Monday, September 16, 2019

Lowering my eyebrows.

The flight attendant had legitimate tears in her eyes as she apologized to us. She turned her back, assuming the through-passengers on the flight last night were making a space for us as Wade carried our son onto the plane.

They weren't.

It wasn't a full flight. I am sure they had been told that. So the handful of passengers traveling through Birmingham on to Baltimore spread themselves over the first five rows of the plane. We love to fly Southwest because with the no-assigned-seat-policy we can load Benjamin easily in the first row or two. Either Wade or I can carry him that far. But last night as I took all the removable pieces that I possibly could off of the wheelchair (so that it is battered as little as possible), and as my daughters followed their dad and brother carrying everything I had handed them thus far (headrest, iPad arms...), no one moved. And more, they made faces of disgust that my 13-year-old witnessed and will never forget. And so when I entered carrying the cushion for the chair, the hip guides, the joystick, I turned the corner expecting to see my family and instead they were all the way on row six. 

Let me assure you that the sixth row may seem close to you if you are rolling your carry-on luggage. It is a mile away if you are carrying your grown son and a million pieces of equipment.

And so as soon as I sat, the flight attendant was at my side. "I have worked for Southwest for 37 years. People are usually so good about moving. I am so sorry that I wasn't more helpful. I assumed they were doing what they could to help you. I am so sorry."

When we landed in Birmingham just days before, we exited the plane and went straight to a companion restroom for Benjamin. It was locked but we have learned we should wait because often there isn't more than one (We now know there is in Birmingham and next time we won't wait!). So we waited and waited. Finally the door opened and a well-dressed middle-aged man exited. He looked me straight in the eyes but I didn't speak just moved to grab the door for Benjamin.

"Don't look at me like that, lady! I just had cancer surgery and needed my privacy," he yelled at us. "I am sorry you had to wait."

He didn't sound sorry. He sounded scary. Benjamin thought he was about to strike me. I simply told the man how sorry we were he had surgery as we entered the bathroom. But I was shaking.

We discussed it when the door was closed and locked. We discussed what look I had that made him so angry -- I confess my eyebrows probably raised from years and years of having single people walk out of the only companion restroom in a public space -- and we discussed how he could have said the same words with a less scary tone and the encounter would have been completely different. And then we discussed how angry he must be right now with his own circumstances to lash out at us.

Today, I want to curl up on my own couch and never leave home. I want to stay where no one is staring at us. I want to stay where not one is yelling at us. I want to stay in my safe place.

Except that we won't stay home. We like to go and travel and be out and about. But the inability to trust people to behave in a civilized manner has scarred me. I realize that both of these situations have become more and more frequent of late. I find that I am shocked when people actually treat us kindly. I am shocked when they show respect to my sons. I find that I enter situations expecting rude stares, and condescending interactions, and anger. So much anger. 

How horribly sad is that?

We can do better. We must do better.

I'll start by working on my eyebrows.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Sunday, August 25, 2019

No more need for a children's menu? I am here.

We were waiting to be seated in the iconic Tex-Mex restaurant. After waking before 4am, traveling across country, and making a couple of apartment-supply runs, Mason and I were each in our own exhausted day-dreams -- mine completely centered on the soon to be ingested chips and queso. But it had not gone completely unnoticed by me that there were many families in the lobby who were obviously dropping their own students at Texas Tech (the cameras, the selfies, the staring lovingly at the young adult....I recognized the signs!). When the hostess motioned it was time to be seated for one such family, I heard her ask the mom if their were any children in the party. And there it was. Mom glanced lovingly at her taller-than-her-son and took a deep sigh before saying, "No. No children."

I wanted to hug her.

And assure her that queso does in fact make it feel better....but perhaps I could offer a little more advice than that.

As mothers, we all handle the college-going of our children differently. Freshman year and dorm decorating can uncover a range of emotions, my friends and I pretty much covered the gamut:

1. I'm proud. I'm proud. I'm just so proud.  This mom really just loves celebrating every single achievement for darling college kid. Perhaps the sadness for her is overwhelmed by her pride....or maybe she finds it easier to cover her sadness when she is fully immersed in college pride! Regardless, she will be at every event on the campus and will be thrilled to be there!

2. Party. Party. Party. This mom is relishing her nest being empty. She is a good mom but she has an enviable contentment hanging with her own peeps, and finding fulfillment beyond her motherhood.

3. Eeyore and Pooh Bear too. Woe is me, my purpose is gone. I just want to sit and eat honey -- or queso in my case -- all day. There is no denying that after homeschooling the triplets for six years, spending every moment of those years engaging them in learning, I struggled with the freshman year. I felt bereft, if you don't mind my drama. I felt that I was void of purpose. And I had a physical ache that all things had changed.

Please hear me, I think most of us can be a little of all three, even if overwhelmingly leaning toward one. I was crazy proud of my crew and I love opening our home to other adults to gather with me -- from Bible studies to book clubs and everything in the middle -- but I was full-on Eeyore when my crew left for college. Freshman year found me stalking the social media accounts of each of their schools for a glimpse, a tiny glimpse of their faces. I wasn't completely sure how often I should text them. I didn't want to call them too often. I wanted to be laid back in the communication....but oh boy I wanted to know how and where and when and what. I needed all the info and felt so absolutely disconnected because I was not a part of the process.

Listen, as mothers, we have to support each other -- no matter what our attitude towards their college-going. 

Last week, Mason and I flew across country to move him into his graduate school apartment. We are in the throes of Claire's application process for Occupational therapy school and Benjamin is exploring all his options for his next endeavors.

Photo cred: Sarah Dunlap photography

And while I am sad that we won't all be here together every day, it doesn't feel as take-my-breath-away as the trio leaving for college did. This feels different.

Four years after freshman year drop-off, I have learned a few things:

1. They still seek me out for advice and to share their news. Somehow, I think we worry as moms -- or I worried -- that they wouldn't do that once they found their people. It is a comfort to know they do.

2. They can handle themselves. I think regardless of how amazing our children are, there is a fear when we leave them in their college dorm, that we forgot some big crucial life-skill that they will need and not know. That wasn't the case for my kids -- and I am fairly certain it won't be for yours as well. (Unless you consider sock-picking-up a major life skill, because I fear one or more of my children might not possess that one....)

3. When we let them fly, they soar. This is so hard. So hard. I had days where I wanted to clip their wings and bring them back to the nest. But my crew have found purpose, adventure, and relationships near and far as they follow their dreams. It is good.

Parenting adults is very different than when I had three little bitties following my every step, my every move. I am not the center of their world anymore and that can be a blow to a mommy-heart. But they are still some of my very favorite people. I love hearing them talk about their passions, their work, their dreams. I love meeting their friends and seeing the relationships blossom. And I love knowing that they will come home....and I will be here, whenever they need me!

I'm learning.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Don't make me do the math.

Once upon a time a young girl grew very frustrated sitting in her algebra class because the teacher was not solving the equation the way he had taught just days before. Young girl could not resist raising her hand and gently pointing out the inaccuracies. (At 15, her idea of gentle may have been skewed.). Teacher challenged young girl that if she thought she knew better, she could come to the board and teach, which young girl did immediately. Teacher had to admit she was absolutely right. (Though this was no consolation to young girl's mother -- who was absolutely mortified.)

I have been on my own motherhood journey for more than 22 years. From day one there have been experts that knew far more than me about mothering my trio. The NICU doctors and nurses were the first. I was timid, unsure of everything, and scared to death in that NICU. I did what the professionals told me to do without question. And yet, two or three weeks in, when a nurse had stuck Benjamin's heel five times to get a blood gas and messed up every single vial, I felt young me stirring as I went to grab a nurse I trusted with my life and beg her to help. I didn't have the answers that day. I did not have the training to draw those blood gases correctly, but I knew someone who did. Oh I am so thankful.

We started physical and occupational therapies when my boys were just nine months old. I once again retreated into myself. The professionals knew better. I was scared of the reasons we were there. I was frightened by the implications. And I was petrified to know the therapists' opinions of my boys' futures. One day, one of the therapists asked me to take baby Claire to the waiting room as she took Mason to one therapy room, while Benjamin's therapist kept him in another. I sat in the waiting room and listened as my boys screamed bloody murder. Five minutes turned into ten before I felt young me rising up inside. I went to the room and apologized but told the therapists that either we do therapy together -- with me in the room -- or the session was canceled. It was that day that I realized I alone was the Mommy. Therapists knew far more than I about stretching, about teaching muscles to do what wasn't coming naturally, about weight-bearing, and so much more. But I knew my babies. And I knew that from that day forward therapy needed to be a joint effort.

So yes, sometimes being stubborn has its merits. But trust me, I have pushed back on other things where I was just being hard-headed. (Yes, shocking, I know.)

From wheelchairs -- perhaps you read my post on the W word? I struggled to accept something that changed Benjamin's world for the better.

But beyond that -- for years therapists urged us to use respite providers and I fought and refused and tried to do everything myself. Finally letting down that wall and letting others in to help was an enormous step toward improved mental health for all of us.

Today, we are at another crossroads. For years, the boys' therapists, doctors, x-ray techs, etc have reprimanded me for refusing help when I transfer him from wheelchair to exam table and back. His therapists have told me to move the chair closer to his bed for transfers. My own precious cousin (an occupational therapist) bought a transfer board and urged me to use it.

To be honest, I haven't meant to be stubborn for stubbornness sake. I just have a routine of lifting, moving, positioning that works and is, frankly, speedy and gets the job done.  (As the mother of triplets, I like things that work and are speedy -- a lot.) But when we did the accessible addition to this home,  we took a huge step and put a lift-system into the ceiling.

Please hear me, this wasn't an easy decision. Wade was insistent but it was on me to coordinate with the builder and the lift-provider. The first time I spoke with the lift company, the salesman asked me what I needed and I wanted to hang up. I had no idea what I needed -- I assumed he would know. (Turns out 50 something-year-old me might have her idea of gentle skewed also.) Several emails, phone calls, and meetings with the lift provider and our builder and we had a plan. Whew.

And then we moved in. One of Benjamin's attendants from Mississippi joined us here temporarily. So even though we had a tutorial on working the lift, I was fine just letting it sit as ornamentation in the room.

But now, it is just me taking care of Benjamin and so we are figuring this lift out, trial and error, and error and error, and then a victory only to forget and err again next time.

It's the strangest thing. I see it and feel hope that this will ensure no one ever drops Benjamin. He will be safe. I see it and feel mindful that this will allow me to care for my amazing son without injuring myself. And I see it and resent it there reminding me that even if I can still lift him, it probably isn't the safest thing for either of us.

Benjamin feels much the same angst. I want to raise my hand and say this is wrong and I know how to do it better. Benjamin and I have a system and it is fast, efficient and that is that. We are right.

I had not even said all of this out loud when Mason gently (and he was really being gentle....not some skewed version!) said, "Mom, this isn't about being fast. You need to do this to lift smarter and safer."


So I am telling that young stubborn me who likes to rear her sassy head, to sit down and be quiet. Benjamin and I are plowing through, figuring out our new system and trying to celebrate the fact that we were able to get this amazing technology.

But forgive me if I also keep doing the transfer after he is dressed to his wheelchair myself....the lift is wet by then from the shower and I don't want his clothes wet and it is a two-second lift....

And well, it helps my feelings.

Carol - The Blessings Counter