Monday, June 4, 2018

Flip-flops, surgeries, and summertime.

Summer was always my favorite season growing up. I love chlorine and watermelon. I love Vacation Bible Schools -- and went to almost ALL the ones in my home town! I love going to the library for summer reading club. And riding my bike a million miles a day. I love summer camp and flip-flops and home-made ice cream. I just adore summer.

But the triplets were three the first time a summer surgery was required. Beautiful friends rushed in and cared for Mason and Claire while I stayed in the hospital with Benjamin. I missed sending them off to their first Vacation Bible School but was thrilled when they had a blast.

I had prepared for the summer of the cast. I bought a little pool for Mason and Claire to hang out in in our backyard and a little fishing pole for Benjamin to "fish" for them from the dry sidelines. We heard Arthur -- the kids absolute favorite character on TV -- was coming to the local library and Wade made sure we could take the recovering Benjamin, with Mason and Claire to meet him! (Only Benjamin wanted near the admittedly HUGE Arthur.)

It never warmed up enough to use the little pool -- or the fishing pole -- but we learned a valuable lesson that summer. We learned that hunkering down and hanging out in our home, together, while one of us recovered from surgery was not the worst thing. We learned we enjoyed time together and we learned that a good popsicle cured a lot of woes.

It was a valuable lesson. Hugely valuable. Over the next 15 years, we would have more surgery summers than not.

I am not going to pretend we went into each surgery summer with a good attitude -- longing for time with just us gathered in our home (over a myriad of states, I should mention.). Usually, we -- and by we, I mainly mean me -- pouted, and dreaded, and fretted. Usually, we grieved the loss of free-spirit summers, of fun and traveling and hanging with friends. 

And yet, somehow, some of my favorite family memories are of those seasons of togetherness, of working through the tough, hard, painful. 

Because sometimes, we you have to be super intentional to have fun in the hard stuff -- check out this example of our  fun recovery. And being intentional means you don't miss any of the moments, any of the milestones (Mason's first big smile after his surgery at 13 still makes my heart soar!), or take any of the good for granted.

Over those surgery summers, we learned about togetherness. We learned the value of a good cookie/muffin/cake recipe (Claire, Cate and I tend to bake when we are emotional!). We learned what it means to serve each other as a family.

And learned how amazing Benjamin and Mason are and the strength of each of them as they faced unbelievable challenges and yet overcame. Every. Single. Time.

Summer remains my favorite. I still love watermelon and chlorine and some cute flip-flops. And now, summer means savoring the times with those I love the most, creating memories that we will savor for a lifetime, even if they are colored by surgeries, casts, and intensive physical therapy. Strength of character seems to smell like chlorine, mixed with a few tears.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Five things I wish I had known.

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.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Teeny Tiny Trio Turn Twenty-One!!!!

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 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. 

Carol - The Blessings Counter