Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ways to Remember

During this time of year, we often reflect on traditions and memories. In a moment of nostalgia, I decided to blog about some of the ways that memories can be preserved...especially in case my kids inherit my fleeting memory.

First of all, my mom made scrapbooks before scrapbooking was cool. She had the box of keepsakes like so many do, and she even kept some of the letters that I wrote to her and my dad throughout the years. My parents' house still holds many recital costumes, toys, and keepsakes that I haven't even attempted to go through or bring them to my own home. She also had a blank journal that she filled with short and long notes that she would jot down periodically to capture her thoughts about my childhood activities, college years, wedding, pregnancies, etc. Each of my children also have a journal. She began writing to them before they were born. She would jot down things I'd tell her about them on a post-it note near the phone when I would call after a pediatrician's appointment or outing. She also captured the funny little quotes that I didn't have the energy or follow-through to write down myself. Man, do I miss that. Her final entries to each of us was only weeks before her passing. It took me a long time to open those books but now I love being able to see her handwriting and to touch the pages. I laugh at the little things that I had already forgotten yet she captured in writing. What a blessing! I write in their books now, however, much less frequently and I am sure that I capture less but I hope the kids enjoy reading them someday.

As for pictures, I took a lot of time to make the first scrapbook or two....then I realized that I just can't keep up and I have never liked having a lot of developed pictured around anyways. I have transitioned to digital scrapbooks. I make them online and have them shipped to my house. My favorite site is http://www.shutterfly.com/. I can upload pictures, work on a few pages, and just click "save" and walk away without a mess when I need to, which we all know is frequent when kids are around. I make each child one for the first 1-2 years and then a family album each year. (Disclaimer: I still haven't gotten around to actually buying a few of them yet.) I jot down little notes in my calendar and then transpose them into captions onto the digital pages and save the last page where I write a letter to re-cap the year or bullet points of things I want to remember. I was also able to scan in very old photos of my husband's family and make a book for him and each of his siblings as a gift. I have also considered buying one family album each year for each of the kids. Then someday I could give them all of them as a gift for but the sticker shock has given me pause for now.

Then there is music. On the side of my fridge, I keep a sheet of paper where I jot down songs that I sing with the kids or songs that make me think of them. Some are sappy and some are silly. My plan is to burn each of them a CD with his or her own songs.

As for keepsakes, artwork, school papers, and school pictures....I am much less nostalgic. I really don't like to keep very much around the house. We hang some artwork or schoolwork on the fridge and when a stack builds up, I ask them which ones they want to keep and which should go into the recycling bin. After all, our daughter keeps harping at us to recycle more...really we are just saving the environment when we purge these things, right? I have a bin under my bed where the keepers go after I write a name or a note on it, if necessary. Someday, I'll sort it into each child's own bin...hopefully. Then eventually, I'd like to get the initiative to scan the keepers into the computer and turn them into a digital scrapbook which would take up less room. As for some holiday artwork, I may store it with the decorations and hang it up when that season comes.

Our school sends home a form from "Art to Remember" where you can have your child's artwork turned into various products such as bookmarks, magnet, canvas, totebags, etc. Due to the cost, we get a magnet and hang it on the fridge. I don't really have a good system for school pictures yet but I have seen a lot of different ideas. There's the 3-ring binder with page protectors in it. My mom used to do this for my cousin's kids and she filled clear page protectors with school pictures, artwork, and greeting cards. I like the frames that have a picture spot for each grade but I can't stand having so many empty spots for so long since my kids are still young. I have also heard of people purchasing a art portfolio from an art supply store and keeping things in there.

Finally onto technology, we now have Facebook, My Space, email, video cameras, web cams, text messaging, camera phones, and of course, blogging. This is a way to share these memories with others. Honestly, I just can't keep up and am far from technologically gifted. Just yesterday, I found myself at the playground trying to take a picture of my son, who spontaneously decided to sit down, cross his legs, close his eyes, and meditate at the top of the climber. I couldn't get it to work but I posted it on Facebook. I am sure that posts like that don't matter to most people but to his grandparents and family, it was just another way to stay connected with the day-to-day happenings in their little lives.

There are so many ways to remember. What is your system?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Like this Article

Someone sent me this article via email today. I thought it was good and thought that you might enjoy it as well. I'd love for you to post your own note/advice. We can all learn from each other!

Written By Regina Brett
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio

"To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written."
1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry, God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
25. Frame every so-called disaster with these words “In five years, will this matter?".
26. Always choose life.
27. Forgive everyone everything.
28. What other people think of you is none of your business.
29. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
30. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
31. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
32. Believe in miracles.
33. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
34. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
35. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
36. Your children get only one childhood.
37. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
38. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
39. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
40. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
41. The best is yet to come.
42. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
43. Yield.
44. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift.
45. The best is yet to come.

46. (from Krista)- When you are trying to get through something tough...Fake it 'til you make it!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Wish I Could Be My Kids’ Grandparent

I have three great kids that mean the world to me. I spend my days and nights loving them, taking care of them, disciplining them, worry about them, and planning for their future. There is love, pride, fun, stress, and of course guilt involved at times. It is a very fulfilling job yet the responsibility involved can be a little overwhelming. Which school? Vaccinate or not? Is this really a bribe or merely a positive reinforcer? Organic or not? You know what I’m talking about. You just don’t want to do anything that will send them into lifelong therapy where they always seem to blame their MOTHER!

My newest hypothesis is…wouldn’t it be great to be their grandparents for a little while! I know it sounds weird but think about it. I’d be carrying around a bag of fruit snacks without thinking about the red dye or artificial corn syrup. I’d be buying the “cool” toys regardless of their absent volume control or the lofty price tag. If there’s a dirty diaper to be changed I could just volunteer to change it and be a saint for offering. When a big issue came up, I could offer advice and possibly feel some relief that I’m not the one making the final decision. I could be the one that they complain to when mom is “so mean.” I would still love them with all my heart and would jump in front of a bus for them without hesitation.

Of course I’m just being silly. I would never want to wish this experience away and frankly our parents have earned the right to be great grandparents. I just think that my kids would be better off if I took a step back every now and them and looked at them through grandparents’ eyes. There would probably be a little more laughter and whole lot less stress. It reminds me of when my son came upstairs at Grandpa’s house and said the cat bit him. When Grandpa looked a little puzzled and told him that the cat doesn’t bite, he quickly responded “Well he does if you push him off the couch!” Grandpa wasn’t concerned about him pushing the cat. He just found great humor in my son’s matter of fact response and the silly look on his face.

I remind myself now that “much of what children do is childish,” (Dr. Sears) and when I look at a behavior like potty training, I say to myself “she won’t be wearing that pull-up in college, right?” It seems to put things into a better perspective for me when I actually remember to do it.

My children really are funny and wonderful little people and I don’t want to take this time for granted. I’m blessed to be their mom and I look forward to the time (far, far, away of course) when I am a grandparent and I can spoil them and give them back. I would have earned it by then, right?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why Stop Sharing Now?

I am sitting here with a dumb walking boot on my foot due to a stress fracture and feeling quite thankful for my husband. He refused to carry the laundry to the basement last night so that I could do the laundry today. He insists that we’ll do it together tonight because he doesn’t want me gimping up and down the steps to get it all done. I reminded him that I can manage just fine and he returned by reminding me that we share responsibilities around here.

This led me to think about how much things have changed for our generation of wives and mothers when I watch shows like “Mad Men,” or re-runs of “Happy Days.” This is not a statement of judgment on our parents’ and grandparents’ generations but merely an observation of my own experiences. One of the most striking differences between Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham and my husband and I, is that we do share or have shared most responsibilities from earning money, caring for kids, housework, and making decisions during our relationship. There have been times when I was the primary bread winner and he was a stay-at-home-parent, and visa versa. Of course, there have always been areas where he or I prefer to take the lead like medical decisions and gift giving for me or banking and lawn mowing for him. However, if I am at home more, it makes sense that I would do more housework and cooking and visa versa. If he is at home with the kids when I am out, he moves forward with the bedtime routine, etc. When he comes home at night he might say, “What needs to get done?” which puts us both on the same page. I think it is good to be careful not to say things like “Would you fold the laundry for me?” or “My husband is babysitting the kids.” because it sends the message that doing those particular tasks is your responsibility alone and your spouse is your helper vs. your partner. Don’t get me wrong, we approach responsibilities differently sometimes but it all seems to get done in the end. Overall, we try to manage our lives together and I see many of my friends living a similar experience.

This is why I find myself writing the same thing at weddings or baby showers when they ask everyone to provide the new couple or new parents with a piece of advice. I sum up it up this way…DO NOT DO IN THE 1ST YEAR of MARRIAGE OR PARENTHOOD, THAT WHICH YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. I feel like this sets us expectations that can rarely be maintained as your family or career responsibilities keep growing.

For example, if you don’t want to be the only one who knows how the washing machine, oven, or dishwasher works…then don’t be the only one to do the laundry, cook, or do the dishes. If you don’t want to be the only one who changes a diaper, gives a bath, puts a child to bed, or enforces a time-out then don’t be the only one to take charge of those activities. Yes, the other person will do it differently than you but trust that you married a capable and loving person and walk away and get something else done and share taking the lead. This is why my husband’s ground rule is equally as important. He has always told me “You can tell me to do something or how to do it but not both.” Smart man!

At least for us, I feel like the work gets done faster so that we can spend more time in the evening doing what we want to do, which is going to bed early for my husband. I also think that it is good for our children to see that vacuuming isn’t just for Mom and Dad isn’t the only one who can put the Transformer’s arm back on (however he is so much better at it than me). After all we've been taught our whole life about the need to share, why stop now?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Good Grief!!

I had the pleasure of a wonderfully close relationship with my mother for 32 years. We talked everyday on the phone, sometimes more than once. She was the one that I told that my boyfriend (at the time) was “the one,” and he is now my wonderful husband. She was the first person that I would call when I left the pediatrician’s office to give her an update, needed recipe advice, or had great news that we were expecting a child. Sometimes, I even jokingly called her my “stalker” when she’d call me. Needless to say, our lives were intertwined.

Unfortunately, my mom unexpectedly passed away in March 2008 due to complications following a surgery she had had two weeks prior. I went to the ER that Sunday expecting to find her getting some tests ran for possible pneumonia and soon found myself hearing the ICU nurse on the phone tell me that her heart had stopped, they were “working on her,” and that she didn’t think that they’d be able to “bring her back.” I begged the nurse to tell Mom that we were here , that we loved her, and please do not to stop trying to save her. Minutes later, the doctors came out to tell us she was gone. Even now, the thought of that moment brings me to tears and I can feel my chest squeeze as if it were yesterday.

I find myself writing about this less than upbeat topic because I feel like it will be helpful for me as I continue to deal with the loss. I also know that grief is something that we all will experience in some way and at some time. I also know that it will leave friends and family feeling helpless. I also know that experiencing such a loss is not merely an event yet it marks the beginning of a process that will change your life.

Sometimes I find myself comparing the process to that of a chronic pain condition. The initial loss is like the falling off the ladder, getting in the car accident, or experiencing the injury. The pain is so intense but you need to survive so you just keep going. You stay positive and focus on what needs to get done and you make it through the initial days and weeks. The pain may remain visible to others who know you well for a while, as it is still fresh so you can’t hide it- like having a limp or wearing a cast. You still go to work, love on your kids, and make dinner. You just start realizing that something has changed in life. Something important and comforting is missing, and it sucks.

Eventually, you get to what I call the “chronic pain” phase. This is where I find myself now, almost 19 months later. It sounds cliché, but I think of and miss my Mom every single day. There is a silent yet ever present ache for her presence in my life. It is manageable and it is rarely visible to others. However, there are those moments when suddenly and often unexpectedly, the pain builds and comes to the surface. It is the song that reminds me of her, the kids randomly saying how much they miss her, my 1st birthday in 33 years without a card with her writing on it, or the thought that she will not be there to call when we adopt our next child that seem to sucker punch me.

I have chosen to use this “ache” as a reminder that relationships are a blessing, need to be attended to, and never undervalued. I have chosen to embrace the pain because I know that I could never feel such grief unless I had first been blessed enough to feel great love and "joy.” I had a close relationship with her for 32 years that others may not experience in a much longer lifetime. I also believe that my Mom has become a part of Heaven and I believe that my pain serves as a reminder that she is experiencing true bliss. I know that she would demand of me that I spend my efforts spoiling her grandkids, loving those she left behind, and laughing about the fun we had. After all, only my Mom believed in the healing powers of Vick’s salve, the use of a good old metal spoon for boo-boos, and that Breyer’s ice cream was much colder than other brands.

Patrick Swayze said in the movie Ghost, ““It’s amazing Molly. The love inside, you take it with you.” Here’s to my Mom who I am sure had a lot of love to take with her. Also, from the conversations I have with people who knew her, she left a little bit of “joy” with some of them as well.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mixed Responses about Foster Care and Adoption (part 1 I'm sure)

I believe that adding to our family through foster care and adoption will be very powerful, and quite possibly, complicated. I am aware that my opinions are without full experience yet we began researching this option many years ago and I believe that it was something we, as a couple, were called to do.

I find people responding to this in a variety of ways. First, there is the “Are you crazy?!” My response is simply, “A little bit.” I really am a little afraid of what four small children will mean for my sanity which is already wavering at times. However, I believe that we will never regret doing it, but we may regret if we do not. I also say that we’d like to do it while we are too stupid to know otherwise. We are already knee-deep in small children, so what’s one more? (Don’t worry. I’m really not that naïve. This is just me reassuring myself.)

Second, there are the very complimentary responses such as “That is so wonderful. It really takes special people to do that.” When I hear this, I am always very thankful yet I feel a little awkward because I am not extraordinary and I am not doing it all for nothing. As a parent, I am well aware that children drain resources- mental, physical, and financial. However, our children fill our lives with experiences and emotions that can never be measured. I want to add to our family in this way to help a child in need, of course. This is what called us to do it. However, I also want to experience all of the rewards that come with loving another child as our own.

Then there is the, “I could never do that.” My response to this is, “That’s OK. It is not for everyone to do.” Believe me, I too have fears on how well I will raise a child who may or may not look like us, may or may not have special needs, and may or may not get to stay with us forever. I remember when we were trying to decide if we were going to pursue foster parenting, when our (at the time) 5year old daughter, Caroline asked, “What does fostering mean?” Wow, how do you answer that? I, again, did not have much time to think and said, “Fostering means that we will love and care for a child for as long as he/she needs us to.” It was like an "Ah-ha moment." Why couldn’t I explain it that simply to myself?

Believe me, I do not mean to over-simplify this complicated and very personal issue; I merely have to make it understandable for me and our family. At some point, I heard Joel Osteen say, “God will not put a dream in your heart that he is not prepared to back up.” I believe this to be true and I trust God. I do hope,however, that God does not trust me very much. :)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Future Teenagers in Love

I can barely write on this because the thought of my children loving anyone outside our family gives me the creeps, already. The thing I keep trying to pre-train myself to say first to her when she says, “…but I LOVE him!” is “I am sure that you do. I remember what that feels like.” I feel like it will be important try to establish some common ground and respect before diving deeper in the conversation. Just because I am older and have experienced the deep love in marriage, doesn’t mean that I should diminish the fact that young hearts have very real feelings. After all, I spend everyday trying to show them, tell them, and model for them how to give and receive love. I can only hope that after I validate his/her feelings that I don’t find myself hopping in the car, driving to the local church, and converting to Catholicism, just to put them in the convent or seminary. I hope that they will learn how important love is yet how to maintain self respect, self control, and to not lose sight of things that are important to them now and to their future.
Our backup plan, however, was established on the day of our 1st child’s birth. We had been expecting a boy, and she was far from it…this beautiful girl was now ours. I looked over at my husband holding her, and noticed a concerned look on his face. He simply stated, “We need to buy land.” I wasn’t sure if the drugs were getting the better of me or if he had lost it so I asked him to explain. With some panic in his voice, he followed with, “to hide the bodies.” The thought of having a daughter who someday would date boys almost took him over the edge. FYI, we do not own land or a gun. However, we plan to buy bullets. When the box of bullets is sitting out on our countertop, the boy is bound to believe we also have a gun….that may work all by itself. Wish us luck.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pregnancy and Natural Childbirth: Open Season

As many of you know, when you are pregnant the public feels as though they can do or say anything they want to you. You know what I am talking about, don’t you? The unexpected tummy rubs…the rude grandfather welcoming you with “Wow! You really do look like an fat cow.”…the stranger telling you that the name you love reminds them of a sleazy girl that they used to know…or even my beloved mother stating that it must be a boy because my rear was getting bigger.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I spent a lot of time and energy researching my options for childbirth methods and pain control. I had also had some interaction with patients that were negatively impacted following an epidural. Although I was aware that the odds were that the epidural would work wonderfully, I decided to prepare myself for an un-medicated birth, using hypno-birthing techniques.

Wow! The response was usually not supportive. Some people openly chided me for my naivety and some even laughed. It was as if they were personally vested in my birthplan failing. I even knew that many of the doctors that I would come in contact with were skeptical. The negative responses completely surprised me. To this day, I still can not understand why this choice caused such a dramatic response from some. The last time I looked, it was my uterus we were talking about. Frankly, my husband and the medical staff were the only ones who would have to deal with me and my crazy decisions, right? After all, I have never found myself judging those who wanted the epidural.

I now realize that this may be one of those situations when others criticize in order to justify their own choices. Just because you can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing doesn’t mean that it is wrong. That is why we have options, right?

Did it work, you are asking yourself? Yes and no. At ten centimeters dilated, I was still able to walk out to the waiting room to talk to our parents without cursing or screaming. I also never threatened to kill my husband. However, after pushing for two hours, I needed a stinking c-section due to the baby’s head positioning and change in heart rate. At that point, we jumped right past the epidural to the spinal block but I’m not bitter. When all was said and done, the goal of the birthplan was achieved…healthy mom and baby. After all, we all had this goal in common.

Where's This All Coming From?

Here is a glimpse into my train of thought. I am now taking an opportunity to capture these thoughts into words. To those who know me and have chosen to love me anyways, know that memory is not my strong suit. Also, I find that my children, now ages 7, 5, and 2, have an ability to catch me off-guard with questions or actions that leave my responses less than well thought out. Someday, an issue will arise and both my words and memory will fail me. I will take an opportunity to look back at my words and remind myself of what I so innocently believed when they were so young. Someday, my children may look back and know me a little better than they did before and know how much love and thought went into all of those decisions- whether good or bad.