not feeling so euphoric. My abdomen is unrecognizable. I can't hold my stomach in; my abdominal muscles are pooling below my belly button, straining at the incision. Standing, sitting, walking hurts. It's all I can do to avoid texting the doctor: "Tell me this gets better!"

Monday is my postop visit. To say I’m still feeling rough is an understatement. Brian offers to drive me to my appointment, and I take him up on it. The surgeon had said I would be able to drive by Monday, but I can hardly climb into the truck. In the exam room, I tell him that I thought I would bounce back faster than this, and he says he surprised I’m not feeling better. He checks me out and, according to him, everything looks good, and my pathology came back “beautiful.” He tells me to wean off the Norco and gives me the go ahead to start working out- “nothing over 35 pounds.” I look at him askance. Jumping jacks? Squats? “Oh yeah, you can do all that,” he says. There’s absolutely no way, I think. “The more you move, the faster you’ll recover,” he insists. 

After that, I don’t take any more Norco. Throughout that night, Mac is awake and out of bed eight times. Remembering the doctor’s advice, I am up and down the stairs with him all night long. The next day - Tuesday - sees a huge improvement. I don’t know if I was having an adverse reaction to the Norco, or if it’s simply a psychological effect of hearing that everything is fine and I need to move more, but I feel markedly better. I even do a little stretching workout at the end of the day. It feels like working out with someone else’s body. My stomach looks completely different than it did before, and I can’t hold a plank for more than 30 seconds. Still, I feel triumphant. I’m back!

On Wednesday, I try a cardio workout. It goes great! Burpees and plank-based movements are quite painful so I substitute with jump squats or other moves. 

Thursday, I work out upper body. No problem! It’s Thanksgiving and I find myself in a wistful mood. I miss people. I decide to make cornbread dressing to take to my parents’ that night, just for the smells in the kitchen to make it really feel like Thanksgiving Day. I’m hopping around the kitchen just fine. That night, I set up my phone for a family picture, time the shot, and run into the pose quickly. Ouch! I pull something pretty hard and hobble home. 

On Friday, I’m still hobbling. It’s so uncomfortable to walk. Brian pulls out our Christmas tree and it sits in three disconnected dark green lumps in the corner while the kids beg me to decorate it. I look around at the messy house and the laundry and dishes and all that needs to be decluttered before decorating that tree and I cry in frustration. So much to do and I just want to sit very still and be left alone. So I compromise. I turn on a movie at 10 AM and I sit and watch it with the kids. After that, I feel a bit better, and somehow, we get through that busy, busy day. We even decorate the tree! 

In my frustration, however, I begin a water fast to accelerate healing. I fast through the weekend and up until Monday night (80 hours). Who knows if it helped, but the placebo effect is all I need to tackle Monday and everything that needs to be done. I’m truly feeling better every day. 

The incision still hurts and the skin around it is painful, but finally I’m able to move around just fine and do what I need to do. My abdomen is still pretty puffy, and I can’t wear much more than very soft leggings or the skin above the incision becomes very irritated. Honestly, that’s been one thing that’s thrown me a bit- my puffy stomach. Brian insists it’s swelling, and I hope he’s right! I hate to be vain, but if it’s not, my stomach has drastically changed and I was not expecting that. When I find myself worried about that, I remind myself that this is likely something that would have killed me within the next 5-10 years, if I lived a century ago or lived somewhere where I did not have access to medicine. How many of our friends, I wonder, would be gone right now, without modern medical intervention? I can easily think of a few. We are so, so lucky.

Three weeks post-op, I can truly say I feel like myself again. I can work out just fine, I can run around the house as usual, and the puffiness and sensitivity is almost gone. My stomach is almost back to its normal appearance, with things settling in nicely without the monster grapefruit pushing them around. I can even wear a pair of jeans for the first time. I feel amazing. I'm still waiting for my final post-op visit at the beginning of January, to get clearance to lift heavy again, but I truly feel like I’m through this. 

William at night

As I always do, I went up to check on William again before going to sleep. I turned off the story he was listening to and kissed him good night. Apparently, he had been doing some thinking, and needed to talk- we ended up talking for at least 25 minutes. I wrote down as much of the conversation as I could remember. (There was much more, and I get so frustrated at my memory that can remember lyrics to rap songs I learned in high school and not the random cute things I hear in present day.) When I finally came downstairs, Brian was like, “What the heck were you doing?” Talking to Will. “You should tell him you can talk in the morning!” 

But these things never come up in the day. There’s playtime and school and chores and chaos. There’s no chance to sit and spend half an hour talking to a little boy in the quiet darkness. And really, these nighttime conversations don’t happen often. I usually kiss him goodnight, reassure him that “it’s nowhere close to midnight,” and leave. So when he starts in like this, I pay attention. 

So, in short:

Mom, I’m a little bit afraid of God.

Why, buddy?

Because you know Mom, He could blow up the world with a snap of His fingers.

Well, He could, but we know He won’t, because the Bible tells us how the world will end. But it’s good to have a bit of the fear of God. It’s good to remember He watches and weighs the things we do. We obey Him because we know He’s watching us, and we love Him, and we want to do the right thing because we love Him. That’s called the fear of God. Do you member when I accidentally stole those donuts from Meijer? I really didn’t want to haul you guys all the way back into the store to pay for them.

But if you hadn’t, you would’ve gotten into huge, big trouble! The police would’ve come!

No, William, nobody even knew. Nobody would’ve even done anything at all. But I knew that God was watching and I knew it was the right thing to do to go back into the store and pay for the donuts. Even if no one else sees what we do, God sees it. And we need to do the right thing if only for the love of God. 

Mom, could God make our house fall down? Could He make my bunkbed lift up off the floor? Could He make the sun explode?

Yes He could, but he won’t do any of that. God gave us order and scientific laws. The changing of the seasons, the rotation of the earth, these things are predictable and orderly. God is not a little kid like you, you goofball. He’s not going to do crazy things on a whim.

But God sent his Son. And sons are little kids!

Oh Will! Jesus grew up, honey, into a man. He was around my age when he died.

Mom, why would God send people to hell who don’t know they’re supposed to believe in Jesus?

Will, I don’t think that’s true. I believe that everyone who wants to spend eternity with God will have that choice. The Bible says that God desires that no one should perish, and that God is rich in mercy. We don’t know much about hell. We just know it’s separation from God. And probably some people wouldn’t want to be with God. 

Mom - (referencing a weeks-old conversation) - how can you say that everyone is bad? We are good people! We don’t steal things! And there are really bad people who steal things! How can you say that everyone is bad?

Well buddy, we all have the potential for evil in our hearts. For some people, one little bad choice leads to another one, and then one even bigger, and before you know it, you’re doing all the wrong things. Other people were never taught how to do the right thing. What if you were born into a family where there was fighting and drugs and violence? And you didn’t have a daddy or mommy to teach you the right thing to do? This is why we need to fear God, and do the right thing ourselves, and have mercy on other people, and show them the love of Jesus because maybe they’ve never seen it before. You and I are no better than anyone else.

Mom, everyone says that the Bible is worth more than diamonds. A Bible costs like twenty bucks. How could anyone say it’s worth more than diamonds? Why don’t you wear a Bible on your finger instead?

Honey, it’s not the paper it’s printed on, it’s the words inside. They are precious and special. They show us the character of God and they help us to know the right thing to do. If I was in a jail cell - remember we read about Corrie ten Boom today? - if I was in jail like her, and I could either have my diamond ring or a Bible, I would pick the Bible. That would bring me a lot more comfort. The Bible tells us what God is like. That makes it really precious.

Mom, you know God could crush a rock like nothin’- He could even crush a diamond. Mom, can God do anything?

Nope. He can’t sin- He can’t lie- He can’t change. 

Mom, when did God make the world? 

I don’t know, Will. The Bible indicates that the Earth existed in the beginning. I don’t know when He made it. We can look at rocks to figure out how old they are. 

Mom, rocks are so cool. Is my crystal rock worth a TON of money? 

It’s probably worth some money, yeah - I don’t know about a TON, though. Maybe you’ll be a geologist someday, Will - a scientist who studies rocks. 

Mom, I think I know what instrument I want to play. The clarinet.

That would be really awesome, Will. But first you have to learn how to play the piano. 

I already know how to play the piano! 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day

Today the kids were reminded of their family heritage of military service and the gratitude they owe to all those who have sacrificed for our freedom. I’d had bigger plans for the 100th anniversary of Veterans Day- I wanted to take my grandpa out to lunch - but Mac had a fever and Neva was coming down with it, too. It was, as Barrett put it, “pouring snow,” and swimming lessons were canceled, so we hunkered down, rescheduled with Grandpa for Friday, and celebrated at home.

The kids are learning about monuments and famous American landmarks. In a moment of exhaustion, after spending the night awake with Mac, I asked the boys to build some Duplo monuments to honor our veterans while I napped with the sick younger two upstairs. They were proud of the result. Barrett built two flags- one flag to represent the veterans who had died, and the American flag for the ones still living, and William (for lack of military figures) used two construction workers to represent “the ones who are separated from their families.” That’s all of them, buddy.

It’s so hard to convey these things to children. I try my best. I asked the boys if they would want to be soldiers when they grow up. “No,” said Barrett, as he chewed his taco. “Actually, yes.” 

Friday, November 8, 2019

This girl!

This morning, Neva came down into the bathroom, where I was getting ready for the day, and asked me to do her hair. I unbraided it and asked her how she would like it styled. 

“Two big braids! Like Auntie did!” I love braiding her hair. We sat on the floor and talked while I put her hair into two French braids. 

While I was finishing up the second braid, I remembered that the style Auntie had given her had been different. She’s not gonna like it, I thought. I braced myself for confrontation. 

“You look so cute,” I told her. She really did. “Check it out,“ I said, turning her toward the mirror. 

She looked at her hairdo, turning her head from side to side. She regarded me with disappointment. “I really don’t like it at all, mom.” She paused for a good measure, and smiled. “I love it.” Oh, you stinker! I laughed so hard. 

We are working on declining food more respectfully. She often comes to the table for a meal and promptly declares, “I am NOT eating that.” The other day, I was plain floored. “How did it ever become okay to say that, Neva?” Oh man. Last night, after picking tiny pieces of tomato out of her Spanish rice, she gave up. “Mom, I’m just not eating this rice. It’s too potatoey.” Nevertheless, she’s my best eater. (Ha! What does that tell you about my kids’ eating?)

Lately, every day, when I’m working in the kitchen, she asks me, “Mom, do you wanna play house?” Up until this week, I’ve usually said, “I’m sorry honey- mommy’s getting dinner ready, and I can’t play.” But the other day I thought, what the heck. “Sure.”

“Okay,” she replied happily. “You be the mom, and I’ll be the kid.” Oh my goodness. Apparently, playing house simply involves me working around the kitchen as per usual, talking to her in a more exaggerated “grown-up” voice. One of her baby dolls is her pretend little sister, and she takes care of her while I work. Her pretend dad is a mailman. And that’s all that is required to make Neva happy! 

Thursday, November 7, 2019


Yesterday at lunch, Neva looked in disgust at her plate. Among the different foods I’d given her was a small serving of raw cauliflower. “Mom, I’m never gonna eat that white broccoli.”


On the way home from church last night Will asked me, “What instrument would you want to play?”

“The violin,” I told him. “What about you?”

“I can’t decide,” he lamented after a few minutes. I described the different types of orchestra instruments to him, and all the non-orchestra instruments I could think of, but no bites. Finally, I said, “I could see you playing the trombone, Will!” 

“Okay, I’ll play the trombone,” he agreed happily. He was quiet for a while, then said, “Mom, when I grow up I’m gonna invent an invention with a bunch of horns on top and the strings on the bottom and big cymbals on the sides and I’m gonna call it a zingey. And it will play whatever music I want!” 

I laughed. “It sounds like you’ve been reading some Dr. Seuss.”


Mac is lately saying, “Sank-oo, Mom.” Very clearly, very enthusiastically, for everything I do for him. It’s plainly adorable. 

I love these kids so much. I love their kind hearts, their good intentions, their curiosity, their innocence. They are playful, inventive, forgiving, and thoughtful. Yesterday William kept singing a worship song: “Even when I don’t see it, You’re working. Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working- You never stop, You never stop working.” Every time I’d hear it, I’d lift my head a little higher. These are the kids I dreamed of having, and on homeschool days that run fairly smoothly I find myself imagining what we will be able to do with all the time we have ahead together. Barrett wants to see the Statue of Liberty; William wants to visit California. And I think, well, there’s no reason we can’t do that together. Let’s go. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Eight extra hands

About a month into the school year, Barrett’s teacher told me that Barrett and another little boy, Garrison, had become good friends. “Garrison is very quiet,” she said, “but they have been inseparable.”

When I got home, I asked Barrett, “So, you and Garrison are friends?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “He was all alone and no one was playing with him, so I asked him if he wanted to be my friend.”

I got down onto my knees and hugged Barrett, tears in my eyes. “That was so kind, buddy,” I said. “That was like Jesus.” His eyes reflected my pride and happiness. 

I have felt bursts of impatience, wishing I could do more to help others. I want to get out of my cozy home - away from my homeschool-mom-angst - and grapple with true need and despair. But my place is here. 

And that day, it was demonstrated more powerfully than ever before that my time is not being wasted. I couldn’t have impacted that little boy, but my son could. And he did. I am (oh God, I hope I am) training - striving to train - four more people to work hard, to be kind, and to follow Jesus in such a committed way that they are willing to live their lives for him and not for themselves.

One day, God permitting, I will be able to help out there. Oh, there is so much need. But when I feel that frustrated longing, I remind myself that on that future day, I will hopefully know that four others are doing the same, in other parts of the world. My eight extra hands. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

“these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be”

Oh November, here you are. 

I am succumbing more readily than ever to the season’s insistence to hunker down and disappear. Time used to be that I would blast the Christmas carols come October first, quickened with new energy for the coming season. That’s not me, this year. That girl has vanished. Someone similar to Robert Frost’s “November Guest” has replaced her. I do not like the switch. 

There was no harvest party or fun activity last night for the kids. We stayed in while the snow blew. I could tell they were disappointed; that seems to be the reaction I elicit from them routinely now. 
What are we doing today? 
School, chores, playtime. 
Oh, mannnn.

I have such a fervent desire to focus solely on the positive. I can so easily find it. I can shove away the negative, bury it for later, tell myself I’m crazy, and remind myself to be grateful, for heaven’s sake. And yet, when I find myself cracking more than mending, and someone else confesses that they are struggling, just like me, it is comforting. Maybe someone would like to hear that same reassurance from me?

Oh, I know that no kind person would wish their struggle upon a friend. I suppose I am simply justifying my impulse to complain this morning. I’m currently making my way through Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life; his pragmatic acknowledgement of the struggle of human existence is appropriate for these days of wading through a routine I cannot manage. 

Let’s pull out of this dive, shall we? This November is going to be markedly different than prior years’. I have a single goal for this month, and that is to finish our family’s photo book. 

Okay, I have a thousand other goals- AS ALWAYS- but that is primary. 

Secondarily: patience and joy. 

But the photo book is definitely more important.