keenchick

Stories and thoughts about family and life

Kennedy Space Center

You know how you have those moments which put other parts of your life into perspective?  Yeah, the ones which make you reflect later and realize that you received a message on several different levels.

In the IMAX theater at the Kennedy Space Center Sunday the film began to roll,  touching on America’s historical space program and plans for the future, and I watched Challenger explode again.  My heart sank all over again.  All those feelings of that day came back again.  The despair and the confusion, the hurt and the questions.  Then the triumph, the successes, the hope for the future.  I had chills down my arms.  We walked out of the room, and my husband and I discussed with our children the two shuttle explosions, and how those had happened in our lives, and we remembered them vividly.  The kids didn’t get it to the level we did, and I can now appreciate those people who talk about major life events that don’t mean as much to me.

From there we boarded buses which took us around the complex.  We saw the launch platforms and the gigantic crawlers they use to move the equipment.  They move at an amazing ONE MPH.  When they’re empty, they “race back” as the tour guide put it, at TWO mph.  She said it took 150 gallons of diesel per mile, and those things had to move three miles to the launch pad, and then back again.   Talk about commitment!

We were taken to the Saturn V rocket center where there is a full version of a Saturn V on display.  It’s magnificent to see it in person and see how big it really is.  There is the LM module and the command module.  As my boys stood there, bright-eyed, we discussed how these are the things we had seen in Apollo 13, and they marveled at the tiny space these men negotiated in the fight for their lives.  They have seen the movie, and we’ve talked about the teamwork it took to get those men home.  Seeing the spaces they actually occupied made us all appreciate it more.

There seemed to be mini-movies everywhere we went, detailing one portion or another of the program or challenges to be overcome.  My favorite was the Saturn V center’s program on the space race and how it started out so rough for us.  There were many failures, and a little progress, and then other setbacks.  We eventually got there, and then set our sights a little higher and then a little higher still.  John F. Kennedy said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

From there we moved into a room designed to look like the command center from 1968 on the day of that first successful manned launch, all the computers in the front and the display boards high on the wall.  A countdown clock ran on the wall just above the computers, and audio clips of that fateful day began to play.  As the events fell into the timeline, the larger display computer marked off each in turn.  As the timer was running down the various computer stations checking in would illuminate.  When the time for ignition start came, the whole room began to vibrate.  The excitement was palpable.  Everyone looked around and when the rocket took off, the window covers behind us actually began to bang, as I’m certain they did on each one of those launches.  Did the men in that room beam with pride each time?  Did they stand in amazement at the wonder of the whole thing each time?  I can’t imagine that would ever get old.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my, ahem, older age.  Maybe I’m much more in to the science of it all that I ever realized.  I  told one of our friends that went with us “it makes you proud to be an American.”  I thought about that after I said it.  I’ve never not been proud to be an American, but something about those moments of triumph make you puff your chest out a bit and walk a little taller.

As the narrator said, it was all of us who accomplished something that day.  I wasn’t born until after the event, and reading about it in school simply couldn’t convey what I felt sitting in that room.    I really felt a part of it, and it was so cool to time travel for a few minutes and feel that sense of accomplishment and excitement.

My friend and I discussed what it must have been like to live in Titusville and around Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral at the time.  Everything was new an interesting.  Every rocket or shuttle launch was a new adventure, and the whole world got to ride along.  I can envision the people in the area all coming out to see it, and the influx of people who must have come from miles to be able to witness it all.

It gives me an appreciation that nothing we do worth doing is easy.  It’s not easy being married, or having children, but especially not when you’re doing something that so clearly changed the world as those men did.  All the math and computer development (okay, so the math might have stopped me right there!); all the creativity and problem solving; all the dreaming that tomorrow could be better and bigger.  One thing that really struck me was the continuing determination that lives lost in the space program were not forgotten, and that it only made the people following want to try harder to prove that it’s a noble cause and that those lives lost really meant something.

I don’t want to turn this into some big political thing–please don’t misunderstand.  I just think that lately we’ve taken our eyes off the prize, and we’re more focused on beating each other up with rhetoric and antagonism than we are with actually setting a goal and not stopping until we get there.    I hate that, because there are still so many things to do.

I have friends who have said to me that they don’t know how I could ever have started my own company or how I can work so hard to make something of it.  I think hearing John F. Kennedy’s words put that into perspective for me.  “We do it because it’s hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we’re willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”    The perspective I gained this weekend is that my life is not just about raising my kids, developing my relationship with my husband, building my business.  It’s about creating my legacy, and making that legacy something incredible.  I may not have accomplished something as incredible as a space program, but I can certainly make an impact in my own industry, in my own town, in my own life.

I think the Kennedy Space Center is one of the coolest things my family has done.  If you haven’t, make a point of doing it.  If you have, remember the things you saw there, and share it with others.  That place is truly something for which we should be proud.  I wish we could get back to that world.  Pull up your fellow man, encourage him and help him and both of you can build something tremendous.    Do it because it’s hard.  Do it because you CAN.

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Houston, we have a problem

We all got up Tuesday morning, knowing we had a lot ahead of us.  Helen had passed away late Monday night, and we knew we would need to go to the funeral home and the church and potentially several other places.

We woke the kids and told them.  I had been very honest with them the previous day and explained what hospice care was, and what that ultimately meant.  I had promised them they could go to the hospital and see their grandmother if they wanted, or they could choose to remember her back in the house giving them cookies from the cookie jar (one of her favorite things to do).  They both only pondered for a moment before making their decision:  no hospital visit.  As we explained to them, they were obviously upset, but we talked about how Grandma didn’t have to be confused or upset anymore, and we all agreed that was for the best for her.

The first appointment was for the funeral home.   We assumed we would spend an hour there, reaffirming everything in her pre-arranged plan and answering a few questions. When we started talking, the funeral home notified us they could not locate Helen’s burial policy.   I pulled up my records on my phone and provided them the information I had.

When we had moved them into the nursing home a couple of years earlier, Helen had two policies, and we were advised to liquidate one of them.  Sounds simple, right?  It was.  We called the company, they sent Louis a form, a few signatures and a notary later and the form was on its way back to them.  The policy was liquidated and we were on her way.  We didn’t have to worry because Helen had an irrevocable burial policy on which everything was prepaid.

I spent some time in the office of the funeral home, stepping through what had happened.  It appeared, at first, as though the insurance company cashed out the wrong policy.  As the events developed, though, we discovered that there TWO people with almost identical name, nearly the same birth date, who both used the same funeral home and insurance company for pre-arrangements.   All anyone could tell us is that there was no money in the burial policy, which now meant we were going to have to find a way to cover the cost of the funeral and all the related expenses.  Needless to say we were extremely anxious and frustrated.

It took two days and several phone calls with the involvement of multiple people, but we finally got down to the bottom of it.  When we liquidated the policy, the insurance company didn’t realize that it was on a different person, and allowed us to cash it out.  A year ago, that lady passed away, and they realized there was no money in her fund.  They did, however, see there was money in the fund we left.  Again, not realizing it was two different people, they just opted to use that fund instead.  It’s taken some work, but we finally got everybody on the same page and got the funding issue worked out.

I’m here to tell you, if you want to see four adult children nearly lose their minds over something, tell them the burial policy they were confident would cover all the expenses doesn’t actually have any money in it.

Now that it’s all over, we can laugh about it.  I can tell you that on Tuesday, we were far from laughing.  By the time I got off the phone with the people at the various places, everyone was tired of talking to me, and I was sick to my stomach.  It’s bad enough to have made a mistake, but to go through stuff like this as a grieving family is ridiculous.

Yesterday was much more peaceful and moved at a much easier pace as we visited with the church and the nursing home and finalized arrangements.  We were able to laugh as we shared stories and made decisions.  You could see the relief across everyone’s face as we received the news mid-morning that everything was handled.

And, of course, when I asked the funeral home how many times they had gone through something like this, the response was “never.”  The guy who owns the funeral home has done this over 30 years.  Nothing like this has ever happened.  Ever.  Of course it would be us.

As yesterday wound down and we completed the last few errands we had, I was grateful we weren’t doing this alone.   I am grateful we’ve been able to work it all out, and that we all get along.  I’m grateful that I’m an OCD freak who keeps EVERYthing.  I’m grateful that despite me being borderline rude, the funeral home personnel understood and continued to help us pursue the right course of action, I’m grateful that I could take this one burden off my husband and sister-in-law.

Today is a much more relaxed day.  We have a couple of last-minute things we want to handle, and tonight is the Visitation and Rosary.  We have received such an outpouring of love and support from friends and relatives, and I’m glad we could all be together for this.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about the week, it’s to have my ducks in a row so hopefully my kids won’t have to go through anything like this when we pass away.

 

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Helen

This week is gonna make for an interesting blog, I told my husband.  I don’t get to write as much as I’d like, by any stretch, but I find that writing helps me process and this week has certainly given me plenty to process.  I hope you don’t mind.

Last Friday, my mother-in-law fell ill.  The nursing home called, suspecting it was a urinary tract infection, and informing my husband they may admit her.  This was nothing new.  She would have this issue a couple of times of year requiring hospitalization for them to get it under control.   Hospital visits were more concerning for us from the perspective that her advancing Alzheimer’s was making it more challenging for care processes.  She would be frightened or combative, and we hated to change her routine and upset her.

By mid-morning Saturday, the situation was more concerning.  Her fever was pretty high, and she had tested negative for a urinary infection.  This pointed them in a direction of something much more serious, and the search began to locate the infection source.  By mid-afternoon, Helen coded.  They were able to get her back, and moved her immediately to ICU.  As afternoon evolved into evening, the situation was looking dire.  Family began contacting and coming in, and my sister-in-law and her family made a rushing trip to Little Rock to be by her side.

As Saturday bled into Sunday bled into Monday, her situation was largely unchanged, and certainly not improving.  By mid-day Monday, the conversation moved toward hospice care.  Monday afternoon we transitioned to hospice care, and 10:45 Monday night, Helen passed away.

As I just looked and realized I had written four paragraphs, it is amazing to me that it all went that quickly, all things considered.  And for that I’m thankful.  I’m thankful she doesn’t have to be frightened or confused any longer.  I’m thankful she doesn’t have to be sick and hurt and not understand why.  I’m thankful this horrible disease has taken its last of her.

I’m thankful too that her children were able to be with her when she passed.  My husband and his sister were both there with her.  Kathryn sang to her, and Louis held her hand.  They told her it was okay to go, and that everyone would be alright.  They watched her breathing and her heartbeat slow.  They both explained it as peaceful and comforting.

As we sat in the funeral home making final arrangements, I was struck by the grief of the woman down the hall, preparing to bury her brother who was killed in a car accident the previous day.  He was 52.  Helen was 81.   Life is precious, no matter how long you live it. We knew with Helen’s advancing Alzheimer’s that her time left was finite.  Watching a family member struggle with something like that almost makes you wish for a release for them.

I’ve never been through funeral planning at this degree before.  Let me tell you, the people who do this for a living are very special people truly on a mission from God, and they are understanding of your inability to articulate everything you think or feel.  I’m sure these people have seen it all–from anxious to angry.  We have remarked several times that the funeral home and the church have had things planned or had thoughtful tools to help keep us on track or to help us remember.  For example, the funeral home gave us a book to help track the food/plates brought to the family to help us keep up with thank-yous, and return plates to people.  I was writing in a notebook in my purse, but that really only occurred to me after the third person had dropped things off at my house.  The church had two books with suggested verses and music to help us with making selections.  The ladies of the church are providing a lunch for the family following the service.  I am amazed at the outpouring of love and support we have received from people who don’t really even know us.

It’s been a long week, and we’re all tired and stressed, but for us that’s a small price to pay.  Thank you to all the people who have understood we weren’t really making sense, or we were frustrated, or we were exhausted beyond the bounds of imagination.  All the friends who have texted or called.  All the people who dropped off food at the house, and anticipated that we might run out of things like milk or bread, and brought extra.  I’ve never been on a the receiving end of those kinds of gifts, and I can now tell you first-hand what a blessing that all is.

 

 

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The Eagle Has Landed

When Lucas (Luke to us now, most of the time) was a first grader, we went to an informational meeting about Cub Scouts.  Louis had been a Boy Scout (an Eagle), but I think he was trying not to put that onto Lucas.  By the end of the evening, a group had formed, and Lucas was gung-ho to get started.

As we finished that first year, he wanted to take a year off and wasn’t sure he wanted to keep going, but by the end of that year he was ready to go back and we’ve been Scout parents ever since.

Scouting has taught Lucas a lot, and things way beyond knot tying and pitching a tent or starting a fire.  He is still learning all the time, too, which is what I love.  You see, when we changed schools in 4th grade, Lucas barely spoke anymore.  He was withdrawing to a place where he was truly alone.  Scouts was one of the few places we saw him still engaging with his friends and communicating.  Changing schools and having a new environment with some fantastic teachers helped him, but I also credit Scouting for keeping him engaged in something which ultimately helped him find his voice.

Scouting taught us (especially me) a lot too.  Sure, Louis knew the Scout stuff and could pitch a tent and help the boys with merit badges and all those things.  But it also brought us together in a different way as a family.   Brennan is 23 months younger than Lucas, but he went on every outing and kept up the pace (for the most part) with boys older and faster than he was. It taught us about being willing to undertake the adventure, and using that time to build relationships.  It taught us that little setbacks are sometimes big opportunities to learn about resourcefulness, and it gave us time together doing some incredible things.  I’ve personally learning that OCD and Scouting don’t necessarily mix, but that’s been okay too because that’s why my boys were blessed with another parent who is laid back and more chilled than their mother is.  He has learned that “Be Prepared” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone, and sometimes it’s our kid that’s going to screw that up the worst.

When Louis was offered the opportunity to be our Scoutmaster, I talked this over with my boys.  I wanted to know what they really thought, and if they would be turned off Scouting by having to have their own dad as the leader.  I was amazed, and brought nearly to tears, when they both jumped at the opportunity and when Lucas said “he has made Scouting fun for me and other boys deserve that too.”

I didn’t know what to think when Lucas started talking about “beating Dad to Eagle.”  He was 12 and I was fairly certain he didn’t understand the whole scope of what that meant.  An Eagle project is (and should be) a huge undertaking.  It truly tests the boy’s ability to lead and structure the particular tasks of an overall project.  As 12 began to turn into 13, though, he became more and more committed to trying to beat his dad.  Dad achieved Eagle shortly after his  14th birthday, and Lucas had set his sights on beating that.

By fall break two years ago we had been through a couple of organizations investigating potential projects.  The only caveat his dad and I gave him was that we wanted it to be something truly challenging, and not just something he could throw together over a weekend.  Lucas wanted to do something which involved animals (which also touched my heart).  After the first couple of attempts didn’t pan out, Lucas asked his dad to take him to the zoo over fall break and he met with leadership there and explained what his goals were.

I will never forget the afternoon he came bounding into my office after the meeting.  He presented me with a list of ten potential projects the zoo had listed for him.  They had picked the area they felt needed immediate attention, and asked him to do any of the things on the list.  Lucas was so excited at the prospect of the whole thing, he proudly informed me we would be completing seven of the ten projects, and turning it into one larger scope effort.  He met with various dads in our group and used their professional expertise to plan out what he needed, began his paperwork, and we started fundraising.

The project wasn’t without its challenges, as fundraising took longer than we had expected, and a couple of organizations who had promised him materials or funds did not deliver.  The delays cost him his goal of actually beating his dad to Eagle, but he was not to be dissuaded.  After pursuing different avenues, and working around the zoo schedule we were slated to perform his project in September, 2015.

Although I participated in Cub Scouts a lot, by the time the boys moved to Boy Scouts, I had moved my participation to more of a committee position and less of the “go on each campout” role.   I guess part of me decided that a Boy Scout is more mature and more like a young man, and doesn’t need his mom around as much as he needs his dad.  I didn’t anticipate the role I would get to play in Lucas’ Eagle project, however.   With Louis serving as Scoutmaster, it wasn’t appropriate for him to mentor Lucas in this endeavor.  I told Lucas I would help guide him as much as I could, and we started off.    What I found throughout that journey was that Lucas and I were able to share some incredible moments, some great conversation, and I saw his excitement from a perspective I’m not sure anyone else really got to see.   We also frustrated each other and argued –I don’t want to give you the impression it was all gumdrops and lollipops, but it was an experience that I now treasure.

The project itself was completed successfully, and with very few bumps in the road, so we were all exhausted but pleased.  His Board of Review (the interview following the project to ensure he has met all his qualifications and is “ready” to be an Eagle) was the realization for all of us that he was finally there and I was just as nervous as he was that night, I’m sure of it.  The day we went down to have his paperwork signed off I was so excited I went a little crazy in the Scout shop buying all manner of “Eagle” related items (those people can rival Wal-Mart in their appreciation of an excited parent and placement of excitement-related products).  His dad and I hosted a Court of Honor ceremony for him which was attended by many family and friends, and we cried through almost the whole thing.  This has become quite a point of humor for us, as we’re not typically big criers.

For Louis, this was the culmination of a dream he had dared to dream, and the satisfaction of having played such a large role in this with Lucas.  For Lucas, I think seeing his dad so proud and knowing he had achieved such a tremendous feat, and for me it was seeing a kid who was finally really finding his voice and recognizing that he could contribute on a very high level.   So everyone had to endure our tearful progression through the ceremony, and I think ultimately no one minded.

So, our Eagle has landed, and I have seen an interesting set of changes occur in him.  Last night he and I had a conversation and he began working on a presentation he would like to make to his troop to help the younger boys preparing for Eagle.  I guided him on starting his outline, but the ideas are all his.  I was so thrilled to see him want to share that with everyone and help the other boys move ahead.  Oh, he still doesn’t do everything quite the way I’d like and we still argue about why that might be (especially where school is concerned), but he walks a little taller and he speaks up a little more and I have to remind myself that it’s all a progression and he’ll get there eventually.   Did you know that only 4% of boys in Scouting will ever achieve the rank of Eagle?   And I’ve got two in my house!

Lucas has motivated his younger brother to start working on his Eagle project as well, so pretty soon it looks like I’ll be living in a house full of Eagle Scouts, and I couldn’t be more proud.

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Tough Times

I had a little health scare a few months ago.  It wasn’t anything too serious, thankfully, but in the moment it wasn’t anything I was interested in dealing with.  I woke up in the middle of the night one night with a very painful lump in my breast and when my husband woke the next morning and I asked him his opinion, I think it was his reaction which really heightened my concern.  He wanted me to make an appointment immediately.

Not that his reaction wasn’t absolutely valid–my grandmother died of breast cancer, and I’ve honestly been a little too lax at my own wellness the past couple of years.  I didn’t end up having a physical at all in 2015, which would have included the likes of such exams.  Add to that my now being 40-something and it was definitely something which needed some attention.

I called the Breast Center where I usually go, and they could get me in once my PCP made a referral.  I’m blessed with a fantastic physician and an equally fantastic nurse, who wasted no time getting everything worked out for me.   My sister-in-law insisted on going with me to my appointment, just in case the news I received wasn’t so good, and while I hated to think I was wasting her time I was exceptionally appreciative of the company.   A mammogram and an ultrasound later and the radiologist was visiting with me about stress and too much caffeine.  Then I was on my way, feeling relieved and putting the whole thing in the back of my mind.

Isn’t that what we do?  Those little health scares which pop up, you deal with them in the moment and when they turn out to be nothing you just shove it aside and go back to life as “normal.”  Oh, I did make some changes.  I hadn’t honestly realized how much caffeine I was taking in, and I took the opportunity to cut my sugar back too.  But my approach probably wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it should have been, and definitely not what it could have been.  At any rate, I’m fine and that’s all in the past.  Right?

A couple of weeks ago I received a text from a friend of mine asking me to pray for her.   When I started asking questions, she had found a lump.  There had been some evaluation, and now needed a needle biopsy.  I already felt sick for her.  Hadn’t I just been here?    We talked about how important mammograms are and how we take little things like that for granted, and how this was hopefully all just a necessary approach to eliminate concern.  I followed up with her the day of her procedure, and checked in with her repeatedly afterward waiting on some news.  I wanted so badly for this to be just a step worse than my situation–she wasn’t going to have walked out of the office reassured with one visit, but maybe just this biopsy and she’d be clear.

Her course of treatment is still being decided, but it’s not the news I had hoped for her.  She’s still grasping what all that means, and  I’m so thankful that she’s asked for my prayers and shared her thoughts with me.  I realize how blessed I am with our friendship.  The day she texted me the current plans of her doctor, I sat and thought about all those things I’ve read in magazines and on Facebook about having friends with cancer.  “What not to say.”  “How to comfort” and the like.  I must have started to text her about 10 different times with varying responses before I settled on “how can I help?”

I honestly didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry” didn’t feel right and “are you okay?” seemed like the most absurd thing ever.  Of course she’s not okay.  Even if she’s “okay” she’s not okay–this is serious and it’s important and it’s just not okay.   She responded with something I could actually do to help her, and even though I can’t cure her I feel I can do something real to help her cope.

I reached out to an oncology nurse I know (also a dear friend) and she has answered a myriad of questions I’m not prepared to ask my friend about her situation.  We talked for a long time about how our perspectives change from when we’re 20-something and boobs are something to be proud of and, frankly, flaunted, to being mid-40s and realizing that the older we get the scarier those things are.  I realized talking to her that in my own situation, had it gone the other way, I would maybe choose a completely different path than I would have chosen in my youth.

I’ve thought a lot about Komen and the Race for the Cure over this past week or so.   I hope I don’t offend anyone here, but I’m not a big fan of Komen.  Especially in Little Rock, I know so many people who go to the race just to GO.  I participated in the first Komen Race in Little Rock when a coworker was diagnosed quite a few years ago, and there were just a few of us on the street, and we were all so proud to walk with her and FOR her.  Now it’s just a sea of people and there’s every imaginable Komen this or Komen that event, and it just seems that the reason for it all has been lost in the marketing of it all.  Everybody has tried to figure out how to put their own unique Komen spin on things in October.  I quit going probably 10 years ago and I actually make a point of avoiding downtown altogether on race weekend.  This week, however, has reminded me that with a good reason to participate, I would feel motivated to get involved again.

It’s funny how those little things left in the back of your mind just become forgotten.  It takes something intensely serious or strong to bring it into focus again and help you see the value of something you had previously dismissed.  It’s easy to get sucked into your daily drama of kids, and work, and school and all the other little things going on and those things which you shoved to the back gradually come creeping back up.

I know my friend has a frustrating road ahead for her, no matter what choices she makes. It’s scary when you don’t feel like you’re in control and you’ve just got to figure it out the best you can.  I hope that she feels all the love and prayers and wishes for her being made by all those around her, and that they give her the strength she needs especially on the not-so-good days.  It also makes me more grateful for the little blessings which I sometimes forget to count, and how those things become increasingly important when times are tough.

 

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Eagle Scout

I have a friend whose son graduated from high school last year.  She told me this day would be hard for me, as in emotionally hard.  I have to admit, I kind of scoffed a bit.  I’ve had plenty of hard days–2015 was full of them.  This day isn’t going to be that.  Yeah, well, I was wrong.

Lucas is having his Eagle Scout Board of Review tonight.  It’s a day we’ve been working especially hard on the past 90 days or so.  From completing and turning in paperwork, to scheduling people to attend tonight, it’s been a sometimes challenging end to his Eagle endeavor.    Nevertheless, though, he is prepared–all the way down to a new uniform shirt with new badges and a fresh haircut and shave.  (Wow, did I really just say “shave”?)

My husband is his Scoutmaster, and therefore has tiptoed around the normal “dad” duties in Luke’s Scouting career to be careful not to give the impression of impropriety, especially on his Eagle project.  I don’t mind.  It’s given me the opportunity to connect with Luke in ways I haven’t been able to before where Scouting is concerned.  You see, that’s always been “the thing he and his dad do.”  While I might go on the campouts here and there, I kind of hang back a bit and let them have this thing together.  I think it’s been good for both of them.  But, selfishly, I have enjoyed getting to share more closely in this achievement.

So, I was told that I needed to write a recommendation letter for Luke.  I’ve thought about it for a couple of days, but hadn’t really felt it enough to sit down and pen anything.  With the review being tonight, however, I needed to get motivated.  I sat in my office this morning, with the blinds open and the sun peeking over the horizon, and started my letter.  It took me nearly an hour to write, and I edited it and started over a couple of times with different thoughts.   And my friend is right–I was crying by the end.  I’m not much a of a crier either (unless I’m angry or really hurt), but I have a feeling as this child gets closer and closer to leaving the nest, those Hallmark moments are going to come in greater frequency.

As my words flowed onto the page and I pondered the growth I’ve seen in Luke over the years, I saw my pride for him in a whole new light.  It’s inspiring to look at so many years of his life and the culmination of that into this one project and final achievement.    It’s an amazing experience, and I would encourage everyone to take a few minutes and write your own child a letter of recommendation.   I was absolutely crying by the end, and getting to see him grow through the words and see his accomplishments as I would want an outsider to view them was a fantastic experience.

The Scout law says “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”   Now, any mom of a teenage boy will tell you that they’re not nearly as clean as they could be.  Cheerful is sometimes a toss-up, too, but on the whole this kid (who am I kidding–he’s taller than I am!) embodies all these principles.  He is sweet and kind, helpful, and intelligent.  He has a quirky sense of humor and that crooked grin and deep green eyes just make me melt.

I can’t imagine my life without him.  I’m so proud of him I can’t see straight, and yes, I probably will cry again tonight.  If this is a snapshot of his senior year, I should probably invest in Kleenex right now.

If you see my soon-to-be Eagle Scout somewhere today, please give him a hug, and tell him he’s awesome–because he totally is.

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I’m not a caretaker

 

The trips to the nursing home usually have some degree of interesting activity along with them.  Seldom is it simply a drop off of supplies or a check-in.  It might start out that way, but it seldom ends with simply that.  With each passing year I realize how woefully ill-equipped I am for caretaking of my elders.

My mother-in-law has advanced Alzheimer’s Disease.  This makes conversations around and involving her take on a new level of complexity.  She upsets easily and she fixates on details which are hard to overcome.  Add to that a roommate in her room who is bedridden and demonstrating her needs as we try to visit and you’ve got the makings for quite an eventful visit.

My father-in-law accompanied my husband and me to my mother-in-law’s room.  They no longer room together, and we have to change floors to find my mother-in-law has just finished lunch.  My father-in-law unceremoniously removes her from the dining facility and wheels her back to her room.  She looks at my husband and me as she passes by and says hello.  When dealing with someone with such an advanced disease, you want to believe that it’s recognition in her eyes, but it’s honestly just politeness.  She never knows me anymore, and she seldom recognizes my husband (which breaks my heart for him).

We follow them into her room and he helps her transfer from the wheelchair to the chair. She had been mumbling something to Louis just before us entering the room.  As she was moving into the chair, she said it again “I’m going to have to find some place to live.  I can’t stay here.”  My sweet husband, unlike me, has the patience of Job in situations like this.  He is amazing with our Boy Scouts and can talk them through things long after I would have had to leave the room and catch my breath.  He has been enormously patient with his parents and their questions, needs, and demands.  He and his sister are a united front on their cause and it’s a site to behold, especially after so many stories I’ve heard about other siblings.

He thoughtfully considers his response and says “you are living here.  You need to be here to get the help you need.”  Now, I should mention as well that my mother-in-law cannot hear and no longer has a functioning hearing aid.  She’s destroyed each one she has because she can’t remember having them in her ear and ends up pulling them out, stepping on and crushing them.   She cannot hear much at all, which I’m sure adds to the almost sickeningly comical tones our conversations must take on.  He has to repeat this sentence a couple of times, as does my father-in-law.  She continues to persist, “I can live with you,” motioning toward Louis, “or I can live with my sister and her husband but I can’t stay here, and I can’t live with him” as she gestures toward my father-in-law.   Again they try to reason with her.  We can see she’s getting upset, which is a key that it’s time to change the subject.  I pull up my phone and show her a picture from Brennan’s most recent 7th grade basketball game.  “Oh, my he’s grown!” she exclaims.  My husband and I beam that she seems to recognize him.  “Is he enjoying college?”

My husband tries to gently, although very loudly, explain that Brennan is in high school, and has a way to go before college.  She remarks about the cost of college and how we’ll pay for that and then she’s moved on to something else.  “I need to go to the bathroom,” she says.  I decide this is an excellent job for me: “I’ll go get the nurse.”  I run out to the nurses station and bring back her nurse.  My husband and I decide we should step into the hall to be polite and give her some privacy.

As we stand in the hall, one of the residents comes walking down the hall, with a big smile on her face.  “You’ve lost your hall pass, huh?” I chuckled, thinking that was pretty clever.  We’re in the hall, and we’re not moving.  Hall pass–yeah, that’s pretty funny.  Like how we used to have hall passes in school.  “Yes,” I remark.  “I don’t know what on Earth we did with them!”   I laugh at my wit, and she responds “I’ve lost mine too.  The nurses won’t give me another.”  I search her face for a second to determine if this is a continuation of the joke.  Sadly, it is not.  Now I feel like a heel for laughing.

Thankfully, the restroom break is over and we can return to the room.  My mother-in-law never missed a beat, asking about various financials, and remarking that she needs a place to live, but now that she won’t live with him (gesturing toward Louis).  “Where are my credit cards?”  she inquires.  “I used to have credit cards in my wallet.  Where is my wallet?”  I announce that I have her wallet, but that there are no credit cards left.  My father-in-law tries to explain that we had to close all their accounts and destroy their cards when they came to the nursing home.  She’s not having that.  She keeps asking and he finally makes a ripping gesture to demonstrate the cards have been destroyed.

She escalates the conversation and announces that she should have social security money (which she does), but she knows she doesn’t.  She knows that my father-in-law is getting his money and her money too.  Louis tries to explain.  She’s not hearing it.  She wants someone to take her to the social security office and fix this.  She reiterates, pointing a finger at my father-in-law, that she knows he’s getting her social security AND his, and then proclaims “you’re a BAD BOY.”

It’s almost like when your toddler has done something which really shouldn’t be funny, but at the same time is almost adorable and sweet and innocent.   I was watching my husband’s reaction, unsure what to do.   My mother-in-law now changed the subject a bit and said that she knew she had HIM (pointing at Louis) to blame for not being able to leave, and not being able to ride the elevator, and not having anything.  He was staring at my father-in-law, who finally shrugged, and tried to change the subject again.   I was grateful in that moment that she didn’t recognize me.  There’s no telling what thing I would have done to her.

Meanwhile, in the next bed is her new roommate, who is bedridden.  She is having quite the conversation with herself, although we can’t quite make out what she says until she yells across the room “I need help.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  I jump up and announce that I’ll get the nurse (remember the part where I don’t need to take care of people?), and I march out to the nurses station.  The nurse says she’ll be right in, but that the patient has a Foley, so she doesn’t need to get up.  I decide I can handle this, and I tell the nurse (who is right in the middle of something) that I’ve got this.

I go back into room, feeling confident that I’m going to solve this lady’s issue, even if I can’t make my mother-in-law feel any better or be any more settled.  I walk over to the bed and say to the lady that she has a catheter and she can just go.  She doesn’t have to actually get up and go to the bathroom.  I’m about to turn and walk away, exceptionally proud that I’ve handled this, when she holds up two bony fingers and says “but. . .”  Oh, no!  I am NOT the one to deal with this!   Nothing beyond number 1 for me!

Another trip to the nurses station and an announcement to the nurse that she’s going to have to come and handle this.  I’m not equipped for this kind of assistance.  She and her coworker half-giggled at me as she thanked me for trying.

There’s no telling what those people see day in and day out.  I tell her nurse every time we’re there that I have such a great appreciation for them.  Being a nurse is hard enough, but having a patient who can’t remember what you told them two minutes ago has to be ridiculously difficult.  I know it is for the family.  Her nurse keeps telling me that it’s no big deal, and that she’s called to do this.  She says that it’s okay for us to be unsure what to do, and not know how to respond.  I’m glad to hear this every time she says it, because I seriously don’t know what to say or do most of the time.

We try to simply find a little humor in each visit.  I think that’s the only thing that gets us through sometimes.  Like my Daddy says “just as soon laugh as cry about it.”  So I’ll choose to laugh, until it’s time to cry.

 

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Christmas not-so-bliss

I’m generally a happy person with a good sense of humor.  I like to please people, and I enjoy spending time with people who are engaging.  I want to love the holidays—I really do.  But I just don’t.  I’m over it.  I know—bah humbug.  I guess I’m getting old, maybe, or possibly I’m just tired of all the silliness one has to endure.  I’ve come to appreciate why depression is typically at its highest during the holidays, and I suspect it doesn’t have nearly as much to do with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) or being alone as it does having to be with people who bring you down.  Please, please make sure those around you know you love them and you enjoy spending time with them.

We’ve struggled since our children were little with where to spend Christmas.  My in-laws didn’t like us constantly going to my parents’ house (although Christmas day was the only day of the year my husband was off, and we were always spending Thanksgiving with my in-laws).    So we jockeyed things around the best we could and tried to make everyone feel their appropriate level of attention and spent time with everyone at every holiday.   Then when our first son was born it was even worse.  My husband no longer had a job which had him working on the holidays, so the expectation was even higher that each holiday would be spent in each place.  By the time we had our second son (who didn’t sleep through the night for the first year), I was exhausted.  We started telling everyone if they wanted to see us on Christmas they had to come to us.  That went fine for a year or two (but let me tell you having a dozen people around a table built for 6 is no picnic either).  I don’t remember what happened that first year, but I suspect it was something similar to this year.  I went through the motions—I did what I was supposed to do and ensured everyone else had a wonderful day.  I, on the other hand, was miserable.  After it was all over, I sat my husband down and told him how I felt.  I think we had both been feeling the same thing, but we were afraid to say it.

Christmas had stopped being about coming together and feeling love and comfort.  It had become an obligatory event.  Someone had to kill themselves all day making a huge meal, which was consumed in 30 minutes and left everyone in a nearly miserable food coma for the afternoon.  The kids were drowning in toys and never seemed to be playing with the “right” one to suit whomever was in the house at the time.  For the kids, it wasn’t about this special day with family, but just another day to “get” things.  For us, I was usually so grateful to see everyone go and have my peace and quiet back that I couldn’t believe wait for it to be over.

So, that year, we decided we would take the boys to Disney the next year.  Not on Christmas morning—not as some big Christmas surprise, but we would book a condo and plan on spending from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day, just enjoying our family.  Our “special Christmas meal” consisted of spaghetti, I think, that year.  I told the boys I’d make whatever they wanted.  In subsequent years, we’ve either ended up at T-Rex café, or doing something equally fun.  We’ve talked about our adventures, and how Christmas is about us being together and loving one another.  The last trip we made to Disney we did Christmas Eve around the World at Epcot, and then The Wizarding World of Harry Potter on Christmas Day.  It was magical and wonderful.  I remember smiling pretty much the whole day, despite walking nearly 13 miles by the time it was over.  The boys were so happy and excited and grateful, and we made some wonderful memories I will cherish forever.

I recognize that I sound a little pitiful and self-indulgent to some of you, probably, but I want my kids to get more out Christmas than a few presents being thrown their way and a meal they’re not interested in eating anyway.  I want them to get to have time with us, and build relationships with us.  I want to sit around and play games with them or go out and run around or see something spectacular that builds special memories for them.  I want to watch them grow and enjoy our times with them.

When I was a kid, we were always at my parent’s house.  They didn’t associate with the rest of our family and so we never went anywhere or were dragged from here to there or flooded with a bunch of guests.  We opened our own gifts under our own tree, and it was just us being a family.  There was no “why aren’t you at our house” or “Grandma is bringing you presents” kind of association. I want my kids to have the realization that Christmas isn’t a cookie-cutter (pardon the pun) event and that they need to do what feels right for their families when the time comes.

I’ve been so amused (or unamused, depending on the day) at my friends who have taken up “Elf on the Shelf” but then complain incessantly about having to do it.  Even better are the entire websites devoted to “ideas” for Elf on the Shelf or ideas for how to get out of doing it (Elfie broke his leg and so he’s going to sit here all season).  My sister even told me yesterday about a story where a child called 9-1-1 because she had touched the elf and her parents had told her if she touched it, all the magic would be gone.  Seriously, people?    The people who make the elf do something naughty really get my goat.  I thought this was supposed to be Santa’s way of watching your kid behave, not to teach the kid it’s okay to be destructive or do mean things.

Now I’m seeing my friends posting Valentine Candy pictures on Christmas day and how the stores are all moving on to the next big event.  Does it occur to anyone else that maybe the reason so many more kids have ADD nowadays is that we’ve taught EVERYone to have it?  We have toys which plays snippets of 50 little songs, or jump from activity to activity so no one focuses very long.  We jump from holiday to holiday in our stores as if we’re competing for some Olympic event.  Two years ago it was which store could open the earliest.  This year it was which one would be closed on Christmas.

I’m seeing friends on Facebook who are TOTALLY offended if someone doesn’t say MERRY Christmas.  Happy Holidays or Happy Christmas isn’t good enough.  For Pete’s sake.  Be grateful people acknowledge you at all.  Be grateful they’re trying to share whatever little bit of themselves they have.  You don’t know that maybe they weren’t raised in a house where Merry Christmas was even a thing—it might be something they’re just discovering.  I’m so tired of living in a world where a person can’t do anything without being judged for it.  And God help me if I don’t share you religious or political beliefs.  Any benign remark I make is going to get me attacked.  I’ve seen tremendous acts of kindness be completely criticized this Christmas, and I’ve seen people to whom I used to look up say such mean and spiteful things that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this holiday near tears.

My friends who have lost parents and tell me all the time “you don’t know how lucky you are that you and your husband still have your parents.”  I know you mean well, but please stop.  You don’t know what you’re saying.  You lost your parent when s/he was still in the prime of life.  Still had all of his/her faculties, still knew who you were and still cared that you were there.  If you doubt that, I’ll take you one day to the nursing home where my mother-in-law breaks my husband’s heart and the hearts of my children every time she thinks they’re nursing home workers or is spiteful or disinterested when we visit.  Having the body isn’t the same as having the person.    You don’t know what it’s like to feel like an errand person all the time, and not ever get a visit just for the sake of having a visit.  You don’t know what it’s like to take a person you’ve respected your entire life (as you were raised, by the way), and suddenly have to treat that person as if he or she is a child.  You don’t understand arguing over why they should care more about health issues, get more exercise, eat better, etc.  You don’t understand having to constantly have to have conversations with the nurses because your parent is tattling like a 3 year old every time something doesn’t go his or her way.  You don’t understand having to explain to a 13 year old who is excited to tell his grandparent the latest thing going on about why the grandparent is more interested in talking about what he or she wants than listening to this child try to share his life with them.  You don’t have to watch your child’s eyes fill with tears, or try to help them understand how their grandparents can’t help it, and he should just keep trying.

I’m the happiest when I’m traveling with my children.  I hope when they’re grown they want to come spend Christmas with us, or will invite us to spend Christmas with them.  If they want to be alone, or travel with their children, I will understand.    I hope these lessons I’ve endured will help me be a better parent.   Understanding, peace, and love.  Shouldn’t that be Christmas?  Aren’t we supposed to be reminded of the love Christ had for us, and God has for us?

As I’ve reflected on this a tremendous deal the past couple of days, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can spend any ol’ day going through the motions and placating family members to spend time.  I can make a meal which would please a group, and we can sit around the table and talk.    I’m going to reserve my Christmas day for my family and the people close to me, who uplift me and make me feel valuable (and for whom I hopefully do the same).  I’m not going to “go through the motions” any more.  I’m going to do something which makes us happy, and helps us feel like a family—gifts or not.

My hope for you in 2016 is that you are prosperous and happy and you receive the benefits of both.  I hope that you are tolerant and kind, and pass love on to the people around you who maybe aren’t feeling it for whatever reason.

Happy New Year.

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Parental Timewasters

I get it–I really do.  She is probably trying to teach the kid a lesson because he didn’t do what he was supposed to do and piddled (as 14 year old boys are prone to do) more than he should have.  After having made the third trip now to either drop off or pick up documentation that some mysterious person whom I’ve never seen or talked to will review and ultimately “sign off,” I’m less than amused to still not have this process complete.

I’m not trying to misplace the blame.  Oh, no.  Part of this is totally on my kid who lost the first set of documentation she had already reviewed and signed.  What I’m irritated about is this “cloak and dagger” style of leaving things in the mail slot or under the door at her office because we can never manage to be there when she’s there, and then waiting on a mysterious text to tell us when to pick it up, only to find that she’s then again not available.

We go today to pick it up, only to find out that she had put it in the mail slot for us to hopefully retrieve before the mail ran (which, of course, we didn’t).   So I left work–again.  I ran him down there–again.  We found we hadn’t beat the mailman, and then I pulled out his phone and read her text, which basically said “I’m leaving it in the mail slot, but if it gets pushed through you can come back tomorrow.”  Well, sure I can.  I have nothing to do all day.  I’m not trying to run a business, or prepare for Christmas, or deal with my other child, or run errands.  Nope.  I’m just sitting here, wishing for something to do during the day, and a reason to drive in Christmas traffic–that’s just a bonus!

So, bless his heart, the 14 year old got quite the lecture on the way back to the office.  He heard all about respecting one’s time, and how procrastinating doesn’t usually only hurt the one doing the procrastinating.  Then my husband got to hear it, and now you’re getting to.  I feel better now, though.  Thanks for listening.

And, tomorrow we’ll go back down and hopefully pick up the completed paperwork and finally put this behind us.  I already told my husband that needs to be how this goes, because I have a really full day tomorrow and if this doesn’t work out the way it’s supposed to, I’m liable to just sit in her hallway and give her an earful when I finally get to see her.

 

Merry Christmas!

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Writing

I read blogs online and I think “I want to write more.  Why am I not blogging more?”.  I love writing.  It’s a tremendous release for me and helps me deal with things going on in my life.  It’s a way to share my corny sense of humor, and my perspective on things.  I love to people watch, and to observe life around me.  I have a pretty deep realization in some of the craziest things (which I think makes my husband wonder if I’ve had enough sleep).  Why don’t I write more?

The short answer is I’m lazy.  I’m busy, and tired, and I’m a mom and a business-owner, and being the boss is exhausting—that’s the longer answer.  I work long days and I fight with my kids over ridiculous things like grades or reading more or for Pete’s sake getting the laundry done.  I want to rest in bed at night and engage myself with something challenging/entertaining on television.  I work too much, and I think too much about EVERYthing.

Seriously.  Too much about everything.  Too much about how we can improve this process or that one.  Too much about why something turned out the way it did (or didn’t).  Too much about what to do when I’m ten years further down the road and the boys are out of high school and into (hopefully) the college of their dreams and my husband and I are contemplating retirement and where should we move and what do houses cost there and what would we do with ourselves all day and could we travel easily from where ever that might be and what would we do with our house here and what if the boys move away from there and start families and I want to move again?  See, it’s exhausting.

When I’m in the car, and I’m mindlessly driving (although, in Little Rock, it’s hard to drive mindlessly—it’s seriously dangerous!), all kinds of things flood through my mind.  Things I’ve forgotten to say or do, solutions to problems, potential ideas for one thing or another, friends to whom I haven’t spoken in a while.  I end up being actually remarkably productive in the car, except that my Siri is an idiot and doesn’t do what I ask.  Staff members or my husband frequently get calls from me saying “I forgot to tell you. . . “ or “I’ve been thinking about that problem we’ve been having, and this might work. . . “

I have so many good stories to tell.  So many things my kids do or conversations we have.  I should be writing all the time.  So, my promise to myself in 2016 is that I will take more time off and will write/blog more.  Aren’t you excited?

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