I am just a Mama who was blessed with four amazing gifts from God. When my triplets were born prematurely we knew we faced some obstacles ahead. This little blog is my way of navigating those obstacles while remembering that the gifts far out weigh the challenges!
With Mother's Day 2018 right around the corner -- my 21st day of celebrating motherhood and all the joy, tears, and work that goes with it -- I thought it might be a good opportunity to make one of those "things I wish I had known at the beginning" lists.
1. Motherhood rarely looks like what you imagined it would.
A little me and my mom.
A long time ago, in a childhood far far away, my mother loaded an intercontinental plane with a one-year-old on her hip and flew to meet my Dad in Germany where he was stationed in the U.S. Army. After being turned down for medical reasons for military service multiple times, my Dad had been drafted into the Vietnam War when I was six months old. My mother had no idea her early years of motherhood would consist of moving to a country where she didn't speak the language. She would find housing. She would work. She would attend church. All while keeping me on her hip.
My first Mother's Day -- in the University of Chicago Neonatal Intensive Care Unit -- the babies were finally healthy enough to get all three together for our first family pic.
My mother's tenacity in Germany gave me the fortitude to begin my own not-as-I-imagined-it journey into motherhood when my first baby turned out to be three babies and those teeny-tiny loves were born three months early. It never occurred to me that I wasn't up for the challenge. I was raised by a woman who did what had to be done. I quickly learned to do the same -- and threw away all the "parenting" books that had no idea how to help me!
That tenacious mother -- now a grandmother of not just my four but SEVEN! -- has continued to teach how to face life's challenges!
2. Motherhood will develop strengths that you never knew you had.
From the first days home from the NICU, my lap was stretched as wide as my heart. I quickly learned to love three babies at one time and to hold those three loves in my lap simultaneously!
And when I had caught my breath and knew how many bottles to fix a day, we switched gears and I had to learn how much food to prepare a day. And when that became routine, we threw in hip braces, orthotics, walkers, power sticks and a myriad of other things I had absolutely no prior experience with. If the threesome's goal had been to ensure I never got bored, they accomplished it and then some.
But just to be safe, just to be completely certain that I was on my toes, we added another little bundle -- a single one this time -- with red hair and personality galore! And all of a sudden, I had to learn to juggle triplets plus one -- to balance the older with the younger, to balance the therapies with the fun, to balance those who know a lot of things, with the one just learning.
If motherhood had looked like I imagined it would, I would never have needed half these skills -- or become the woman God wanted me to be.
3. No one has all the answers required of mothers. Some things you just have to wing along the way.
When one triplet brother has a really really cool Batman mask, but the other brother's preferred Superman costume didn't include one, a mother learns just how much she can do with felt, elastic and sewing skills she thought she had long forgotten! And lest relaxation seems a thing in her future, the little princess of the crew will decide she simply can not cover up her Cinderella dress with a coat and young mom will HAVE to find the right under-garments to keep princess warm and yet, not lose any of the style. (Yes, the iconic-Cinderella choker is on the OUTSIDE of the turtleneck!)
I will never forget sitting in the Occupational Therapy room watching the amazing Susan try to get my boys to reach for Mardi Gras beads. She would work and work and coax them to grab the colorful beads from her hand as she dangled them. I heard myself urging and coaxing right along with her though I had no idea why. And when I couldn't stand it anymore, I blurted out, "Why aren't we working on sitting, crawling, walking? Why do we keep trying to get them to grab these necklaces that they have no interest in!" And dear Susan, the absolute perfect Occupational Therapist for this mom, gently looked at me and explained that the boys HAD to learn to reach across mid-line before they could do anything else. With tears running down my cheeks, and matching tears coursing down Susan's, we turned to these precious little boys with a re-newed determination to coax, to teach, to urge them to reach across mid-line.
No one has all the answers required of mothers. We just have to wing what we don't know until we do -- and pray boldly for God to place those in our life who can teach us with love.
I couldn't leave the Little Red out of the costume photos... besides I said we have to wing it -- right?
4. The main job -- the job most important of all the jobs of motherhood -- is to cheer those entrusted into our nest to the finish line of their own personal best.
Physical Therapy at the Mayo Clinic.
When the triplets were just days away from their first birthday, a doctor looked at Wade and I and very coldly informed us that the boys had Cerebral Palsy. I remember everything about that day in great detail. But thankfully, the thing that stands out the most is not the bad bedside manner of the doctor, or the questions I would ultimately have about the boys' future. Rather, the thing I remember the absolute most is the profound epiphany that I have no doubt God gave me: My job as mom of Benjamin, Mason and Claire had not changed. It had not changed a bit. My job prior to that diagnosis and after: To help the three of them reach their full potential. My job is to knock down walls and build bridges. And my job is to cheer like crazy as they work toward their own goals, toward reaching their personal bests!
At music class with little Benjamin -- helping him reach his goals.
Cheering includes finding ways to make the goal a reality -- Mason needed stability. There is nothing in the competitive archery world that will hold lower limbs steady so the upper body can shoot. We found a solution and tied his knees down. And then you know....learned not to cheer loudly so that we ruined his concentration! ;)
And sometimes cheering means finding a path. When Benjamin said he wanted to work on Ralph Northam's campaign to be the next governor of Virginia, I will confess to being unsure of how to make that happen. But then we made a plan, loaded the van and headed to Virginia. Cheering is an active verb. Sometimes, it involves the hardest of work. And sometimes it involves 16 hours in a van.
And sometimes, cheering requires us to get out of the way and just actually you know, cheer. So when the one born by herself, climbed into the van asking if she could join the boys football team, there was only one response: I will cheer you in what ever endeavor you choose, with every breath I have.
It is my job.
5. No matter that it is the goal, no matter that it is the thing you prepared them for their entire life -- when our baby birds soar from the nest, it hurts. It hurts like the devil. But it is also amazing.
If given the choice, this is exactly where I would keep my babies, cuddled close and with eyes that only see my face. Sigh.
But that isn't really true, is it? We are entrusted with these loves, but if we are cheering, learning and teaching, then we must also be preparing them to fly our nest, to leave our safe space and soar.
Three of mine are spreading their wings in college. Every single day I battle between absolute pride in their grades, their success, their accomplishments and the desire to have them back under my roof needing me immensely.
Benjamin was on the Homecoming Court at Belhaven University this Fall!
I have sent Mason on a plane to the Yucatan of Mexico, New York City, and even Walt Disney World for school assignments. This summer I will send him to Spain. I don't know how many time before it gets easier.
Claire is spending the semester -- the whole entire four hundred months-long (ok, not really, really it is just four months) semester in Argentina! My heart thought it would completely burst putting her on that plane.
And though I threaten to fall apart, though I attempt to re-construct history and tell them all the things I taught them growing up about traveling and service are a lie.....I know that this is who I raised them to be. And so while it is hard -- harder than learning how many bottles to prepare for triplets, or how to make a mask out of felt -- I really thank God for the adults that are busy soaring from my nest.
Motherhood does not look like I thought it would. It requires skills I never imagined I could learn and the ability to wing it when I don't have the skills required. It is often beyond my emotional-capability and harder and lovelier and more amazing than anything I ever imagined.
May God bless -- and mightily equip -- all the Mothers.
For the first time in 21 years, I can't get to all my crew tomorrow -- or today, or this week. The last time I couldn't get my hands on them on April 18th, was the actual April 18th of their birth! After almost ten weeks of bedrest, and an emergency c-section at just 28 4/7 weeks pregnant, those teeny tiny babies were delivered from my body and whisked to the arms of a waiting medical team and into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It would be 24 hours before I laid my own actual eyes on them and got to touch their sweet little selves. It would be longer than that before I could hold them all.
So for 21 years -- TWENTY-ONE YEARS -- April 18 has been one of my favorite days of the year. Even when Wade was in training and time off was hard to come by, we would set aside the time to plan a party to celebrate the birth of this terrific trio!
Celebrating the milestone each year was more than just a birthday -- it was a day of thanksgiving! The triplets were not due to be born until July 7. When we were told they would probably be early, I thought maybe they would be born on my Dad's birthday at the end of May. But it never occurred to me that we would have an April delivery.
From the moment we knew delivery was the only option, we were terrified. I had been receiving injections to help speed their lung development. But it was far far too early. I was petrified as I was rolled to the operating room. But each of those teeny tiny babies gave a cry to let me know that they were breathing in spite of the warnings from the doctors to the contrary.
April 18 is not just another day to pass the years of their lives -- April 18 is a day of thanksgiving for their very life, their very breath! And I love celebrating them!!
This year Benjamin is in the middle of a theatrical production.
He is right in the midst of dress rehearsals and finishing up his JUNIOR year of college and as such, the birthday celebration will take a backseat. For now. But rest assured, we will celebrate this our first-born (by a minute and a half!), and give thanks to God for the way he uses his life.
Mason will spend his day on his own college campus wrapping up his Junior year.
He'll barely get home for summer before his research takes him off and away again. I am so proud of him I could just burst. No one would have guessed the baby that came in to this world weighing barely 2 lb 3 ounces would accomplish all that this young man has already!
And Claire will spend her day -- as she has this whole semester -- in Argentina where she is studying abroad and enjoying every single moment!
She is spreading her contagious joy and her care for all the marginalized far and wide. I still see the itty bitty baby girl with the giant pink bow her nurses made for her but she is quite an amazing lady already and I couldn't be more proud!
The day after they were born, I was able to hold Benjamin. Mason was too tiny. They wanted him to gain some ounces before we held him. Claire was too unstable -- her little heart rate wouldn't stay steady. I have wanted them within arms' reach every day since. But the miracle of April 18 is NOT that they took a breath and JUST lived...no the miracle of April 18 is that they took those breaths, and took their very lives, and are using them to make the world a better place -- in big out loud ways. And so I might not be able to cuddle them close tomorrow -- But I will be celebrating them big!! So so big!!!
Happy Birthday, Benjamin, Mason, and Claire!!!
I love you so!!
And rest assured, that as soon as we are all back to together again, we are celebrating....and I might need you to stay within arms reach for a minute or ten.
I have carried Benjamin onto airplanes since he was a little bitty thing. We have driven the power wheelchair to the door of the plane and I have scooped him up and carried him on. We love flying Southwest airlines because they do not have assigned seats. They let us board first and I simply pick the second row of seats and loading, while not easy as Benjamin has grown taller than me, is a relatively smooth process.
Flying on planes with assigned seating can be a bit trickier. For years, we simply tried to pick seats close to the front of the non-first class section. When we went to Argentina on our mission trip I tested my strength limitations when I had to carry him to the back of the international airplane! It was after that flight as a matter of fact, that Benjamin and I had a heart-to-heart and I convinced him that while I could still carry him on Southwest flights, we would have to use an aisle wheelchair for flights where the seats are assigned -- and not necessarily in close proximity to the doors. He warily agreed (His love of traveling outweighing the fear of those aisle wheelchairs.).
Have you seen the aisle chairs used on airplanes? They are small thin wheeled chairs that barely hold someone as thin as my Benjamin. They have seat belts for the legs and chest but usually one or more of these is broken off. Benjamin does not have the trunk control to sit in these without the seat belts tightly secured to hold him somewhat in place. And even then, he needs someone to help him keep his arms from tensing up and hitting every seat he passes by (the plane is empty when we load so this is about his safety not others.). The very real fear that he is going to fall out causes physical discomfort as well because his whole body reacts -- legs and arms tense up causing tightness of all his joints and overall discomfort. The ONLY reason he is willing to do this is because he is afraid I will hurt myself if I try to carry him through the plane.
And so last Saturday, we found ourselves loaded on the Delta plane in Atlanta, GA waiting to head to our new home airport in Philadelphia. I had dismantled the wheelchair as much as possible, helped Benjamin survive the aisle chair, and lifted him from the aisle chair to a plane seat. Once he was strapped in and stable, the flight attendant told me that the Delta ground crew could not figure out how to push the wheelchair. I got up and off the plane and headed back to the jetway where I gently explained as much about the workings on that chair as I could. I then looked the Delta employee in the eyes and said, "Please take care of this. It is not luggage. It is my son's legs." He nodded that he understood.
I sat back down. We snapped a selfie to send to Dad to let him know we were safely on board and heading his way. And we giggled about how hungry we all were.
Then I turned and looked out the window.
There was Benjamin's chair. There was the Delta employee I had begged to take care of it, and two of his co-workers. They were jerking and tugging and basically fighting with the chair.
And it was raining.
And this didn't take a couple of minutes.
It went on and on and on.
I began to try and talk to them (they couldn't hear me.). I began to feel panicked.
I caught the flight attendant as she passed by and asked her if she had any way to communicate with the crew attempting to load the chair. "I think they need my help," I pleaded.
Eventually, another crew member joined them and they lifted the chair onto the belt. Then as it teetered on the edge they tried to drive it. It almost drove off the belt. I was in a complete sweat by this point.
By now, the flight is more than 30 minutes late. By now, other passengers are turning to us and commenting on how soaked the chair will be by the time we get to Philadelphia.
By now, I have raised my husband's blood pressure with my frantic texts because taking photos and sending them to him is the only tangible thing I can do.
Finally the chair is loaded. Finally the plane takes off. And I take a deep breath and send a few arrow prayers for the safety and integrity of the chair.
When we reach Philadelphia we remain seated. Oh I am sure it looks like we get special treatment loading the plane first. But trust me, being the first on and the last off can make for very very long confinement on those planes.
But I can't complain about that ever again, because on Saturday, the crew came on to clean as soon as the last passenger was off (last other than us of course). And then the special services employees arrived with the aisle chair. I asked them if Benjamin's power chair was there and they assured me it was on its way and they needed to get us off the plane.
So off we went.
And no power chair.
And the temp on that jet way -- freezing.
Remember how uncomfortable and unstable Benjamin is in an aisle chair? Well that is magnified when he is cold and shivering.
So after sitting there for minute, I knew we couldn't stay. Where is his chair? At this point they tell me it will be a few minutes. I tell them he can't sit in the freezing cold for any minutes. So they push him -- one person pushing, one practically pulling, and me trying to hold him in the blasted chair -- all the way up the jetway and into the crowded gate.
Benjamin's heart is racing. His body is violently shivering -- now not from cold but from pure fear that he is about to fall out of this chair. And still NO WHEELCHAIR.
I am struggling to keep my calm. The Delta staff are trying to help but there is nothing they can do except keep harassing the ground crew to get the chair up as quickly as possible.
So fast forward a week, and we land in the Atlanta airport after our week in Delaware. I have seen the bruises on Benjamin's back from the struggle to keep him in that stupid aisle chair longer than necessary ALL WEEK LONG. I am basically in full-mama-bear mode by the time the last passenger gets off the plane but I am hopeful that we won't be rushed off, that the wheelchair will arrive in a timely manner this time. I am hopeful.
But the cleaning crew come on board. Bless them, they obviously have to work against a strict ticking clock and we are frankly in their way.
The special services crew arrive in just minutes with the aisle chair. I block the path to Benjamin. I try to smile but am practically shaking. "Is his chair on the jetway?" I ask.
They go back and look even though I can see it being unloaded out the window.
"It's not but we need to get him off. We'll use this," they tell me, pointing to the aisle chair.
And all of a sudden Mama Bear can not be contained. "We will not leave this plane seat until his chair is sitting on that jetway. He is not stable in that chair and I will not force him to sit in it longer than necessary. He stays here."
They don't know what to do. They back up. (Bless their hearts.) And eventually leave the aisle chair and disembark -- presumably to urge the team to get the chair to us.
Eventually the pilot comes on. I hear him ask the flight attendant -- still at her post at the exit door -- what the hold up is. I hear her explain. And then I hear this pilot (God bless him!) exclaim "I don't blame him one bit. I wouldn't sit in that aisle chair until my chair was waiting for me either!" And then he came down the aisle to us and said, "Sit. Be comfortable. No one is rushing you anywhere."
Ultimately we wait about half an hour (it felt like way longer.). I know the crew were stressed with keeping their tight schedules. We had to roll past the passengers lined up to board. They seemed anxious and I prayed we didn't cause any of them to miss connections.
And then I thought wait -- IF the airlines would simply remove ONE seat, install tie-downs (like my van has) and let Benjamin STAY IN HIS CHAIR on the flight, all of this would be alleviated! I wouldn't have to worry that the chair is being torn to shreds by the ground crew. No flights would be delayed as the crew fought to load the chair. No flights would be delayed as they fought to unload the chair. Benjamin is MOST COMFORTABLE in his chair with the support he needs -- even the plane seats are uncomfortable for him ultimately.
It seems such a win win situation for all of us -- airlines don't lose money, people who love to travel but use a wheelchair gain a whole new realm open to them!
If you know who I need to call to make this happen -- I am all ears! (And full of Mama Bear sass!)
A house was just torn down one block from us. I drive by every single day at least four times (Should we discuss the myth of "stay-at-home" motherhood?). I am mesmerized by the pile of rubble because for the life of me, I can not remember what the house looked like that was standing there just days ago.
If pressed, I would tell you about the neat yard in front of the house next door. The cute fence that makes me smile.
If asked for more detail, I could regale you with the addition the home two doors down made recently. I was captivated watching the renovation from my daily drive-bys.
But the house that is now gone -- I have nothing. I can not conjure up a single memory. I was obviously so busy looking from cute fence to cool renovation that I missed something else entirely.
And though I know it is completely ridiculous, I feel terrible about that. Actually, I feel sad. What did I miss? Was it in disrepair? Did it need an overhaul or just a gentle renovation? Was there a story?
And even as I ponder, I can't help but think how often I rush from place to place possibly passing by someone who needs a word, a gentle touch, a bit of time to share their story.
And then I am forced to take a deep breath and recognize that it is far more than just my rushing from place to place -- sometimes, I get so caught up in being the family with Cerebral Palsy, that I can't see much beyond those walls.
Last week we went to a theatre show. The front row was reserved for us with a chair removed for Benjamin's wheelchair. It was perfect.
Except it wasn't perfect for the people behind us apparently. We heard the rustle as they moved but wouldn't have thought much except a child asked the parent why they were moving, to which she replied, "Someone tall sat in front of us." I turned and smiled trying to make a joke because I was certain she didn't mean for us to hear -- "Oh, people say that about me all the time," I said. (They don't -- I am not even 5 feet 2 inches tall.)
She didn't acknowledge me and repeated the sentiment another time causing my daughter to lean over to me and say in less than a hushed whisper, "Mom, do they know just because he has CP doesn't mean he is deaf?"
The show began and it was fabulous. Except for the simmering hurt and anger that I couldn't push down. I was consumed thinking that anyone would resent us being in front of them. I was consumed with hurt that the world just thinks my family is in the way. I was consumed.
After the show, I asked my son how the whole thing made him feel.
Would you like to know what he said?
"Oh it didn't bother me. Maybe my wheelchair blocked her view some."
And then he continued discussing his favorite parts of the musical.
See it didn't affect him in the least that the family moved OR that they said out loud that the reason they had to was the tall theatre-goer in front of them. He didn't let it interfere with his immense pleasure in the musical literally right in front of us. He didn't get so caught up in his own stuff -- his own self -- that he missed everything beyond that wall.
I don't think I will ever figure out what the house looked like that is no longer standing. But oh how I hope I figure out how to follow the example my son sets for me. And soon!
At the risk of completely making myself look old...I need to share that I was a pre-teen fascinated with "Seventeen" magazine.
I read every issue from cover to cover. I memorized the make-up techniques. And admired the styles. I pondered the relationship advice and took any and every quiz they offered.
As a girl without sisters, that magazine was a life line for all the questions my little pre-teen self had but had no idea who to ask.
As a result, I entered the realm of teenage-hood, with complete and utter confidence in my ability to pick make-up and apply it appropriately! (Please note that I am in no way saying this was earned confidence....)
Even with all that knowledge (smile), I still lean toward neutrals. Still hesitate to wear red lip stick. And still prefer blush that seems like a natural glow....
So yesterday as I pulled out my palette of neutral eye shadows, I realized I have never noticed the names of each color. Never.
And the names are the greatest -- I mean, I got tickled. Clearly, I love some Flower Child and Cate absolutely insists that I wear Firecracker every time I am going out at night (She says she loves the sparkles, but let's be real, my Little Red is ALL Firecracker!). But yesterday, knowing that I needed a bit extra attitude to get through the week, I might have used a bit of Rebel and actually let my brush hover over Leader....
There are days my boys need me to wear Activist but I should probably also always wear a bit of Funny Girl and maybe a bit less Smarty Pants. And though I fear I can't pull off Smokeshow, I do love some Sweetheart...and some days even feel a bit like Jetsetter works.
Oh I know it is just clever marketing, and I tip my hat to Tarte. But as women, I do believe we wear so many hats, and flex to so many different strengths in the course of our lives -- shoot, most of us flex to a myriad of different strengths in the course of our day!
And just as I hesitate before wearing some of these colors, I hesitate before accepting some of these roles. And yet, I have girlfriends who can rock the deep browns of Activist -- and who inspire me with their activism! They have started entire organizations to benefit their children with Cerebral Palsy. They are fighting the fight fiercely to ensure the world is better!
I have friends who lead -- one who runs an entire agency that provides housing for those who need assistance. She can be stern when necessary, creative when that is needed, and yet hold the hands of those she serves. She could wear every color in the pallet.
There are those women in my life who crack me up and make me smile from ear to ear with ease. One sweet friend came to see me while we visited Phoenix. Our conversations are far from shallow, and yet she helps me laugh at the hard stuff and offers the best hugs to boot!
Can I encourage you today, that I see you and know that you are flexing outside of your comfort zone on a daily basis? I get it. I seriously love to just flat-out apply my go-to Flower Child and Charmer shades and sit firmly inside my comfort zone.
But even today -- with my husband in Delaware beginning a new adventure for us, I know that we are being called to get out of our comfort zone. For me, among other things, that means preparing to leave Mississippi, where I thought we had moved to stay. It means embracing the opportunity to serve the world of families with Cerebral palsy and perhaps wearing my activist role more often. It means leading my little family in embracing the challenge and the adventure of the move. And it means loving them all big as we are scattered near and far.
I should probably stock up on the eyeshadow. Shoot, maybe I should even try red lipstick?
We are three days before Christmas and amidst my sweet little social media community of special needs mamas, there is stress, and worry, and a pervasive sadness that I understand all too well.
And as I have read the posts this week, I have felt an overwhelming need to hug friends that I only know virtually -- but I KNOW them nonetheless.
I know for instance, that standing in a toy store can trigger a wave of grief that is hard to explain. Wade and I used to visit the toy store and just stand in aisles staring at toys that we feared would frustrate our boys more than delight them. We wrestled each year looking for toys that would not just be FUN but would also facilitate motor skill development. Because when you have Cerebral Palsy play can rarely just be play....
I know for instance what it is to buy toys that force my boys to sit up to play, toys that force them to use their hands, toys that encourage them to stand and play.
I know that sometimes we buy toys that are age-appropriate even though they aren't really appropriate. The year Santa brought tricycles was particularly hard. Claire was more than ready and the physical therapist had said they would love to work with Mason on pedaling. We knew Benjamin might never be able to learn to pedal but Santa found a beautiful tricycle with a supportive seat and after Dad tightened the handle bars down as tight as possible so they didn't move AT ALL, Benjamin could sit on that tricycle and talk to his siblings as they went round and round him on the patio.
Christmas morning watching the parade from their trikes! (We had to wait for the Minnesota snow to melt to take the trikes outside!)
I know for instance that sometimes our children want toys that just don't work for them. We have bought video games and taken apart joysticks and reassembled them in an effort to allow Benjamin to play. We have bought video games and wept because the movements required were simply not movements he could do. Even with the adapted joystick.
I know what it means to buy snow boots that never touched snow -- even in Minnesota.
And I know what it is to fight to make memories that outweigh and overwhelm any sadness or grief.
The Shraders holding bunny rabbits on the wagon ride to pick the perfect Christmas tree !
And so this is what I want my special mamas to know:
My babies are adults today. 20 years old. They spent some time around the island in our kitchen this week talking about Christmases-past, and guess what? Never once did they mention a toy they couldn't work or a memory that was sad because of their Cerebral palsy. They didn't dwell on a list of "toys of the year" that they didn't receive because they weren't appropriately designed for boys who struggled with motor skills. Nor did they mention the myriad of "therapeutic" toys they DID receive because...well, because they never knew that Tarzan playhouse was to encourage Benjamin to sit up and use his hands to manipulate the pieces. Or that the Dress-Up items had buttons and zippers that little hands needed practice on.
They just didn't know.
Oh please hear me, the memories my crew were discussing were joy-filled and magical. They loved our traditions and only gave me the smallest bit of a hard time over dragging the walker, the power sticks, three preschoolers, two adults, a camera, a tripod for camera, and a saw to the middle of the Christmas tree farm in sub-arctic temps for that perfect tree!!
I am here begging you to find your merry. Don't be rigid in traditions that wear you out -- we ultimately chose to ride the wagon around the tree-farm but to buy our tree in the pre-cut lot because the memory-making part was about holding bunnies as we rode the wagon NOT about the actual cutting-down of the tree. And guess what, that is ok.
Feel the hard. I know it is real. But also, find the joy. Because I know you know that it is real too.
My college crew have been home for a total of three full days. We have seen the new Star Wars movie. Broken a washing machine. Discussed the new Star Wars movie. Bought a new washing machine. Had one or two conflicts about the mess I would prefer they not leave in their wake. Discussed the Star Wars movie a bit more.
I am so so glad they are here. Mess and all.
But I finally realized today -- this third come-home-from-college-Christmas, that in the hours before they get here, I fully expect these three to walk through the door.
You know....I expect the three who were totally dependent on me. Who needed me for their every need. Who um, you know, preferred me over all the other people -- even Santa -- on the planet.
I mean, I don't expect them to be four-year-olds. Benjamin and Mason's facial hair alone reminds me immediately that they are NOT four! But it is more than that...
The three who came home are amazing young adults -- on the cusp of 21 -- only three semesters from college graduation. They have -- all three -- done amazing things in their college tenures and I grin from ear to ear hearing them discuss, debate, and dissect everything from politics to you know, Star Wars.
But in an effort to be completely transparent, I will confess that the learning curve for having college kids has been far harder to adapt to than the actual being college students part seems to have been for Benjamin, Mason, and Claire. And as such, the having-these-young-adults-home-part has been harder to figure out.
I want to do it better. I want tangible tools to handle it emotionally -- in a way that is healthy for me and by amazing trio -- and eventually for my baby Red! So I googled it. I did. Someone out there HAS to have wisdom on handling college.
They do. But it is all about how to help our kids handle it. The experts say parents should hold in our emotions so not to stress them out. We should also keep an even disposition so that they not sense any angst we are experiencing.
What? How? What do you mean?
Ironically, these internet "experts" offer no real how-to, just a lot of should and should nots.
As such, I feel compelled to offer some words -- not necessarily of wisdom, I think I am far from figuring this thing out -- but words, nonetheless:
1. Give your college kid -- and yourself -- a couple of days to adjust to life back together. Whether you wanted to or not, you developed a new routine with them away. It might take you a minute to readjust that routine. And yes, they have grown accustomed to making all their decisions without your input. The back-in-the-parents-home part might be a challenge for them as well.
2. Don't expect them to rush in and be ready to bake gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies. At least not the first day. Your college kiddo is coming home off of exams. He or she might need to sleep before a recognizable disposition is visible. Possibly for days. I am not even kidding.
3. I am not a big supporter of holding in emotions. I think it is a dangerous habit, and frankly can lead to emotive-explosions down the road, possibly completely misdirected explosions. But I would caution that expressing too many emotions while your college kid is exhausted will lead to completely different explosions. You will want to avoid these at all costs! ;)
4. Throw out expectations. Really. The process of growing and evolving as a parent is not pain-less. Oh for the love, it is so NOT painless. But the for sure way to make it even more painful is to expect our child to return home unchanged by their college experience. If we try and fit them back into the mold they fit in prior to college, we are negating the growth and frankly failing to grow ourselves.
5. Hear them. Once they wake up, they will want to talk. Undoubtedly, they will want to tell you all about their semester, what they are learning, where they are spending their time, and the things they are processing as they grow. Listen. You might want to jump in with some serious opinions. And more than likely they will want to hear those. But listen first. Hear them. Help them process by being an accepting sounding-board.
And then finally, pull out the flour, the sugar, and the sprinkles. Because no matter their age, somewhere deep inside, your college kids want to know you are still there ready to bake Christmas cookies. Ready to fit in the exact mold they expect YOU to fit in.
He called me his angel. My crib stood at the foot of his and my mom's bed in the German apartment we lived in during dad's military service. I apparently learned quickly to climb the railings and launch myself onto their bed in the middle of the night so that I could sleep snuggled as close to Daddy as I could possibly get.
I never grew out of wanting to be that close to my Daddy.
I went to work with him during the summers. I waited for those days -- I loved riding beside him in his truck and helping him unload the merchandise for each store. I felt so important when he handed me his feather duster and let me clean the shelves while he made his orders for the next week. But the best part of the day, when he and I would sit down and enjoy our little packed lunch -- often a pack of Nabs (his favorite thing) and a coke. In my head, we had amazing conversations....but somehow I am fairly certain that he sat and listened as I talked and talked and talked. He was always my favorite audience.
Tomorrow marks 24 years since I had him here. Twenty-four years without him to share Nabs. And 24 years without his making me feel like my every word mattered. Twenty-four years since he called me his angel.
The hardest part of raising two children with Cerebral Palsy is not and has never been the children with Cerebral Palsy. The hardest part of raising two children with Cerebral Palsy is the fact that we live in a world that refuses to adapt to anything beyond ordinary. And I have always -- always -- known that Benjamin and Mason were far beyond ordinary.
Mason began a beautiful gymnastics program when he was four years old. I will never forget the first performance for his little class. Mason came out and walked across the balance beam with his coach just holding one hand. It was an incredible feat for someone whose legs do not always listen to his brain and whose balance is far different than most gymnasts attempting to walk a balance beam.
The little crowd was comprised of mostly parents of the athletes, but mixed in were other adults, perhaps there waiting for their own children to finish their classes in the gym. When Mason turned at the end of the balance beam, bowed and smiled from ear to ear at the stands, that crowd went wild!
I will never forget how I felt. With tears streaming down my face, I remember being overcome with emotion because I could feel that this crowd -- this varied group of adults gathered in that gym in Pine Island, Minnesota -- weren't cheering out of pity. On the contrary, I remember feeling like they got it. I felt like they understood the extraordinary gift that was my four-year-old as he stepped off that balance beam.
In elementary school, Benjamin and Mason consistently had a classroom full of amazing kids. Claire's class always seemed to be filled with the trouble-makers -- or at least she had a higher percentage of those than the boys' classes.
At first, I thought, what in the world? Are they placing her in a leftovers' class -- does that really happen? For a half a minute, I thought maybe there was a "weak" teacher in each grade, and she got the shaft.
But then one morning a light bulb went off: What if the difference in Benjamin and Mason and Claire's classrooms wasn't the delineation of pupils, or the assignment of teachers, but rather -- and this is life-changing -- could the difference be Benjamin and Mason themselves?
Hear me...I am not saying that my boys were such angels they made the classroom better....BUT I am saying that the fact that my boys were in those classrooms taught a lesson on empathy, compassion, and service that perhaps was lacking for Claire's classes.
I am boldly saying that I think the kids were improved because Benjamin and Mason are not ordinary -- they are extraordinary.
But everybody doesn't see them as extraordinary. In fact, a vast majority see them as less-than. And when the world operates from a viewpoint of less-than, then Benjamin and Mason are required to work harder to overcome not just the physical challenges their bodies present, but also the preconceived notions of peers, teachers, even loved ones.
Less-than means it is OK if you have to travel twice as far around a building to find an accessible door. We'll start the meeting without you.
Less-than means it is OK to only provide wheelchair space at the back of the church, auditorium, theatre.
Less-than means you should be grateful space was provided at all.
Less-than means 99 percent of the parking spaces in a lot will NOT be accessible and no one will question it.
Less-than means you can board first on a plane, but will disembark last. And the flight crew will roll their eyes at having to wait on your wheelchair.
Less-than means that you are something to be pitied.
My boys are so much more than less-than.
This weekend Benjamin was selected to be on the Homecoming Court at Belhaven University. I choose to believe it is because his friends see the extraordinary. I choose to believe they wanted to celebrate that.
I watched the homecoming festivities with similar emotions to when 4-year-old Mason walked the balance beam. My heart rejoiced that these students understand, these students GET that Benjamin is NOT less-than but rather extraordinary!
And yet, perhaps because I have been walking this path of Cerebral Palsy for 20 plus years, I felt an overwhelming need to stand up and yell into the football stands:
"Can you recognize that you are more empathetic because Benjamin rolls into your classrooms? Can you recognize that your education is expanded and improved because this young man is in your midst?"
I wanted to ask them if they could feel the compassion growing inside themselves? Could they recognize the ability to step outside of themselves and care for someone extraordinary?
I wanted to beg them to hold on to all they are learning -- when you go into the business world, remember how improved life is when you have extraordinary people working for you!
When you are hired to direct a play, how much better is it to have an extraordinary cast member?
When you prepare to greet a classroom of new students each year can you remember Benjamin and the effect he has on the world, and be excited if a young person rolls into your classroom?
Parenting two children with Cerebral Palsy has never been the hard part. Convincing the world to embrace the extraordinary -- to embrace living in a world that is more compassionate, more empathetic, and more joy-filled -- is the part that is a challenge.
And yet, I am a firm believer in overcoming our challenges. I am the mother whose little four-year-old worked until his legs could balance on that beam after all. And I am the mother who cheered wildly as her 20-year-old rolled onto the football field to represent his junior class at Belhaven University.
And I'll be here cheering as one by one, place by place, we make the world a place filled with -- and celebrating -- the extraordinary!
"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future." John F. Kennedy
Green Hills Grille was an amazing decision-making spot. Some might think it was just a restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama. But for Wade and I, it was a haven, a place where we could focus on each other and the myriad of decisions facing our young newlywed-selfs. (It is not lost on me that part of the haven was most certainly the fact that by being in a restaurant, we were away from our computer, our phone, TV, etc. Today that is not the case....is it?)
When I was considering a job change, we found our booth, ordered our favorites (I still dream about the way they diced the cucumber for their salads.), and went through the pros and cons of leaving a job that required me driving to a neighboring city every day for one that would require me giving up some of my writing dreams (temporarily).
When he was contemplating going back to school in order to take the MCAT and apply for Medical School, we discussed the ramifications over dinner at Green Hills Grille.
And when the time came to accept admission to medical school, we weighed the pros and cons of each choice right there in that same restaurant.
If we still lived in Huntsville, and if the restaurant is still there (Google can find one in Nashville but has conflicting information pertaining to Huntsville.), Wade and I would have spent hours and hours there of late.
Ultimately, the decision-making wasn't really that hard. As a family, we believe our role is to make the world better for children with Cerebral Palsy. As such, we have decided that Wade will accept an incredible opportunity at the A.I. DuPont Children's Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. He will be taking over from one of his mentors and one of the leading experts in the field, Dr. Freeman Miller, who is ready to retire.
And yet, there was certainly a con list, as with any decision. And leaving our beloved Mississippi will be hard. I am so grateful for this season here where I could become reacquainted with some dear friends, have my mama a mere three-hour drive away, and enjoy having my college-kids almost within arms' reach.
We covet your prayers for the transition -- Wade will begin after the first of the year, but the kids and I will stay in Mississippi until the triplets finish college. There will be a lot of airports, commutes, and no doubt tears, in our future.
If you need me, I'll be here, searching the internet for a Delaware house with a front porch -- I can bring my own sweet tea!
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