Monday, November 11, 2019

Look, kids, no hands!

My words are stuck somewhere between exhaustion from throwing Cate a turning-14-sleepover-party and worry from watching my young adults launch into adulthood. Thrown in with all that, is the exhilaration coupled with weariness of a new move. I have words. I like words. But for the life of me, I am struggling to find them.

I can get out "hands-off, Mama," and that's about it.

Sleepover haven for Little Red and her friends!

I remember thinking the NICU was the hard part of parenting. I remember the awful feelings when I would leave my babies every single night in that intensive care unit, entrusted to someone else's care. I would sleep a bit and wake, sitting straight up in bed anxious for how they were doing. The nurses took my call every night and gave me a report before admonishing me that my body was healing too and I needed sleep. But as soon as the clock hit 7 the following morning, I was standing outside the door, scrubbed, gowned, and ready to get my hands on my babies!!

Swinging in the University of Chicago Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

When Cate was born, I refused to let her leave my sight -- or my arms. I was so relieved that she wasn't under some one else's care every single day that I relished every moment of her newborness...I relished every single moment on having her care in my hands.

Little Red just after birth!

When the triplets graduated college in May, I thought I had arrived at the status of expert launcher. I mean, I did it times three. Pat me on the back and give me some accolades.

But the truth is, this adulthood thing is hard on mothers. Hard is really not a strong enough word.

Mason and I went to a welcome weekend at Millsaps when he was accepted there for undergrad. As he did his welcome activities on campus, I was doing the parent sessions. During one session, I zeroed in on the fact that the gentleman introduced himself as the ADA compliance officer for the school. I made a beeline for him as the session ended. Patrick Cooper and I walked back across campus together discussing the laundry list of things I knew Mason needed to be successful on campus. I was waiting for his reply when we ran in to Mason. As I introduced the two, I remember thinking this was perfect so that Mason could be assured all the accommodations would be in place. Patrick however, did not launch in to the assurances I was waiting for....rather, he looked at Mason and said, "Mason, I know what your mother thinks you need to be successful on campus. What do YOU think you need?"

Mason's list was much (much) shorter than mine.

And so Mason's college career -- and its success -- was firmly in Mason's independent hands. He and Patrick made a plan, moved forward with the plan, and rarely did Mason hit a hiccup beyond cracked sidewalks.

I am telling you this because with four years of college behind me (yes, me. I am the one learning here.) I knew that Mason had to be in charge of the accommodations at Texas Tech for grad school. I knew he was more than capable. And I knew, I had to be hands-off.

But an enormous school like Texas Tech, doesn't operate at the same rate as Millsaps and Patrick Cooper. Mason's initial meeting occurred and still the levels of bureaucracy involved before professors were notified, meant that he started classes without all the accommodations in place. So when he called to tell me one prof refused to let him use his computer in class,  I thought he should have a kind word with her after class. Explain the situation, I said. She'll make the exception, I assured him.

But no. She didn't. She repeated her no-computers-in-class policy without a care that he can't write notes, he types them. She didn't care that her hard and fast rule meant he started graduate school on the wrong foot. She didn't care that her policy set him up for a struggle.

I was pretty angry. I offered to call her. He forbid it. Sigh. I offered to call the ADA office, he said no. He assured me he was handling it -- and he was. But the ADA didn't move with speed. It took more than a few classes before he was "allowed" to bring in his computer for notes. And this professor never budged on her strict mandate about his bringing the computer until she had the OFFICIAL paperwork in her hand requiring it of her.

And all the while, I was a bazillion miles away, sitting on my hands.

And perhaps, the frustration was more in the distance than the hand-sitting. I couldn't take Mason to lunch and convince him all would be well. I couldn't hug him tight and remind him of all the challenges he has overcome. I couldn't swoop in. And of how desperately I needed to swoop.

Claire received her first acceptance letter to Occupational Therapy school last week. And we are thrilled and celebrating and yet, I know there is more launching in my near near future. More hands-off supporting.

For the four years that Benjamin, Mason, and Claire were in college, I thought I was sad because I missed having them under my roof -- and I did,  oh man I really did -- but that isn't the weight I feel. Rather, the weight of launching children, the hard part, the challenge, is that we have to be hands-off. No swooping in to solve a problem. No calling teachers to iron out the details. No after school milkshake to cure what ails. 

No, adults have to find their own coping skills. Adults have to navigate their own struggles. And adults have to communicate their own needs.

My hands can't even be in the pot.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Monday, October 14, 2019

Stress spillage.

"You and Wade just need to relax."

I've heard the words echoing in my ears for years now. They weren't spoken in a "take a spa day" way. Rather they were spoken in a "You are over-reacting" manner and the message was loud and clear.

So clear as a matter of fact that they have haunted me. I have given no small amount of thought to them, dissecting the meaning, analyzing our behavior, fretting over interactions, and frankly putting a lot of energy into NOT being uptight, NOT over-reacting. It is all exhausting.

So when my friend Carrie sent me her slides for our mutual presentation on "Special Needs Caregivers and Stress" one slide in particular spoke to me...even now I feel a sense of peace just thinking about Carrie's wisdom:

"Stress can pile up -- a family's adjustment can reach its limit, causing stress to spill over.
Families with high baseline stress levels "catastrophize" small stressors." (Carrie Sewell-Roberts, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Nemours Cerebral Palsy Center)

Can you walk with me through this?

Catastrophize means to view or talk about an event or situation as worse than it actually is. And in the context of Carrie's course, it means to feel an event or situation as worse than it actually is. I can identify.

The year Benjamin had wrist surgery, then spine surgery, then eye surgery -- every single thing was a crisis. Relationships suffered that year -- some have never recovered sadly. And let me be clear, we weren't imagining that all the surgeries would be worse than they actually were. They were terrible for my amazing wonderful son. We knew they would be hard and we hurt and we ached. Rather for us in that season, the catastrophizing was in how acutely we felt every thing. I can close my eyes and feel the warmth of friends who brought (or mailed) movies for us to watch while we were stranded at home, I can feel the hugs of my friend who delayed her move to sit with us during that hard season, I can smell the delicious meals prepared and delivered to care for us. And I can feel the physical pain of the phone call accusing me of not being a good family member. I can feel the shame of not speaking kindly to a friend who failed to meet my lofty expectations.

Our adjustment had reached its limit and our stress just spilled over onto every service, emotion, relationship in its path.

More recently, the year Wade and I had to make the long commute between states work, saw more than its share of catastrophic. Each stage of the house-finding felt super intense, life-or-death, as if huge consequences were hanging in the balance. We knew we needed a house to safely meet Benjamin's needs, and a home where we could gather our loved ones. As month of looking turned into year, we were stressed. It absolutely felt like each failed offer and lost contract was a catastrophe.

And sometimes, it has been as inconsequential as rushing to an appointment after getting Benjamin dressed and ready only to find all the accessible parking spaces taken -- or the ramp blocked -- and I am left feeling like the world is condemned and life as we know it is over. 

So the affirmation that this isn't a Carol and Wade problem was enormous. The in-my-face-type on that slide was exactly what I needed -- and have needed for years -- to give my own family, and our reactions,  a bit of grace.

And because I am a glass-half-full kind of gal, I have to maintain that though all of this is true and we do have stressors that loom and days where they spill over, we also know how to make the most of the moments that DON'T seem overwhelming.

Maybe it is because we are so aware of the catastrophes, that we work twice as hard to make the good. Maybe the silly wonderful laugh-until-you-hurt tradition of riding River Rapids at Disneyland as many times as we can in the cold, wet of night and then running back to photograph the silly, drink cocoa and dry off in our condo only happens because we know we need those fantastic over-the-top moments to survive the hard. Maybe we decorate big for every holiday because we understand that when the season IS NOT stressful, then there already is a reason to celebrate and we should go all out! And when hard happens to fall in a holiday season? Well, then perhaps we cling to the over-the-top decor more than ever.

Maybe it is exactly this high baseline of stress that prompts me to open our doors and welcome as many in who will come. Because I know gathering my people to me is the best, most sure-fire way to make the most of the moments where life isn't overwhelming to us.

Come to think of it, gathering my people makes the most of life even when it is overwhelming, just don't mind the spillage.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The scary very bad day at the happiest place on earth.

Dear Disneyland Security,

You disappointed me Monday. Thank goodness disappointment is a wound that will heal.

Our visit to Disneyland had been wonderful – almost flawless. Your sunshine, your amazing Halloween decor, and your ability to transport us to the planet Batuu were experiences we won’t soon forget! We were literally smiling from ear to ear and enjoying every moment…

And then, we opted to go watch the preview for this season’s “The Goldbergs” showing in the Opera House. We adore the show – literally laugh out loud at every single episode, and thought it would be delightful to enhance our memories of this trip with the laughter an episode of our favorite TV family traveling to Disneyland would offer.

And we were right.

And then we weren’t.

The repeated coughing in the back of the theater startled us. My 13-year-old turned to see if the gentleman was ok. He stepped over two rows of theater seats to engage with her – asking if she was talking to him. And it was not friendly banter. My husband quickly interceded – gesturing to the screen and urging him to not interrupt with talking.

The man began cursing. He began moving with crazed eyes aggressively toward our row. My daughter was panicked. My son who struggles with anxiety issues anyway, began panicking in his wheelchair. My husband stood to put himself between the man and all of us. 

The man was yelling at this point. Yelling and ranting words that didn’t make sense. He cursed at us. He beat his chest in a “You want to fight me?” gesture. And then he yelled “Who did you vote for?” repeatedly. It was jarring and strange…..his random curiosity about our voting practices would have been humorous were it not for the aggression visible in his eyes and manner.

Wade told our friend Jeff to get security. Jeff sprinted out the opposite door to do that.

The cast member for the show came in. The man – alarmed by Wade’s yelling for security – began backing toward the exit door but he never quit yelling. Never quit gesturing. 

Now here is where you come in, dear Disneyland security. Oh wait, it isn’t. You were not near us. The staff at the theater were left to deal with the outburst. Before the show ended, the cast member returned to tell us to stay in the show to give you time to apprehend the man.

When the show ended, the cast member returned to ask us to remain behind the curtain at the exit because the man was out front looking for us. He was apparently going among the cast members asking for information about us – a family easily recognizable by the wheelchair that goes where we go. We assumed as we stood behind that curtain feeling incredibly vulnerable that you, Disneyland Security, were busy apprehending this man. We assumed that we were waiting for a safe exit where YOU had in custody a man who intended us harm. 

Then a cast member came to apologize (again) and asked us to follow her to City Hall so they could “make this right”. Still, we had not seen you anywhere. I honestly hoped that the cast member was an undercover policeman and caught myself looking for a hidden gun. I was hoping that at last security was with us.

But when we got to City Hall….and were sequestered in a side room, this cast member left us. She introduced us to another cast member…..and she introduced us to you. We made another statement. The fourth time we would explain what happened. You nodded along. Another family in the auditorium had already called you in and made a statement about the episode.

You left us to make calls. We tried to find humor sitting in a back room in City Hall on Main Street at our beloved Disneyland….but we couldn’t finish a single thought that didn’t involve what had just happened. The friends with us were as shaken as we were. We wanted to calm down. We wanted to re-find the magic we had felt just an hour earlier. But we were all completely at a loss for how to find that again.

Guest Service Cast member returned with fast passes. She offered us special parade viewing. We didn’t want either really. What we wanted was to be able to finish our trip without looking over our shoulders for a man who clearly needed help – for a man who clearly needed attention. 

We asked if you had him. You said no. He had escaped down Main Street before you got there.

We asked if there had been video surveillance of the building where you at least had a good visual on who you were looking for. You never answered.

We asked if you would be with us – with these gifted fast passes – making sure we were safe and NOT as vulnerable as we felt. You assured us there was security all over the park ready to assist us. And yet, it had been half an hour at least before we saw you this first time after this happened.

We decided we had to leave Disneyland for peace of mind. We went to California Adventure. We assumed we would be safe there because you were watching for him at the exits – we ASSUMED you were watching for him. But you were not. There was not a single security officer at the exits.

The cloud of vulnerability followed us the rest of the day. We are at least a thousand miles away today and we still feel like we want to circle our 13-year-old and ensure she is safe.

We are fine. No wounds except our feelings. But oh man, I need you to do better. Please please increase your staff if necessary, get the training for your team, do the quickness drills, find the video surveillance. If this ever happens again – and oh man we hope nothing like this ever happens again – you can rush in, securing the man in order to get him help, as SOON as he starts making threats against a family in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Don’t worry I am still wearing my ears. They just are sagging a bit.

 Carol - The Blessings Counter