Monday, March 31, 2008

Sick

Wow, I haven't had this much luxurious time to myself lately, but may I just say that being sick has dampened my enthusiasm?

My voice has left me, and I'm sporting a 102.5 fever. Some virus has attacked every muscle and joint in my body. I feel like I've been placed on the rack. Sigh, but this too shall pass. I'm laying low in an attempt to encourage my immune system to fend this nasty virus off.

Grace, the ever astute observer, said this on the way to school this morning, "Mom, you can't yell today."

The cherry on top of the day is that we are experiencing severe thunderstorms today, but spring is beginning to spring. Yay!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kafaleen

The fabric of the hot pink and white polka dot ruffles bunched up in the palms of my hands. Pale yellow curls pushed through the top of her dress. One curl wound itself around a pink button so I looped my finger into her hair to finagle it free. Meghan shimmied the rest of her party dress down toward her knees, and I closed two buttons near her neck.

"Please sit down Meghan, and I'll help you with your tights."

She spun around, grabbed her child size chair, and took a seat. I rolled one leg of the tights inside my hand so I could slide it onto her leg. As it always happens, Meghan flexed her foot and the progression of the tights came to a halt.

"Meghan, please point your toes honey." She complied, but as I finished pulling up her tights, she broke free from my hands.

She gleefully exclaimed, "Tada! I'm weady for Kafaleen's (Kathleen's) birfday party."

"Hold on Meghan. You need to put your shoes on."

"Oh, okay Mommy. I'm gonna put my pretty black shoes on. Kafaleen likes my special black shoes." Pure joy and anticipation exuded from her. I found it hard not to smile. Her excitement was palpable, and today would be a milestone for her. She had never been invited to a friend's birthday party before, and today was the day. For the last two weeks, Meghan had asked me if it was Kafaleen's birfday party.



She had trouble containing her excitement and I had to remind her to keep her voice down. Gracie helped by temporarily distracting her with two helium filled balloons. They took turns jumping toward the ceiling to grab the red and green balloons as Charlie finished wrapping Kafaleen's gift.

I pulled my own shirt down over my head, and pulled my hair out from under the shirt. Meghan and Grace's muffled grunts and shrieks as they leaped toward their balloons filled my ears. I slipped my brown loafers on my feet, and glanced in the mirror to make sure I was sufficiently put together.

Charlie's voice exclaimed, "Okay girls. It is time to go. We'll get our coats on while Mommy finishes up."

"Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaay! It's time ta go. It's time to go ta Kafaleen's party."

Both girls sprinted down the stairs toward our front hall closet. I was close behind them, and followed them down our sidewalk toward the garage. We were headed to Gymboree at the mall. None of us had ever been there before so we all didn't know what to expect, but I did inform Meghan that she'd get to run and play during the party.

Meghan shrieked, "Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!"

We arrived at the mall, and walked toward Gymboree. It was a typical March day here in Wisconsin. The sky was overcast, and the snow was finally beginning to melt away. Unfortunately, the residue of the snow coated the sidewalk with mud and gunk. We navigated around the muddy puddles. Meghan's pink and white polka dots bounced as she trotted to keep up with my adult sized stride. She firmly gripped my hand as I pulled the handle on the glass door.

Upon entering, Meghan's face lit up. I could tell it was better than she ever thought it would be. Kathleen said, "Meghan's here. Meghan's here."

A large smile erupted across Meghan's face, and she darted toward Kathleen and her mother inside the play area. Kathleen grabbed Meghan's hand, and they ran off to play together.

Charlie said while laughing, "She's ready to play."

Grace's eyes panned the room, and a pout emerged on her face. I could tell she wanted to play too so I reminded her that we'd be going shopping for some new pajamas. Grace sighed deeply as we walked toward the door.

I glanced behind me and said, "Bye Meghan!"

She lifted her head, found the location of my voice, and blew me a kiss. This mother's heart melted a bit more as I internally acknowledged that my last baby was no longer a baby.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Indelible

There are some people in our lives with whom we are bonded indelibly. My grandma Eve is one of those people for me. As far back as my memories can take me, love wells up inside of me when I think of her. I am her first grandchild, and she often cared for me while I was growing up. There are perks to being the first grandchild. The first of which is that I've had almost 35 years of time with her.

Today, we celebrated her 89th birthday. While I love acknowledging today, it also stirs up fears of when I won't be able to celebrate her birthday. In any case, I have a hard time putting into words the amount of love I have for her. It often feels like love on borrowed time, though.

Tonight, I called her. It was the first time I've had to call her in the hospital. As she picked up the phone, I heard her tell someone in the room that it was probably her granddaughter calling. This made me smile immediately, and that love for her welled up inside.

Part of me is still a lanky legged little girl who is longing to dart up to her with my arms wide open, waiting for my hug and kiss. After all, who loves you like a grandmother? Who loves you so unconditionally without expectations? Only a grandparent who has given up on the parental guilt loves you that way. Only a grandparent glows at the opportunity to take part in the fun associated with a small child and doesn't care much about how that child will turn out.

I've learned so much from her, but again, tonight I am learning more from her.

"Hello."

"Hi Gram. Happy Birthday!"

"Hi honey. How are you?"

I wanted to answer with how I really feel today, but I'm sure she already knows how I feel. I'm terrified this will be my last conversation with her. I'm missing her incredibly, and I know she feels the same way.

"I'm okay. I don't feel well, and my heart is having palpitations. I don't want to talk about that though. How are the girls and Charlie?"

I filled her in and gently asked some questions about how the doctors/nurses thought she was doing.

"Well honey, the nurse is here to help me get ready for bed. I'd better let you go. I love you, and am so proud of you and your family. You're such a great mother. Tell the girls I loved their card."

"I love you too Grams. Happy Birthday, and I hope they let you go home in time for Easter."

"Yes, I'd really like to take part in Holy week, but as my priest says, "You can't always get your way. You get what you need."

Indeed.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Our "Golden" Anniversary

Seventeen years ago, we had our first date. I'm amazed how time is relative.

The smell of my dorm room that day lingers omnipresent. I carefully chose my clothes, and made sure that green was part of my outfit. It was Saint Patrick's Day, and I was attending a free band concert with you at Humanities Hall. I was so "in like" with you at the time that I could think of nothing else.

I hemmed and hawed around what I might say or how I might say something to you. Nervous was just the tip of the ice berg, but I hoped it wouldn't show on my face or in my demeanor. You held my hand and smiled as we walked down the street. I hoped my hand wasn't sweaty. The music was pretty, and I shifted in my chair a bit as you sat next to me. I nervously laughed at certain points, and that at the end of the evening, we had our first, very akward kiss.

It was the beginning of us. We were immature, attempting to find out who we were as adults, yet still often acting like children. I was terrified to tell you that I "liked" you, and you were unsure as well.

Who we were then is not who we are now, but those memories help create who we are now.

It simply amazes me what we have gone through since that day 17 years ago. You and I have grown up and into adults with responsibilities. Along the way, there has been heart break, but also an unabiding love. We've always been a sort of contradiction, but in the same sense, we fit together perfectly. We laugh. We fight. We cry. We share. We annoy. We love. We are one.

We are one entity trying to make our way through life and address the challenges and celebrate successess together.



Image Courtesy: www.microsoft.com

Seven years ago, you met me at the front of the church. You smiled, and I melted on the inside. That day, we were finally joined in marriage. Our priest joked that the statute of limitations on dating had finally run out. Even then, you and I were both scared yet still very much in love. We committed even though the committment had been born long before that. We created two beautiful daughters together. We created a life as a family. We learned that Alpha-1 was a common gene shared between us. We learned that Alpha-1 would not pull us apart nor our children. We survived preeclampsia, temporary blindness, prematurity, and mononucleosis.

We still survive. We still love. We are one. We are united. We love.

For all of that, I thank you Charlie.

Happy Anniversary!

I love you always,
Jen

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cracked

Early last week, Grace approached me in our kitchen. She wore a red juice colored tatoo smile on her mouth. It was the kind that resulted because she tips the cup too quickly toward her mouth and the juice stains her upper lip in a joker-esque fashion. Upon looking closer into her eyes, I noticed she appeared concerned, and then she said, "My hands hurt Mama. They have scrapes on them."

"Let me see them."

Grace lifted both of her hands toward my mid-section and grimaced. As I inspected the skin on the back of both her hands, I had a hard time not making a "face" too. Her skin actually appeared sunburned throughout, but I knew better than that as we are in the vestiges of winter still. Across her knuckles were nearly 100 small cracks with startling similarity to paper cuts.

"Oh geez Gracie," I exhaled. "Have you been using lotion after you wash your hands?"

"Sometimes, Mama."

"You've got to use every time Gracie."

"I can't use it at school though."

"We can send some along with you in your backpack."

"Oh. Okay Mama."

"Let's go get some lotion now."

Gracie frowned, sighed knowingly, and asked a question to which she already knew the answer, "Will it hurt Mommy?"

"It may sting a bit, but we need to help your skin heal."

I didn't think much of that episode of cracked hands. I have very sensitive hands too.

***********************************************

A few days later, Grace began a familiar episode. These episodes come and go as most childhood phases do, but always give me a creeping sensation inside since they only seem to afflict Gracie. Meghan does not have an intense need to control most things around her.

Grace began kept telling us she had to use the bathroom. At first, I wondered if she had a bladder infection or something to that effect. There were little signs of something like an infection. Her proclaimations kept coming every 10 minutes or so, and she was able to hold it all night with no issues. Her hands weren't getting any better, though.

It was a mystery to me why she thought she had to go the bathroom so much. I even consulted a few friends to inquire if their children had gone through anything similiar.

Nope. None.

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Here is an example of multitudes of interactions we've had in the last week:

"Mom, I have to pee sooooooo sooooooo bad!"

"Sorry honey. It hasn't even been an hour yet. You need to wait."

"But Mom!"

I cut her off, "No Grace. You certainly do not need to go to the bathroom yet."

*******************************************

On Friday, the girls and Charlie had a day off of school. While I was at work, I called Charlie. He and the girls were visiting our good friend, Tante, and her new baby, Hailey.

"Hi...How is Grace today? Is she asking to go to the bathroom a lot?"

Charlie responded, "All the time. I caught her going into the bathroom. She flushed the toilet without going, and just wants to wash her hands."

The realization flashed over me, but I asked the question anyway. "You mean like obsessively wanting to wash her hands?"

"Yes."

"Oh God. What should we do?"

"Jen, it is probably just a phase. We just need to help her correct her behavior."

"I know Charlie, but this reminds me of last year at Josh's wedding. It just worries me. I was a very stressed out kid when I was little, and I don't want her to feel like I did. I was so stressed that I scratched holes in my scalp in fourth grade." I flashed on a memory of my mom asking me what happened to my head as she was brushing my hair.

"This is probably just a phase Jen. Yes, this runs in your family, but this is probably just another phase."

"It still worries me though. I'd better get back to work now."

"All right. We'll talk to you later. Will you be home at regular time?"

"Yes. Bye."
*******************************************

When I got home later that day, I found a quiet time to ask Grace a few questions.

"Gracie, Daddy tells me that you want to wash your hands a lot. Why do you do that?"

"So I don't have germs on me."

That answer sounded like a standard repetition of the "right" answer in kindergarten, so I decided to take my questions in a sensory processing disorder direction. "Do you like how the water feels on your hands Gracie?"

"Yes. I like cold water on my hands."

"Is that because they sting right now?"

"Uh huh."

"Grace, would you rather have a ice pack for your hands? It would feel cold, but we would need to wrap it in a towel so it wouldn't freeze your skin."

"Okay Mommy."

"Are you worried about germs on your hands Gracie?"

"No." I flashed back to the lie I told my mom when she confronted me about the wounds on my scalp, but I reassured myself since I was older than Gracie when I lied to my mom.

"Are you sure Gracie?"

"Uh huh."

"Why do you wash you hands so much?"

"So I don't have germs, Mommy."
*******************************************
All of this is worrisome to me. Charlie feels behavior redirection should help her. It is hard for me not to reflect on my own childhood intense need to feel things. I didn't want to put holes into my scalp, but it felt like their were bumps on my head. I wanted the bumps gone. I scratched the bumps, which caused scabs, which led to me scratching the scabs off. It was a vicious cycle, and a hard habit to break then. Does Grace feel a strange sensation on her hands? Or is this simple compulsion?

Or am I just reading more into the situation? I have no idea, but I am glad to report that her hands are now on the road to healing. We've kept the bathroom visits to a minimum, which resulted in less hand washing and less chapped hands.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

My Child Left Behind

Last week, I blogged about Enrichment. Here is an update.

I understand how the principal arrived at his decision to remove the music and gym teacher at our school. Do I like it?

No.

Am I irritated?

Yes.

What can I do?

I can write to the school board, my congressmen/women, my senators, and tell anyone I know. I can contact the media. I can advocate. I can let my voice be heard. I've been delaying a post about this in hopes that I might find more eloquent words which aren't bathed in anger. Sorry, it hasn't happened. Bear with me. The mama bear in me is raging, and won't be calmed just yet.

There is very little we can do to fix this for next year, though. My daughters will attend a school that has no art, gym, or music teachers in fall 2008. How sad is that? How incredibly disappointing is that?

School children are being cheated by programs like school choice, which takes public money and moves it into the private sector. Federal government promised money is drying up for education. No child left behind...my arse! We've somehow magically got money to pay for a war, but at what cost? Can't we help other countries and take care of ourselves too? Instead we mandate teaching to a test. What does that solve? That is not learning. That assumes we have incredibly dumb children in the US. Honestly, I really understand homeschooling now, and think those parents are incredibly brave and forward thinking.

Our school's budget was cut by $270,000 for next year. Thankfully, our school had some money in reserve so that makes the school short by $180,000 this year. That is still 2 full time teaching positions...at least that is what the school system charges our school for those positions. I'm quite certain our teachers don't make $90 thousand a year, though.

What will happen during next year's budget proceedings?

Lots of schools have it worse. I know that. Charlie's school has 98% of its student population below the Federal poverty line. His school has to spend money on safety attendants and feeding the children. I understand clearly that my daughters' school is blessed when compared to his, but why punish schools that are succeeding? I don't see the logic in making great schools mediocre. How does mediocrity help anyone succeed? How do classrooms of 35 children solve anything?

It is clear to me that there is lethargy toward funding education, but how is our society going to succeed if we don't pay for children's education? If we privatize education, where does that leave special education? Private schools do not have to adhere to regulations surrounding providing special education.

I was a special education student. I overcame my challenges. I'm a contributing member of society, and I know I'll find a way to provide enrichment programs for Grace and Meghan. Our family is blessed to have the money to afford it, but what do the parents at Charlie's school do? Really!

Education is crucial to having a society in the United States that will succeed. Otherwise, we may as well just start building prisons now because they'll be full-up soon.

Yours in frustration,
The Mama Bear

Saturday, March 08, 2008

When We Go to Heaven

How do you speak to your children about death? Really, how do you? Please comment.

I find this subject extremely difficult, yet it has been unfortunately quite common place lately. I'm unprepared and often searching for simple words or terms to use in the depths of my brain.

Death is familiar to my children. We talk about it so much that it runs a close second to "What did you do at school today?"

I remember the exact day it started. It was April 14, 2004. On that day, my beloved cat, Eeyore, died. From that day forward, Grace began to ask me questions about death and heaven. Eventually Meghan added her own spin on death inquisitiveness.

What I say usually entails this:

"When we go to heaven, our body stays here on Earth, and the part of ourselves that thinks and feels and knows who we are goes up to heaven. It is the part of us that knows our name is Gracie or Meghan. That part of us is called our soul. People go to heaven, hopefully, when they are very old. Sometimes, children and young adults go to heaven too. When people die, we are very sad because we won't be able to see them again. At least, we won't see them again until we die and go up to heaven.

Heaven is a wonderful place. It is a place where no one hurts or feels sad or is lonely. Heaven is the most wonderful thing ever. God gave it us so we can feel special. One really great thing about heaven is that all of our family and friends who died before us will be there. When I go up to heaven, I'll be able to see both of my grandpas.

We are very sad when someone dies, but we also know that we'll see them again when we get to heaven."

Recently, our best friend, Tante, lost her daughter, Mary Carol. Next, my sister-in-law's father passed away. Then, Charlie's friend from college lost his 1-year old to neuroblastoma. Last week, the girls attended two funerals. There has been so much loss for people we know and love, and Grace and Meghan, in typical fashion, have been inundating me with questions.

Where did Mary Carol go?

Why didn't Tante have a funeral?

Is Aunt Patti sad her dad had to go to heaven?

Why is he cut-in-half? (Clue: One half of the casket was open, and the other was not.)

Why is Patti's daddy sleeping?

Why does the baby look so sad?

Why did God want the baby with him?

Why are there so many people here?

Why do we have to wait in line again?

Why are there so many pictures?

Why do I need to be quiet?

Are they going to put his bones in the ground?

Will he see his mommy and daddy again in heaven?

Will somebody get his liver cuz he doesn't need it anymore? (Yes, we've explained organ donation out of need. We know several people who've had lung and liver transplants.


Perhaps I've shared too much? Perhaps I haven't?

What I do know is that my children don't seem to be afraid of death. I wish I wasn't so afraid of their deaths, whenever that may be.

Their Alpha-1 is morbidly real for me...a little too real. My old friend, denial, has to be around here somewhere. Come out! Come out wherever you are!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Enrichment

In our family, we often laugh and say that our children have acquired the “B” family music gene. Music was also incredibly important in my mother’s family. In all seriousness, Kesa is incredibly gifted with musical talent. She plays clarinet, saxophone, flute, and a little piano. She is a self-proclaimed “band geek.”

From the time Grace began to hum and sing along to her favorite children’s music, she was always on key. To me this was amazing since most toddlers like to sing but need a little help finding the right key in which to sing. Meghan has followed suit, and as I’ve said before, she sings and hums nearly 60% of her days.

I wholeheartedly believe that all of our girls have a natural inclination toward musical talent, and Grace and Meghan often imagine which instruments they would like to learn as they grow up. Music enriches their lives and plays to their souls.

**********

In our family, we also laugh that our children, except for Kesa, are not naturally inclined towards being physically active. Grace’s name is actually a misnomer. She does not have natural grace. She falls into the clumsy, awkward category of children. Grace also suffers from sensory issues, and we’ve found that spinning, jumping, and swinging are calming for her. In the warm months, Grace’s daily routine is to swing. She pumps her legs with glee to go higher and higher. Gracie needs activity as part of her sensory diet. It tames Grace’s internal disorganization, and reminds her body that it does have balance and grace.

Meghan likely would have been a naturally agile girl, but her micropreemie beginning set up an unnatural low tone, low strength situation. When she was a baby and unable to move very well, it became apparent that her spirit was trapped inside her body. The look in her eyes revealed the situation. She yearned to get free of the confines of her weakened state. For a long time, she received physical therapy to strengthen her body, especially her left side. She succeeded in breaking free for the most part, but her spry spirit is often tamed by her weaker physical body. Meghan needs activity to free her spirit.

**********

So why am I speaking to our childrens’ musical and physical abilities?

Last week, we found out that their school has decided to eliminate both the music and physical education teachers for the next school year. I don’t understand the decision, and as I’ve documented above, this will directly affect my daughters’ lives. A PTA meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, and Charlie and I will be there.