Thursday, August 18, 2016

The post where I give all manner of wisdom on sending your kid to college. Or how to buy a puppy.

Dear Mom who just moved her child to college,

We are on the verge of getting our triplets re-settled for the school year. Mason has been moved into his dorm for a week as he trains for his new job as Resident Assistant (Go Mason! I am super proud you are following in our footsteps!!); Claire will move in Sunday after she travels to Texas to speak at a conference for families with children with Cerebral Palsy (Go Claire! My heart is literally bursting that you are also following in our footsteps!); and Benjamin will again live at home while attending Belhaven which starts Monday (Go Benjamin! Your willingness to stay home is literally saving my heart right now!)!

So you know, this is the second time I have done all this and therefore I should be an expert and have expertish things to say to you. The truth is I searched for wisdom last year. I read volumes about how I had to move on. I read cliches about how I had done my job. I read coping articles. But I will tell you that everything seemed cliche, mundane, and frankly a little too pollyanna.

I didn't feel cliche, mundane, or pollyanna. Maybe you don't either. So today, while admitting I am not an expert, I am going to dig deep and bare my desire is you will find a morsel that gives you hope.

Beginning of Freshman year.

1. It is hard. It is stinking hard and yes, when you see your children thrive and succeed and enjoy themselves you will know you launched them well and that will give you comfort. But hear me loudly, it is still HARD! Let yourself cry. Then find a friend who loves you, who will listen to you whine (cause goodness sometimes we need to whine), who will hear you when you want to brag (cause you will definitely want to talk about your child a lot!),  and then will make you laugh. Eventually, you will laugh more than you whine. You are going to have to trust me here.

2. Believe it or not, it is also hard for your college student. Last year, my Claire was loving college but when she learned her little sister and I had a date at Starbucks, her feelings were hurt because she wasn't with us. Just like you are going to have hard days, your child is too. I talked with young freshmen last year all over the country and they ALL said the same thing, "First semester was so hard." Remember Mamas, as hard as it is for you to see that empty bedroom, it is equally hard on your child to not be in that safe, familiar bedroom -- or having Starbucks with you! You are not the only one dealing with change -- and yes, college is fun and there is so much to love about it, but every single young person I spoke with expressed feeling like a tug-of-war inside themselves. They wanted to be at college, they were loving meeting new people -- but they missed their family, their home, their high school friends. Keep conversations open with your child. Make sure they have a safe place to whine and then don't be surprised if after you take the hour-long phone call that rips your heart out, you see a picture on social media of them smiling like they are having the time of their lives. They are. But that doesn't mean it isn't hard.

3. Lose any expectations of what time together will look like. We just had this conversation last week -- both Mason and Claire expressed that they wanted/needed/desired things to be "just like it used to be" when they would come home from college on breaks. But it wasn't. This could make them grumpy. This did make me grumpy. And then we would spend so much time trying to grin and bear it that the time together would be over before we found enjoyment. Sigh. It occurred to me recently (sadly after freshman year was over...) that this launching young people thing is not that much different than the birthing process was for me. Oh y'all, I would sit beside these teeny tiny babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Center and wish I could put them back safely in my womb so that they could grow in that nurturing, protective place. I couldn't. It wouldn't have been the same. What had once been a place that provided every single thing they needed, would have suffocated them if re-entry was even a possibility. Baby Benjamin, Mason, and Claire needed very different things from me outside the womb. I was still Mommy. But my role was different now.

The same is true today. Starting college signified their birth, if you will, from my home -- from the protective, nurturing nest their Daddy and I worked to maintain for 18 years. Today, College students, Benjamin, Mason, and Claire need something different from me. I am still Mom. But my role is different now.

Accept that your relationship is evolving and trust that the foundation you have built as a family means it will evolve into something wonderful -- just different.

4. If all else fails buy a puppy.

I am not even kidding.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Monday, July 18, 2016

Rubber Duckies and Hotel Prayer Altars.

"Because I love my duck, and that is why I can't be bothered, love my duck, so let the army run amuck." VeggieTales, "King George and the Ducky"

Yesterday, the pastor referred to a man in the Bible named Mephibosheth and I immediately had to VeggieTales song from King George and the Ducky running through my head.

The triplets were five years old when Mason was faced with his first big surgery. We had traveled to St. Louis for the operation and watched VeggieTales the entire way there. Everyone was exhausted from travel and so the night before the surgery, all five of us were in one hotel room where Wade and the kids were sleeping soundly. I was wide awake. Wide awake.

Summer of surgery.

As stealthily as possible I crept to the bathroom with a pillow, and my Bible. I was desperate for a word assuring me that Mason was going to be ok....I was desperate for assurance.

For the days leading up to the surgery my precious friends in Minnesota had surrounded me with love, hugs and prayers. But repeatedly I had heard from wise leaders that I had to "let go of Mason and trust God with his life" like Abraham did when he was willing to lay Isaac on the altar.

I couldn't. I really couldn't. I could not bear to tell God that it was ok if Mason did not survive surgery.

And so the guilt of the whole thing was weighing on me heavily. I was afraid for my child. I was scared and exhausted and my Mama-heart was so worried.

And then I remembered King George and the ducky....I mean the tune was forever glued to my brain. I was never going to forget King George. This particular VeggieTale was based on King David. George loved taking baths with his rubber duck and one day he saw another duck and began to covet it. A lightbulb went off in my head -- David (the real King David not the VeggieTale version) had been described as a "Man after God's own heart," and yet, he sinned. He saw a beautiful woman and wanted her for his own wife even though she was married. He sinned.

Suddenly, I was desperate for all the facts. I needed to read the story and so I opened my Bible to read about David. But instead of opening to the story of David and Bathsheba, I opened to another story altogether. One I had never noted.

"The king [David] asked, 'Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God's kindness?'

Zibo answered the king, 'There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.'

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, 'Mephibosheth!'

'At your service,' he replied.

'Don't be afraid,' David said to him, 'for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul and you will always eat at my table.' " Samuel 9: 3, 6-7 (NIV)

Oh my goodness, this young man with special needs was being welcomed to the table of the King forever! God was showing me how much He cared for my sons -- how much He cared for Mason. I closed the Bible, took a deep breath, and praised God right there in the middle of the hotel bathroom before I took my pillow back to my bed and slept a peaceful sleep.

Mason and Mom, Summer 2015

Can I tell you today that God is faithful to meet us exactly where we are -- even if it requires a cute cartoon and a rubber ducky to get us there!

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Shame on you, Representative Guice. Shame on you.

Dear State Representative Jeffrey Guice,

Please do not blame my Southern mama for the fact that I am ignoring good etiquette and writing you a letter without asking how you are doing, or even inquiring about your family. I don't have to ask to know that if you have children, they obviously want for little,  have had few medical needs, and were able to depend on your financial fortitude for all they required. Good for you. I hope you recognize the blessing there and give thanks every single day.

I am writing because your email reply to Nicole Nichols is everywhere I turn today. I can not ignore it.

I was 28 years old when my triplets were born three months early. I had been arrogant like you prior to that delivery. I assumed that with hard work my husband and I could meet any and every need that these little gifts had.

I assumed wrong.

We worked hard. Please do not question that. My husband is an engineer-turned-surgeon. He was in his second year of medical school when the triplets were born. For the next eight years, he worked 100-plus hours a week every single week.

We did the math and paying for child care times three would have cost more than my salary. We opted for me to stay home. I spent my days caring for our little babies and attempting to balance a checkbook that required creative maneuvering in order to stretch his small resident salary to cover our family of five.

Our pediatrician suggested we try WIC (The Federal food and nutrition aid for Women, Infant Children). Formula cost more a week than Dad brought home. We signed up.

Rep. Guice, it was men like you who made me feel shame every time I used one of those coupons. I wanted to ensure my babies'  health while we worked to better our lives, their lives and frankly today, the lives of children in Mississippi who my husband provides medical care for, so I used the coupons. I bought first formula and then milk as they grew. I thanked God for the provision of helping my children grow healthy bones.

Because Rep Guice, the fact is my babies were born very early and as a result both my boys -- two of three babies -- have Cerebral Palsy. Formula and milk would soon be the least of our needs.

Do you know how much a power wheelchair costs? More than my first two cars combined. Do you know that when a child can navigate his own environment -- even from a power wheelchair -- his brain develops better, faster, more capable of critical thinking? Isn't the promise of a bright young voice to help our state worth the medical costs incurred?

Do you know how much surgeries, therapies, gait training tools cost for growing boys?

Would you seriously have looked at me and told me Mississippi could offer no help? Really?

Representative Guice, when Nicole Nichols reached out to you, she did so as the voice of a mother not just desperate for her own child, but for the other children in our state who require medical aid. She reached out to you because you have been entrusted with the power to help. Your unwillingness was only matched by your ignorance in thinking that email would not be seen by every mother in this state.

And so I say, how dare you. How dare you use your power over my money as a taxpayer in Mississippi to deny the medication that keeps Mrs. Nichols's daughter alive. How dare you shame the women of this state trying to provide for their children. And how dare you not turn your attention instead to improving the healthcare providers' network for our state and thereby ensuring that we are raising healthy leaders for tomorrow.

Until you do this, Rep. Guice, I say the shame is on you.

With absolute sincerity,
Carol Shrader

(Jeffrey Guice is a Mississippi state representative from Ocean Springs. He is a Republican.)