Saturday, May 9, 2015

Coming Back to Life


I think I've just run out of steam.

Somehow we survived the last three months of Joshua's work overload that included a college course in entrepreneurship for small businesses, two trips to Boston, and twice a week evening webinars.

Somehow we survived twice a week rehearsals followed by track practice followed by crockpot meals and pleas to just go to bed already because Mommy can't be nice past 9 p.m.

Somehow we survived him chairing the Stewardship Committee at church the year a proposal is brought to spend 2.6 million dollars on building. Which meant on the nights he wasn't online learning, he was Baptist committee discussing.

Somehow we survived nine straight days of four hour plus tech and dress rehearsals that culminated in four performances that had me crawling into bed well past my bedtime. Nights that prompted him to say, "I think I get why you've been so frustrated lately about me being gone."

Those words? All I needed for Mother's Day.




In the midst of it all, Madelynne was in a play at school. I drove Amelia to Physical Therapy once a week and down to Atlanta for the oncologist and over to the pediatrician for a well-child (ironic, huh?). Oh, and every Saturday we drove 50 miles or more to a track meet that lasted all flipping day.

Gus turned three and started wearing underwear and watering the flower beds. In the front yard. My neighbors just love me, I know. But since they have a Statue of Liberty in their front yard, I don't think they have room to complain.

Yes, Lady Liberty can be viewed from my front porch. Small town Georgia never had so much class.



Then, in the midst of it all, I took an assistant editor position with the Splickety Publishing Group and a month later, the editor I worked under got promoted, so guess what I got?

Assistant removed from my title and an inbox that scared me so much I had to close the computer and walk away and eat a lot of chocolate.

So, we've been a little busy. A little overwhelmed. A lot tired.

But I held hands with starry-eyed teenagers last week who were readying for the last show of their spring musical and I told them thank you.

Thank you to Footloose and Splickety and Babson College and rec league track and Building Committees and birthday parties and the beginning of CSA season at Red Dust Ranch.




Because for the past three months, we haven't just been those parents who have a child with a scary, unknown diagnosis.

We've just been parents with deadlines and schedules and lives.

I think we were "winter killed"--buried beneath the weight of frost and fear.

But spring brings revival. It's hard work pushing back up and taking root and stretching for the sun.

I think we're going to survive after all.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

We Want Unique Kids, But We Teach Them Standard

This post originally appeared in The Northeast Georgian on April 24, 2015.

It’s spring. Farmers turn soil into bounty. Thunderstorms rush us inside. Fresh cut grass permeates the air. Teachers find their brave face.
Because it’s test week. This week The Georgia Milestones replaced the CRCT as the public school’s assessment and accountability tool for students and teachers. Those who conceived it say it’s a better test, more aligned with the new standards, more user friendly, more likely to give an accurate indicator of where a student and school stands against the other public schools in the state.
As a former educator, I was elated to lose the CRCT and its pass/fail requirement for certain grades. I was thrilled to hear this new test might actually assess students the way they are being taught. Until I realized that meant teachers are working with standards that lack creativity and are simultaneously above and below common grade-level expectations. For instance, students read excerpts of informational texts but rarely an entire book. The standards fit the test all right, and when followed should produce a nice standard score. But where’s the joy of learning in that?
When it comes to intellect, we are not one size fits all.
I know teachers have mixed emotions about the test. I’ve talked with them and seen the fear in their eyes when I ask how the computer administration is working. On one hand, we’re raising a technology-driven society. On the other, we’re still limited by server capabilities and physical equipment. My daughter retook a section of the test this week because her computer logged her out on question nine. She wasn’t stressed, but that night she prayed for her teachers, because she knows that incident worried them.
Teachers have put on their game face. They’re doing what must be done to keep funding in our schools, to keep schools run by local boards instead of state know-it-alls, and they know through it all, their own jobs ride on the scores those tests produce.
It’s a terrifying thought. What if doctors were assessed yearly by whether or not they had the same outcome for all their patients? Everyone who has a tonsillectomy should recover in three days with no complications. Oh, your patient now has neurological difficulties? Well, then, you fail.
My daughter’s surgeon would be out of a job due to circumstances he couldn’t control or have foreseen. 
That’s what we’re telling teachers. Regardless of a student’s domestic or socio-economic background, after a certain number of days in your classroom, all students should be able to perform the same. Including students with learning disabilities. After all, the computer will ensure a standard administration. No worries about cheating.
Except no one wants to discuss the pressure that drives an educator (like the ones convicted in Atlanta) to believe cheating is actually helping. They were misguided, sure, but ask any teacher and they’ll tell you a standardized test should be nothing more than a tool. One piece of the puzzle to  helping a student succeed.
The same breath that reads aloud the standard rules of test administration is the one that has encouraged our students. Don’t be like everyone else. Be yourself. Be unique.

Except of course on the test. Then, just be standard.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

When God Gives More Than You Can Handle




Things have been quiet here in this space, and I really needed it. Needed to step back and not spew out words and frustration that would do no one any good. Instead, I just had some good old-fashioned temper tantrums with my real life people.

And I made pizza and filled our house with friends and took a real position with a real publisher as a real associate editor. You know sometimes in this hard knock life, distractions are exactly what I need.

(Yeah, we've seen Annie a half-dozen times. Also, the new Cinderella and Home. I haven't been to the movies so much since college.)



We've made some changes to our little home and are settling in to be here longer than we ever wanted, but Joshua's got the garden plot ready to grow salsa and Gus is finally big enough to drive that hand-me-down Jeep all over the tracks in the yard his sisters originally created with the Barbie version, so we're good.

Annabelle was baptized and Easter came and we can finally get outside in the sunshine.



Yes, that's a Minnie Mouse balloon. You don't keep balloons in your trees?

Yes, his mouth is blue. I think there was a ring pop involved.

We're still living in a state of unknown, but we're good. Well, sometimes.  Sometimes I just want to forget doctor appointments and physical therapy and that I'll have to write a 504 plan if she goes to kindergarten. Sometimes I just want to drop everything and go to the beach.

She does too. She draws pictures of the Pink House and begs to go there where the sun is warm and the sand is cool and the peace that passes understanding blows in on a breeze across the sea.

I posted on Facebook a couple weeks ago that sometimes I have to pull a Katniss and recite what I know to be true:

Amelia has a brain lesion.
This lesion causes her right side to be weaker than her left.
It affects her gait and her grip.
It tightens her muscles and turns her foot inward.
It makes her tired and irritable and turns her into not my kid.
It's not bigger.
It's not smaller.
She has other autoimmune indicators that could lead to an MS diagnosis someday.
But right now, she's still technically living through one episode.
There are good days. There are bad days.
It's not a tumor....or lupus or lyme disease or genetic or a host of other disorders that have been ruled out with vial after vial of blood and scan after scan of her brain.

It's a lot to handle, mostly because we just don't know. I'm in a place where any diagnosis sounds plausible and fixable and better than "we'll just have to wait and see."

Everyone likes to say God doesn't give you more than you can handle. But I read a piece last week that counteracted that statement in words that resonated: Of course God allows me more than I can handle. Because if He didn't, I (we) would never have a need for Him.

We're not long for this world of despair.

But this world is where we are and along the journey, He does give us miracles calling themselves friends. I just finished Anne Lamott's essay collection, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.

(Side note: I love Anne Lamott. She's honest and witty and irreverent and loves Jesus all at the same time. Sometimes I need a little left perspective.)

Anyway, she wrote a piece called Barn Raising about how her neighborhood circled the wagons and raised the metaphorical barn of shelter around a family when their young daughter was diagnosed with CF. I cried.

Y'all built us a barn, too. It's a shelter from the fear and anxiety. It's a place where Amelia is just a daughter, sister, friend and we are loved and comforted. It's a place where she can jump on the trampoline with her friends and their moms can remind me to care for myself. It's a place where dinner is on a gift card and gas for appointments is already paid for and Gus is always welcome to play.

It's a place of prayer and a place of peace.

Thank you for loving us through this. Our barn door is always open for anyone who needs shelter from the storm. We'll hug your neck and tell you we understand and in the fortunate-unfortunate dance of life, we will really mean it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mardi Gras, Aqua Notes, and Marriage

Last week I told you what's saving my life right now. This week there's a "holiday" around the corner so I thought I'd tell you what's saving my marriage.

Not that it needed saving per se--but a good marriage is like a faithful car. It needs a little maintenance and every now and then, deserves something more exciting than the same mundane trip around the block.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.
Enter Mardi Gras. Now, we're not French. We don't live in New Orleans, and we're good Southern Baptists who usually don't make a big deal about Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday ushering in the season of Lent. (More on that later and how we're invoking some of our own family traditions.) But our little hometown, that reminds an awful lot of Stars Hollow most days, has a big fundraiser every year. Proceeds support the Downtown Facade Grant for improvements to small businesses, and you know we love to support a small business. It's kind of what Joshua does all day long and why he sometimes can't answer my text messages about potty training in a timely manner.

We have friends who own small businesses and sponsored some tables for this year's event and invited us along for the fun. Here's the part about marriage: he didn't want to go. Fancy dinner and dancing and socializing are not high on my introverted husband's list of a good time. But he knew I wanted to go, and he figured it was a good excuse to see me wear something other than my favorite tunnel-neck sweatshirt.

Marriage is so often about compromise and sacrifice. Even if all you're sacrificing is another night of Netflix and take out Chinese.

Then the worst thing possible happened to the man who is a self-proclaimed wallflower. That Mardi Gras tradition of finding the baby in the King Cake making you king of the feast? Yup.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Brown, The Northeast Georgian.
He tried to trade it out with a friend who instead convinced him it would be fun (and I'm pretty sure mentioned something about how it would make his wife happy.)  Here's the thing--I would never have asked him to keep it. I know he hates spectacle and attention and he's no good at accepting compliments. But he decided publicly making me his queen was worth the embarrassment. And the front page of the newspaper.


That's when I know we have something special. He tries so hard to put my needs, wants, and desires above his own. Which makes me wonder? How often am I reciprocating?

It's so easy to get caught up in my everyday chaos of our four kids and doctor appointments and chorus rehearsal and impossible 3rd grade homework. It's so easy to feel like I'm giving it my all while he's trooping off to work everyday in a quiet office where no one uses the juice box as a weapon. It's so easy to forget the man he is when I'm just focused on myself. 

It's so easy to lash out instead of take a deep breath.

I firmly believe it's not money or relationships or decisions that tear marriages apart. It's communication. It's like we forget how to navigate and listen to one another, so we bottle up frustration and pretend we're keeping the peace, when really all we're doing is getting ready to blow.

I'm a pursuer of words, a writer, a reader. But I'm not always a good listener. I miss the cues among the conversations because I'm so busy moving on to the next thing. I'm too busy thinking about myself. And add four really loud kids to that mix and we've got a recipe for communication disaster. Conversations start and stop because someone needs juice or toilet paper or a signature. We forget what we haven't said and don't always have the time to say what we really need.

He bought me these for Christmas.

Click image to purchase via Amazon.

 Aqua notes--a waterproof notepad for the shower. He found them on a list of great gifts for writers, and he got them because he knows the shower is my quiet place. I get fifteen minutes to shut out the world and think. Then I forget the plot points or the dialogue I've composed because I didn't write it down. Voila! Now I can.

But these notes have morphed into something else for us. I've started scribbling down my worries and fears--mostly about our daughter and the unknown journey we're on--but also the stress points that have pushed me back to medication. I write down the words I can't quite say, and I leave them for him to find.

He writes me back. We make decisions. We breathe a little easier. We communicate a little better.

Marriage maintenance shouldn't be like taking in that faithful car and discovering a host of problems you didn't know existed. It should be like getting the oil changed and hearing the engine purr again.

Then you can leave a love note in the shower and take that marriage out for a night on the town.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What's Saving My Life Right Now




So I stumbled onto Modern Mrs. Darcy this week. How have I been missing her? Anne with an 'e', loves books, mom of four....I'm pretty sure she doesn't know we're soul friends. I'll have to work on that. But she had this post about what's saving her life, just all the random little goodies that make days easier, those thousands of gifts I count inconsistently but bow my head in gratitude for when I remember that He didn't have to make this easy.

Saving my life right now? My chaotic, doctor appointment, insurance debacle, temper tantrum (me, not kids) life? These little fun gems. Necessary? No. Blessings? Yes. Reminders that I really do have it good and that's the life I need to share.

Gilmore Girls on Netflix. 
Source
I totally justify my current Loreli-Rory-Luke binge by telling myself that it's a dialogue study. It is. Rachel Hauck wrote a post about what writers can learn from the Gilmore girls, and besides that, a girl needs background distraction when folding laundry. Right?

The iPad for the littles. They've taken over my iPad for their own Netflix binges that include Harry and the Bucket Full of Dinosaurs and anything with a dump truck or train. Don't judge. It's winter and cold and trust me, we get our fair share of imaginary play and outside time. But letting them watch what they want so the big girls can watch what they want? Sometimes that's called saving my life and saving dinner.

Chai tea latte. It's my new Starbucks fave. Alas, my gift cards have run out, and I'm having withdrawals. I made a version at home a few weeks ago, but sometimes it's just worth it to cough up the few bucks and have someone else do the work. Hot, sweet, low-cal and soothing me through tough days. Thank you, Starbucks in my local Ingles.

Chic-fil-a giftcards. 
CFA_BreakFast
Source
Speaking of gift cards, friends keep sending us these. They want to help at a time when we don't know what we need, and here in the South, it's figured that food's always a safe bet. So we fill up on waffle fries and nuggets for them, salads and sweet tea for me, and then we head to the doctor/physical therapy/test appointment a little less stressed.

Birthday plans. Amelia's birthday is the 19th. She's been talking about it for months. We're planning a little party with all her favorite things (and it's quite a hodgepodge, let me tell you). She makes a new plan everyday. We're also planning something special since we'll be in Birmingham at the specialist for her birthday....maybe a pool at the hotel? To add to the birthday fun, mine's two days after hers. There's a cousin, an uncle, my sister, an expected baby, and my daddy's birthday all in February too. We like to cram it all in the shortest month possible.

Chocolate. I'm taking myself to Trader Joe's after our next neurologist appointment and buying the dark chocolate caramel popcorn my mom gave Joshua for Christmas. He didn't mind a bit I ate it all. These days just a little chocolate hit at nap time keeps me going.

Jazzercise.

Source
The above would be one of the reasons I keep going to class. That and the 30 in 35 days challenge that has the cutest shirt for a prize! Jazz keeps me up to date on music too. That's not my forte, but after an entire class of Katy Perry yesterday, I must confess, I think I might be a fan.

Unroll.me for the email subscriptions. If you don't do this, stop reading and sign up now. Unroll.me is the personal assistant I've always needed. All my various subscriptions (blogs) now come in one email that I can read at my leisure. Changed my life. And my inbox.

Tsh's 'round the world adventure. Except Tsh. I didn't roll her up because I don't want to miss an update of where in the world the Oxenreiders (#worldwideox) are now. Follow on Instagram for an instant passport and dream of what it would be like to go around the world with your kids. Then dream of what it would be like without them! (Probably not as fun.)

Bloggers who confess the truth about blogging. Read this today: My Slower Paced Blog from Micha Boyett. Got the link from a Tsh email, just so you know. Spoke to me profoundly. I'm not a big blogger. I'm jealous of them, I confess, but I don't want to be a big blogger. I don't want to have to comment on every piece of news media that's getting twitter feed or Facebook views. I don't want to be controversial just to get views. I don't want to write about things that don't inspire me. So if you're still sticking with me, I thank you for appreciating this slow little blog that's leading to a slowly written little novel. Because I'm a writer first and a blogger way behind all that.


And of course there's this kid. He kills me. Makes me crazy. But gracious, I'm beginning to think God gave him to me because he makes me laugh all the time.

So what's saving your life these chilly winter days? And where's all that snow that was persimmon-seed forecast down here? 35 degrees is not worth it unless there's snow.

Linking up at The Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

When the Unknown Looks Like Potty Training


Our little two and a half year old tornado of a boy pulled a package of underwear out of his drawer last week and demanded to wear it. I figured why not? His sisters were all this age when they learned the fine art of using the potty for more than a step stool.

Yet again, our household learns how boys are different from girls.

First, his sisters are appalled by little boy underwear. There's a pocket! Whatever is that for? He's a BOY--enough said.

Then, we learn that although Gus Monster is very into his new drawers, he's not really into his signals yet. Eight pairs and a bath later, I called it quits for the day. Should've done this in the fall when he was actually going on occasion. But, silly me. I thought he was too young to be pushed.

Just a reminder that having four kids only makes one an expert on the mistakes of motherhood.


I have no idea when this is going to work. Eventually, I'm sure. But if he'll be fully functional in the bathroom prior to the need for a new living room rug, well, that's questionable. We're living in the unknown--the time when all you can see is a small light at the end of the tunnel and you just plug forward everyday in hopes that it grows brighter.

I'm not just talking about potty training.

I curled up in the corner of our lumpy sofa on Friday morning with my devotion and the scary canyon of what ifs for Amelia looming on my horizon. We saw her neurologist on Thursday and our future right now is certain to hold more doctor visits, more tests, more therapies as we try to uncover what caused her brain to inflame itself. What caused her body to demyelinate and send us searching for answers.


So far, no doctor is really pleased with what they can tell us. We've had three different prognosis ranging from super scary surgical to expect full recovery. Right now, it's Clinically Isolated Syndrome. It might go away, her body may heal itself.

It might not.

No one is sure. Doctors for all their fancy degrees and clinical knowledge and case studies--they're just practicing medicine as my friend said yesterday.

They are learning and we are learning and the unknown can be frightening. That canyon will swallow me whole if I let it.

Rehearsing your troubles results in experiencing them many times, whereas you are only meant to go through them when they actually occur. 
~Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
There's a bridge over that canyon of the unknown. I can't see it when I'm pondering all the ways I'm going to slip and fall and have to claw my way back up rock walls. We want to live these lives that are all planned out and shiny with promise, but the truth is we live everyday in a dark unknown that's only pushed back when we focus on the Light--on the good, the beauty, the reasons to be thankful in the midst of fear. 

The blessings of superhero underwear and friends who make homemade blueberry pie and sick little girls who giggle incessantly. These are the images I want to rehearse in my mind when I worry--these are the moments I want to live through again and again.

Not the fear. Not the frustration. Not the many times I've cleaned the floor.

But the many times I've lived in the beautiful, known moment at hand.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Sunday's Rest is Over & Monday's Reality is Settling In


They're squabbling over episodes of Harry and the Dinosaurs and I've begged for just a few minutes. I didn't get up early enough to write and despite drinking Sleepytime herbal tea before bed I spent a restless night alternately hacking and worrying.

Welcome to Monday.

The past several days have been like a month of Sundays. We've rested and recuperated and tried to stumble our way back to reality. I've sat and held Amelia while she slept and Gilmore Girls played in the background. Saturday morning we moved slow and curled around steaming cups of coffee and read magazines that have been piling up for a month.

I gave myself permission to escape via the Internet or Netflix or the glossy pages of Food & Wine. Thanks to friends who've been the hands and feet of Jesus in the form of folded laundry and hot food, there's been few dishes and even fewer piles of dirty underwear.

You know a friend is true when they fold your underwear.

For days we've lived in this alternate reality where the world gets to revolve around test results and doctor schedules and the hours of the Children's Hospital coffee shop. I didn't try to write and I didn't try to work because I've never been able to divide my life up into little segments and square each away to deal with another. I've always been a big tangled mess where every little thing bleeds into everything else.

Which is why when I rest, I stop. I halt whatever project I'm on and just retreat away into something mindless. Then Monday's reality hits hard.

And thank God.

Because there is relief in the structure, the schedule, the normal. Even when it's a new normal of monitoring progress and scheduling physical therapy and trying not to google every blessed worry. Because even though we are built to rest, we are also built to work and create and exercise.

We are built for the Mondays as well as the Sundays.

May your week be glorious, friends. May it be productive and encouraging and the very best kind of ordinary. Then, when it's Sunday again, may you find the softest pillow and the quietest hour.

And something good on Netflix.