Renewed Focus

We played basketball this weekend, my oldest and I.  Liam was there for a bit, but then he puttered off to do something else in the garage, as did his father.  They are nothing if not true to their largely loner natures.  Craig was in and out of the game, desperate to have a huge heavy basketball wham him on the head, and we took turns guarding him as often as we guarded the opposing team.

The others quickly petered out, but Jack and I are social creatures and we stuck it out, happy for each others’ company and for the exercise.  We ran dribble drills, up and down the driveway.  We took turns shooting baskets, each standing to the side near the undeveloped lot, so as to keep the rebounding ball from rolling away into the trees and thorns on that side of the driveway.  (Unfortunately we are surrounded by down-slopes and thick underbrush, which makes basketball a challenge.  But we rise to the occasion. Jack and I are “yes and” kind of people, and seeing my positive, we-can-make-this-work nature twinned in him is like coming home.)  We played until the mosquitoes drove us inside.

He’s pretty good at making baskets, short though he is.  He has good aim, moves with confidence.  His calf muscles are strong, his arms.  He has broad shoulders, a triangle waist.  I look at his body and still, seven years later, marvel.  Look at this life, here because of me and his father.  Look, see.  What a strange thing, to have created for myself a basketball buddy.  Behold how blessed I am to play a Sunday afternoon game with this beautiful creature I made.

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Tonight, because Jack was at a baseball game with his father, and because the ToddlerMonster goes to bed somewhat early, I had just Liam for stories at bedtime.  He sat in my lap, drinking milk, a new (EXPENSIVE) pair of glasses (EXPENSIVE REPLACEMENT FOR THE EXPENSIVE LAST PAIR WHICH HE BROKE) perched on the end of his nose.  He is slim slim slim.  He used to be our stocky little man, short and solid – years ago we got the Fat Baby lecture on this one.  (Of all our children, it was him that got us in trouble for size!)  For the past year or so he’s been a reed – shot up tall, thin in the face, no butt.  His pants are always falling off because he has no butt.  This evening he folded up all those stringy long limbs in my embrace, like a lap-ful of hangers, and we curled around each other.  We usually just do one or two but tonight I read him four stories.  We got to the end of one and I just kept picking up another one, another one, another one. Making it last.

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Our Social Butterfly

Jack has a double header baseball game midday, then an afternoon piano recital, and then we have made arrangements to go watch a movie in the park tonight.  It’s a busy day!  The Professor is spending the first part of it in his work-state with a Saturday class, but will be back midday to help shepherd children to their various places.  God help us next year when Liam starts his own stuff.  I find myself already dreaming of the day, 9 years from now, when Jack can start driving his little brothers to their various activities.

We did nothin’ fancy for dinners this past week – I pulled some leftovers out of the freezer, and did Blue Apron two nights (turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes one night, and star anise cod plus gai lan and brown rice another night.  The latter sounds weird but it’s basically fish in a tasty sauce, plus wilted greens cooked in ginger and garlic.  Yum.).  I’m on a health-accountability kick with my sister – I basically snookered her into holding me accountable for my own health, which has deteriorated as my job needs have heated up.  A 31 year old friend of mine (not really a current friendship, more a “we were buddies for about a year at our shared job ten years ago and we keep in touch by facebook” type relationships) just died of a heart attack.  He was a lawyer (GO FIGURE) and now he’s gone and his baby girls are fatherless.  Not to make his family’s tragedy all about me, but it really got me thinking about how I have gone jogging at a minimum weekly (and during some periods of life, daily) for twenty years, except since I added a third kid to my life I’ve let it totally fall off the radar.  I’ve been sitting 12 hours a day for 3 years now, quit exercise, and reward myself after a hard day at work by pounding down convenience foods and soda.  None of this is good.

So I’m sort of doing the amalah thing (I will link to that later, right now amalah’s website is down, but basically it involves a grownup behavior sticker chart), only instead of a chalkboard we have a google doc.  It already got me to do more cardio than I normally would – one night I took the dog and all three kids on a jog/bike ride, which was not the 7 mile run and sprints I would have done back in my childless twenties, but it was something.  Another night, I asked the Professor to put the kids to bed while I ran the fastest mile I could manage.  It was 10:10, which is a terrible mile time, but I laced up my very old running shoes and got out there and did it!  The last three days of the week were less healthy, partly due to work day-trips (no hotel gym, just long drives to the Middle of Nowhere, Alabama), and partly due to a teething Craigsy keeping me up at night.  And partly due to job stress just wearing me down as the week goes on.  But I made healthy Blue Apron dinners, at least, and we are back to Saturday, rest day.  I am leaving laundry and grocery shopping til tomorrow, and spending this day running Jack all over town but also resting from work/domestic chores, and hopefully will be back in the game Sunday.  Maybe I’ll even squeeze a short run into all this socializing.  *There will be no BEFORE and AFTER pictures, folks.  Just know this – during our run/bike ride the other night, some lady asked me when #4 was due, and said she has a daughter with 4 kids under 6 so she knows my pain.  I pointedly said that we were stopping with 3 kids, and hadn’t planned any more, and she blanched and moved along. So, yeah.  I look fat enough right now that people are certain I’m having a fourth baby.  That’s your BEFORE picture, right there.

I hope you enjoyed this scintillating check-in.  I’m off to single-mom it a few more hours til the Professor gets home.  Wish me luck!

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Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1 – 2, NIV)

A few months ago, the 2 year old little buddy whose cancer struggle I’ve been following (he’s the son of a friend) went home from the hospital with his family in a great pink fire truck - a triumphant celebration of his successful bone marrow transplant and remission.  It was a happy day for about a million people who have been praying for him, all through the upstate of South Carolina, and it lifted a small but persistent burden that I have carried on my heart since he was diagnosed.

Alas, he was not out of the hospital long before relapse hit – the greedy, gobbling, vicious disease came roaring back.  Although his donor was willing to donate again, poor wee Lachlan had not been well enough for long enough to go through the chemo regimen that donation entails.  They were scheduled for transplant #2 later this month.  That transplant has now been canceled.

They are bringing sweet Lachlan home again today.  There is no remission this time.  There is no fire truck.  There is no further treatment option.  There is just, as his mother says, the family’s goal to breathe him in, as much as possible, for as much additional time as they are blessed with.  He and his identical twin brother are two years old – their little baby brother is not quite a year.  His parents are forty, and what I think now is “If they live another forty years, that will be forty more years without him.”  How they can stand it, how anyone can, is the ghoulish niggling terror that keeps all parents up in the wee hours so many nights.

Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani – my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  This is what Jesus cries, after his ninth hour on the cross.  I had to read these words in church this past Palm Sunday, which is two days after I learned of Lachlan’s relapse via his mother’s CaringBridge journal.  I could not get it out, I tell you – I could not say it without my voice breaking.  Shattered.  Weeping, before a congregation who probably thought I was moved by the crucifixion story alone.  Before he is crucified, Jesus weeps alone in the garden of Gethsemane and asks God – his father, mind you – “please don’t make me do this.  I don’t think I have the strength to do this.”  I paraphrase, of course, but essentially that is the story.  And then God makes him do it, and he hangs there leaking blood from a million cuts, knowing he will be dead soon but forced to slowly suffocate in intense pain without hope of help, and after nine hours of this literal torture he screams WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME, and he is not taken down from that living hell until he’s dead.

That line keeps ringing in my head – My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  On the facebook and CaringBridge comment sections, many religious people are leaving messages, offering what pathetic crumbs of comfort they can, and more often than I like they say that this is all part of God’s plan, God wants another angel, and what-have-you.  I do not attack their well-meaning comments, it’s not my place and it doesn’t help.  But I don’t think God planned to make this baby lay with enlarged and painful internal organs, with skin peeling off in painful sheets due to GVHD, as part of some master plan.  I think, right now, that entire family is tortured on the cross, his mother is weeping in the Garden, begging “please don’t make me do this,” they have been forsaken by God, and there is no higher reason for this.  It’s just torture, it’s Nature’s cruel and impersonal, undiscriminating hand, it is a genetic mutation triggered in one twin but (thankfully, mysteriously, and we hope enduringly) not in his genetic copy, whose perfect blond hair and pale skin and healthy limbs show, by contrast, just what a hateful and destructive disease cancer has been to his broken and gray and bald and suffering brother.  Lachlan is two, and he almost certainly will not see three, and there is no specific plan that a loving and beneficent God could have designed that would require the torture he has suffered, that would force his twin Calhoun to live the remainder of his life without his brother.

Where I find comfort in this mess of a story is simply the camaraderie of a religious figure who has also suffered, and a God-parent and human mother who were forced, for whatever religious reason you care to believe, to watch Jesus-the-child endure bodily torture and pain.  The mother Mary, the father-God, the son-Jesus – they walked this terrible road before Lachlan and his family, they suffered the unspeakable, and for the already-religious, they can perhaps be a sort of support group, a spiritual AA meeting, if you will.  There is something that, I think, would make me feel less alone bearing my child’s illness, if I know that for thousands of years other parents have suffered and yet endured.

I can’t think of much else right now.  Every time a pregnant friend nears a due date, a small part of my consciousness is tied up in the waiting, is a tiny bird perched on her distant shoulder watching expectantly for the end of pregnancy to come and the beautiful new life to start.  This is the cruel, torturous negative to that experience – part of my consciousness, the primal bit of me that is Mother, has been conscripted to sit vigil with Lachlan’s family, and I find myself staring out the window more than a dozen times a day, biting my lips and restraining tears.  He is not my child and this is not my pain, except that he is Everychild and I am Everymother.  If prayers and hope and love and faith could heal, he would be well now through mine alone.  They do not.  They comfort, is all, and palliative care of both the spiritual and medicinal variety is all that the world can offer Lachlan and his sweet family today.

If you are the praying type, please send up prayers for sweet Lachlan and his family, prayers that they have time to create a few more happy memories together, prayers that they have the will to continue this road, and the strength to carry this unfathomably heavy cross towards its unbearable finish.  If the word “prayer” makes you squicky, then please beam a positive and loving and secular thought towards tiny Seneca South Carolina.  All of it helps – our tiny, futile gestures of love and faith in the face of true human misery and the cruel and grinding determination of a disease that will not be denied.  It buoys the family to know that thousands across the South, and the world, are holding them in their thoughts, regardless of denomination (or lack thereof).

Open my arms, open my arms – your work is done.

Fight like a tiger, Lachlan.  Love and hope.

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Two Vignettes for Baby

Like an ape, leading with his belly, shoulders thrust back and arms trailing behind him, he strides around the house free range, a tiny man in charge of his own destiny.   From my work in the kitchen or laundry room or office, I keep an ear out.  All goes well until I hear the inevitable “slap slap slap” sound of little hands climbing up the stairs, I go and pull him down, redirect.  He loves being chased up the stairs.  He has a soft cloud of light brown hair with a faint reddish tint, and I tousle it and smooth it and run my fingers through it, baby fine and fluffy, growing thicker now.   I remember what a shock it was to me when I opened my eyes one day and Jack had “little boy hair,” with all the downy soft new-baby fuzz already gone while I wasn’t paying attention.

With this one, I pay attention.

I don’t get up with him in the wee hours these days – he’s a good sleeper, for the most part, so long as we keep up his familiar routine.  Last night he woke at midnight for no apparent reason – just fussy, perhaps woken by a singing glow-worm doll that he sleeps with now.  I heard his cries and rolled reluctantly out of my own bed downstairs, then fumbled with making a bottle in the dim glow of the fridge light.  I trudged up the stairs, lifted him out of the crib, carried him into the guest bed to cuddle and drink it down.  He nestled in close, immediately mostly asleep.  As he half-heartedly drank down the bottle, he reached around awkwardly to press his palm against my cheek, and we sat there together, my forehead on his chin, my body curled around his.  After this one is grown, never again will one of my own babies press a tiny palm against my cheek.  I breathed him in, deep.  We settled into each other, and lay like that for a while.

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The Professor collects the leash and calls the dog to the front door, and we hear squeals of delight, and the thunder of tiny feet in giant shoes stomping down the hall.  Craig appears, running in his awkward, ape-like way, and reaches up to grab the leash just above the dog’s ears.  We are ready to go on the walk now.

Eject Craig from the daily dog-walking at your peril.  He will weep, heartbroken, staring out the front door window, the picture of pathos.  On the other hand, if you let him go along, he will march right out there with you, happily singing little baby nonsense.  He will hold the leash importantly, occasionally letting it go and stomping off to explore something in the neighbor’s grass, perhaps a tiny roly poly bug, or a flower.  I let him explore, though I draw the line at letting him eat the bugs and sticks he finds.  If I let him have his way, he’d walk a mile, chattering to himself all the way, abruptly falling over and then painstakingly working to get himself back upright, in that particular way that toddlers have of learning to move in the world.  I kind of hated the dog walking chore, before I gained my little helper.  He is my fresh pair of eyes.  He is delight at the smooth whorl of a tiny snail’s shell, consternation at the feel of wet grass on bare feet, surprise at the roughness of the asphalt.  A wide open face turned up toward the sky, just to see what’s up there.

The littlest

The littlest

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Spring Break, Law Firm Style

This was Jack’s spring break week.  Unfortunately, the Professor’s spring break was the week before, so he went north to visit his family for that week.  He had taken Liam with him, but still he was gone for about 2 weeks straight.  Then he returned just in time to see the friends, then left again, and had to travel this weekend, too.  Basically it’s been like a month since I’ve had a normal, quiet week with my partner/co-parent.  I love me some Gilmore Girls but the evening loneliness is getting kind of old.  He’ll be back for a day and then gone again Monday, but just a bit longer now til summer and the semester is over.

Anyway, with Jack on spring break and the Professor gone to work out of state as usual, we had some juggling to do.  We got it all arranged – the little boys would go to daycare like usual, and I would take Jack to work on Tuesday, he would go to roller skate day camp on Wednesday, I would take Thursday off to have a special day just with him, and then the Professor would drive back here, pick him up, and then head back to his job out of state to do some stuff this weekend, but with Jack in tow.   I would have loved to have taken the week, or even part of the week, off to have an actual spring break, like many of our friends did . . . alas, the billable hour precludes such niceties.  I had to do what law firm parents the world ’round do – somehow find a way to meet the needs of the kid and the job, while not going absolutely crazy with stress.

Ahhhh, the best laid plans . . . Tuesday was going well.  I had packed up some magazines, coloring stuff, snacks, and Jack’s innotab, and he was doing just great with all of it.  I was actually getting a lot done, and then at 3 I get a call – Liam is complaining of an ear ache and crying.  OF COURSE HE IS.  GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

Jack and I left work early (and I was in such a groove!  he was doing so well!)  We picked up Liam, who by this point was more or less screaming, sweating, and fidgeting because he was in so much pain.  He could not sit still.  It was his right ear, inside, “way down deep.”  You could hear his screams from outside the daycare – it reminded me of when he was a baby and used to get ear infections – and also, truthfully, of my own self in labor, sweating and unable to be still during the height of the painful contractions.  I ran down the hall to grab Craig, and Liam’s teacher helped me by carrying Craig out while I carried the screaming Liam out.  Jack trailed behind, trying to be helpful but really just being super annoying, bless his 6 year old head.  The four of us headed out to an urgent care which is literally 3 miles away but it took me 20 minutes to get to because the western area of our city is just absolutely THE WORST.  It would have been quicker for me to drive 15 miles to the one near our house, and I regretted my choice more or less instantly.  But this place already had Liam’s info in the computer since this is where we came when he ripped his fingernails off, so this is where I chose, in my seconds to think with a kid screaming in my ear.

When I brought him, still screaming, into the urgent care center, I could see everyone’s nerves instantly tighten up.  It was nerve-shredding, for sure.  For once, I didn’t care that my kid was making a spectacle – this was an urgent care, and he was in so much pain.  Nobody said anything, of course, how could they complain?  But also I’ll note nobody offered any kind of help, although I had a baby on one hip and a 4 year old on the other, plus a diaper bag, purse, and 6 year old in tow.  I guess they were all in their own world of pain (although I think most were there to get a drug screen for work).

So while intellectually I knew Liam was fine, there is something primal that is triggered when your child screams in pain that just cannot be turned off.  It shredded my nerves, absolutely shredded them, and I rocked and soothed him as best I could while also wrangling Craig, who was desperate to get out the front door and into the busy parking lot as quickly as possible.  Jack had a lot of orders barked at him by a mom with zero patience that day – he handled it like a champ, though of course he’d also been in my office being quiet as a mouse all day, so he was pretty wired as well.

Long story short, Liam had a bad ear infection.  It took us over an hour to get back through the purgatory of West [City] and over the bay into our town, and then I get to the pharmacy with his script for numbing drops and antibiotics, and the lady tells me it will be an hour and a half.  At the end of my rope at this point, having heard Liam scream for about 3 solid hours, I begged her “HE IS SCREAMING IN PAIN, CAN YOU PLEASE DO IT FASTER.”  She agreed to half an hour.  I drove us home, grabbed some children’s Motrin, gave it to him, then headed back to the pharmacy, and grabbed those numbing drops like they were liquid gold.  (That shizz cost us over eighty dollars, so they practically were liquid gold.)

That more or less shut off the screams instantly.  Bless him, during the short drive home he fell asleep, sweat still beaded on his forehead.  He was so exhausted from the stress of that painful half-day.  We got home, and you’d better believe we ordered Domino’s for dinner – I had no energy or willpower to cook something.  I got everybody fed and to bed.  Earlier in the day I had managed, while juggling the three ring circus, to call the roller skate camp and see if Jack could drop in on Thursday instead of Wednesday.  It would be useless for me to pay the money to send him to camp Wed, and then have Liam home with me anyhow (he had to stay home one day and recover).  Bless them, bless them, bless them, they let us switch without notice or any kind of charge.  I will definitely use that place again.

So.  The week’s plans went kaput.  I had a conference call scheduled for Wed afternoon, purposefully set at that time because I was supposed to have all the little duckies in their various caregiving situations.  Instead, I had two boys at home!  Erg.  I took Craig to daycare on Wed anyway, which allowed me to get some things done.  I also spent some time with the boys – the day off was supposed to be a special day with Jack (which was supposed to be Thursday, so I’d planned meetings and due dates and such to accommodate a day off on Thursday, Ugh ugh ugh).  So I did my best to make Wednesday a special day off with the two of them instead.  I only billed about 4 hours that day, and in the extra time, I managed to do approximately eleventy-billion crafts with them, take them on a nice long walk and then let  them swim in the little blow-up pool in our backyard, which they loved.  Jack even told me that it was the best day of his life!  We had pink lemonade and pretzels on the back porch, and then the little girls who were visiting next door came over and swam while I took my conference call inside the house and watched them through the window.  I picked up Craigsy right on time, then we all came home and had dinner of leftover Easter feast.  I got them to bed and then crashed myself.

Swimmin'

Swimmin’

Boys in the pool

Boys in the pool

Craftin' like a boss

Craftin’ like a boss

Thursday, Jack went to skate camp, everybody else went to daycare as normal, and the Professor came home to pick everybody up and do a mountain of dishes.  He left again the next day, taking Jack with him for special father-son time in the state where he works.  Jack’s been dying to see where daddy works, to see daddy’s office, to meet daddy’s students – this was his chance!  I myself had normal work days Thursday and Friday, and here we are on Saturday – having done our week’s grocery shopping by 8 am, and starting the other chores.  Craigsy is sleeping, and I parked Liam in front of tv so I could binge-blog – as you’ll note, I did three posts today.  Thus having indulged in my one little hobby, I’m back into the fray to keep up with the dishes, laundry, and pre-cooking for the week.  Next week I travel to Birmingham for work, and my parents are coming to keep the kids for us.  It’s a chaotic life over here, but I’m keeping my head above water.  Just a few more weeks til summer, baseball games and swimming pools and more relaxed morning routines.  I can make it!

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