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And then I remembered – my mom was the most beautiful woman in the world.

Motherhood changes our bodies. At least for most. There are some who shrink right back, but I was not one of them. Not my weight, but my size. My feet are, and always will be, a full size larger and full width wider. You know, like a hobbit. There is no diet on the planet that will fix that. My hips are wider, too. They’re the definition of “birthing hips.” Smush’s delivery – from the first contraction to “Hi baby!” lasted 1 hr 20 min, and that’s because I had to wait for the midwife to get in the room. Birthing hips.

Before I had kids, I was a flat-stomached, hourglass figure, kinda cute 20-year-old. My pregnancy with Punkin expanded my hips – literally. My body went a little overkill on the relaxin hormone, and my hips actually got wider – and then they stayed that way as the ligaments firmed up, and I was left with hips for days. Let’s just say that low-rise jeans were not made for most women, and I’m one of them.

Most days I’m okay with all that. I mean, it’s a mass of tissue, really, so whatevs. And we’re mothers – we’re basically nature’s superheroes. But for a while I had been feeling unattractive. Having more “fat days” than usual.

(If you aren’t familiar with that term, a “fat day” is where you wake up feeling like none of your clothes fit and your husband walks in to find that he can’t see the bedroom floor because you’ve somehow tried on every article of clothing you own. And you’re still in your pajamas.)

I had been feeling flat-out ugly.

I hated my jaw line. My eyes are too close together. My eyebrows are crooked and uneven, and because of scar tissue in one from a childhood injury, there’s not much I can do about it. My nose is too big, my skin is too pale, and I’m just too squishy all over.

But getting ready for church one Sunday morning, I came out of the bedroom in a long dress and high heels. I hadn’t done my hair. I hadn’t done my make-up. I looked like the bride of Frankenstein, if she went to church. And each of my girls looked up and, eyes wide and smiles big, told me how pretty I was.

I didn’t get it. I mean, I know we shelter them from a LOT of media. We don’t have cable. We laugh at how silly magazine covers look because they’re so fake. We talk about store window displays and billboards and how utterly absurd it would be to dress in clothes that look like underwear. But c’mon, they must know I’m no supermodel, right?

And then I remembered – my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Growing up, even after she died, I literally could not find another woman as beautiful as she was. Julia Roberts was pretty and all, but she wasn’t my mom. Nobody was my mom, and she had them all beat.

And I remembered something else. I remembered standing in the bathroom one day while she got ready for church, just like I had. I remember her touching the scar that marked her thyroid surgery, and looking at her one discolored tooth. And I remember her adding a little more mascara, and a little more eyeliner, and asking if that made her droopy eyelid any better. The surgeon who tried to remove her tumor had hit a nerve, and that left her with one droopy eye.

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I also remember being so very perplexed. “Mommy, you’re beautiful. You look perfect. There’s nothing wrong with your eye.” That’s what I told her, and I meant it. I had absolutely no understanding of how a tiny scar, a darker tooth, and an eyelid made her any less beautiful. Grown ups were so weird.

A few weeks ago, Smush had her very own sleepover at Grandma’s house. She was so excited. A long-standing tradition at Grandma sleepovers is french toast – it happens every time, and it only happens with Grandma and Dodie (my aunt). Smush was dutifully helping with the french toast when she spotted a picture of me and Goo on the fridge. She paused and said, “I really love my mama. She’s pretty.”

I know the picture she saw. It’s sweet. It’s loving. And the first thing I noticed was my double chin and nonexistent jaw line.

The first thing she noticed was her mama that loves her so much.

I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that many of you have probably had those same days. The ones where you stand in front of the mirror and know that you just can’t fix it all. At least not without Photoshop. The ones where the makeup just isn’t cutting it. The dress just isn’t fitting right. And you can’t figure out for the life of you how women on magazines don’t have pores.

Here is an invaluable truth: None of that matters. You are beautiful because you’re you. No one else will ever be as beautiful as you are, because they will never have your heart. And if anyone tells you differently, kick them in the shins.

But don’t tell them I told you to do that.

The mirror tells you that your beauty is tied to your skin tone and your bone structure.

I have known some physically beautiful people who were downright ugly underneath, and I have seen burn victims and quadriplegics that radiated beauty from the inside out.

The mirror lies. The truth is that we were created in the image and likeness of God Himself. The arrangement of molecules that create our physical bodies is NOT who we are. It is a shadow of our true selves.

I know that I’m beautiful. Smush says so. You can’t argue with that.

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Parenting FAIL Friday: I’m moving to Australia.

I hate today and I’m moving to Australia.

I texted that to the Nerd the other day. It’s a reference to the (fantastic) children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

There is a conspiracy in the world to prevent me from sleeping. I am sure of this. After night, after night, after night, of broken, horrific sleep, I decided to hit the hay early and try to actually wake up rested.

Silly me.

I was awakened by the sound of the most obnoxious pounding I have ever heard in my life. I’m surprised we still have a door. The police were here, notifying us that the church’s alarm had been tripped when the wind blew the door open.

Super. Dead sleep, the loud pounding of police officers outside my door. I picked my heart up off the floor, and waited for the adrenaline to subside.

That took a while. I watched stupid videos of people lip syncing to songs from Frozen on YouTube.

The dog woke me up (we’re dog sitting – which has confirmed that I do, in fact, hate dogs). He barked and whined. The Nerd walked him (at 2 AM). He did nothing. He woke us up again. The Nerd walked  him (3 AM). He did nothing.

He barked and whined at the girls and woke them up at 5 AM. He then immediately peed on their floor.

SUCH A GOOD WAY TO START THE DAY. 

After not a lot of sleep, I hit the coffee hard and prepared to rush everyone out the door early, to drop Punkin off at a school on the opposite side of town, for a special field trip. It is a universal fact that the more important an early departure time is, the slower your children will move.

After incessant nagging, running around with three sleepy children (THANKS DOG), and not even finishing my coffee, we walk out to the van. We need to leave 5 minutes ago to get to the bus on time for the field trip.

My van doors are frozen shut. I can’t open them.

After begging and pleading, and maybe punching and cursing the winter, I get the driver’s door open. The girls climb through to the back. I cannot reach Smush to buckle her, and because her door won’t open, Punkin has to do it. Smush is super cooperative about getting buckled.

That was a bold-faced lie.

Anyway. Everyone is finally buckled. I throw it in reverse, and as soon as I move, things are beeping. Lights are flashing inside, and I’m immediately assaulted by frigid air as my door flies open, BECAUSE NOW THE HANDLE IS FROZEN IN THE OPEN POSITION AND THE DOOR WON’T SHUT.

I’m moving to Australia.

I give the old, “C’mon!” and smack the handle, breaking the icy grip and finally getting everyone in the van, the doors closed, and the vehicle in motion. Amen. We are now 10 minutes late.

My GPS lies. The school is not 10  minutes away. It is more like 20 minutes away because it’s snowing and EVEN THOUGH WE LIVE IN NEW ENGLAND WHERE IT SNOWS 6 MONTHS OUT OF THE YEAR, people freak out and can’t drive more than 10 mph. I’m not bitter.

I find the school and pull in as the field trip bus is leaving the parking lot. Punkin tears up. I smile and wave like I just escaped the psych ward, and the teacher recognizes me. The bus pulls over, and they let Punkin get on. I LOVE THAT TEACHER.

OK, Punkin made it. This day sucks, I hate dogs, but Punkin made it. I can drop Goo off, and this day will be fine. The van is warming up and I can feel my fingers again. See? It’s not so bad.

“DING. DING. DING. DING. DING.”

Lights flashing on and off. My van is tripping on LSD.

Now that the van warmed up, the doors have thawed enough to trip the sensor and send the car into panic mode BECAUSE OMG YOU’RE DRIVING WITH THE DOORS OPEN.

But because it’s me, the doors haven’t thawed enough to actually open. So I can’t budge them enough to shut them. So now I’m driving around a minivan that is perpetually beeping and flashing interior lights like a freaking rave on wheels.

We made it home. I surrendered to the chaos and opted to finish my coffee and snuggle Smush by the fire.

But I’m still moving to Australia.

I am doing something, whether you like it or not.

I’ve been relatively silent, I know. Life. Craziness. Finding it more frustrating than enjoyable to try to write a coherent post. Excuses excuses.

A question I received a while ago has been ruminating, and I decided the most productive way to wrap my head around it would be to whine about it online get a little written therapy going.

Towards the end of Goo’s treatment, I was asked a question. The kind of question that makes you reexamine your whole life and evaluate every decision you’ve ever made. Not the small ones, but the big ones: Do you marry this guy? Have kids? Work there? Stay home? Are you a Dunkin’ girl or a Starbucks girl? You know, the ones that define who you are.

“When are you going to…you know…do something with your life?”

Ho.ly.crap.

At that moment, my heart actually ached. Was I really that big of a disappointment? How did that happen? I mean, I’m not winning the Nobel prize or anything, but I’m pretty okay. I definitely didn’t think I was a total failure.

At least, not until I was asked that question. And then, for weeks, I pondered it. I looked at my life in a completely new light. Dean’s List student with a degree in Biology? Yeah, but all you did was teach high school for a few years. For a teeny tiny paycheck. So not worth bragging about.

Loving marriage that survived a really rocky period, because we stood by the commitment we made to each other and sacrificed until we found ourselves madly in love again? Sure. But financially we’re nowhere. We don’t even own a home. So really, what do we have to show for it?

And then there’s that mom thing. Staying home with the kids all day. DOING NOTHING. I mean, it totally worked out when my kid got cancer and I had to quit my job working from home to care for Goo, but again, no paycheck, no career boost, and if there’s one thing cancer doesn’t do, it’s make you rich. Or successful. Such a bummer.

And then, every so often, for months after, it would pop up again. I’m 31. I haven’t done anything. My life is at least 1/3 over and I have nothing to show for it.

And then I hit the brakes.

Because what a load of nonsense.

I’m sure that question came from a place of love, from someone trying to inspire me? Maybe?

Side note: I recently helped with a class that focuses on finding truth, and gaining freedom from all the hurts of the past. One of the things I told the women in my group was that for every lie you hear in your head, speak three truths. (Not my original idea, but I thought it was a great one.) “You’re ugly.” Umm, no. I’m a daughter of the King. I’m created in the image and likeness of God. I am beautiful because I was created with a purpose, and it extends far beyond fine lines and numbers on a scale. Boom.

I then had the crazy thought to take my own advice. So for every negative thought that stemmed from that question, I decided to make a list of things I’ve done that I’m proud of, that are important to me, and that I wouldn’t change for the fanciest career or the biggest paycheck in the world.

I have a gut feeling that if you’re a stay at home mom, or a working mom, or a human being, you’ve struggled with feelings of failure, and inadequacy, and irrelevance.

Punch those thoughts in the throat. And then make a list like this one. IT FELT SO GOOD. Like drinking coffee with full fat milk. And not even feeling bad about it.

What I’ve done while I was busy doing nothing.

  • Overcame suicidal tendencies as a teen by clinging to a faith in a God who was bigger than my sorrow (boy has that been helpful over the years)
  • Despite watching my mother die of cancer, being left by my father, and having a healthy dose of emotional scarring in the first 20 years of my life, I kept a level head on my shoulders – no drugs, no drinking (prior to children. Blame them), no crazy boy stuff – other than marrying a guy who once shaved “DUM” in the back of his head. But hey, nobody’s perfect.
  • Worked my tail off – through 4 months of all day/every day “morning” sickness – going to school full-time, doing research part-time, and working 30 hrs/wk – to earn my degree.
  • Volunteered my time, love, and life experience through various ministries through the churches I’ve attended. I’ve done that since I was 15. For 16 years I’ve volunteered with children’s, teen, and adult ministries, ranging from changing diapers to providing counseling. I hope that wasn’t nothing. Because it really felt like something kind of awesome.
  • I put on my big girl pants and made life choices that totally contradicted what everyone else thought was best – and I’m kind of crazy happy about that, because those choices made me crazy happy. So there.
  • I know you’ve heard it all before, but I have to say it here – I, alongside my family, saw my little girl through cancer. I cleaned up her vomit too many times to count. I advocated for her. I spent every 3 weeks, for a year, totally reworking everything we ate to promote her health and changing taste that resulted from chemotherapy. I shaved her head, and cried with her when she thought she was ugly. I told her she was beautiful until she believed it. I held her through every needle. I gave her injection, after injection, after injection – because I knew that making her cry would save her life. I made time for my other girls, all the while juggling guilt for not having three of me to share. THAT was not nothing.
  • I ran into the ocean in the dead of winter to raise money for an organization that helps families of children with cancer.
  • I trained for, and successfully completed, a 5k. I trained all summer, then ran the actual race during a freak cold front that dropped the temp to 34 degrees. My lungs burned, I produced far more snot than any human being should produce, and I was slower than a turtle in quicksand, BUT I DID IT.
  • I perfected the art of homemade mac and cheese. That absolutely counts as a lifetime achievement.

This post is totally my way of sticking my tongue out at the people who have made me feel bad about my life. It took me a long time to fight the overwhelming sense that I had failed because no matter what we’ve done, we can’t buy fancy houses and remodel them. We don’t own brand new cars. We can’t even sign our kids up for dance/sports/whatever because we don’t have the money. My sense of self-worth and success was only measured by the things I could own or the money I could earn. So lame.

But you know what? My husband knows he is loved. My kids know they are loved. Punkin walked out of her room wearing 14 different colors and patterns in the same outfit the other day. It’s been her thing since forever. She asked what I thought, and when I said, “Well, it’s definitely you,” she put a  hand on her hip, and with a big smile and a little sass proudly announced, “And there’s nothing wrong with that!”

She is confident in who she is, and that who God has created her to be is more than enough. I’m trying to be more like her.

The only thing I can figure is that those who have viewed me as a disappointment or a failure, see me that way because I don’t “work.” But I know who I am in Christ. I know that I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37). I know that His grace has always been enough. I know that my value is in no way tied to my bank account.

So there.

A year ago today: What cancer did not do.

One year ago today, my husband and I sat in a waiting room while a surgeon sliced into the right side of Goo’s head and scraped out a small piece of tissue. He removed some from her auditory canal. He made a frozen slide. He stitched her back up. And then he approached us.

I knew. I knew the minute I saw his face that it wasn’t good. I remember his voice as he said, “It looks like something called, ‘rhabdomyosarcoma.'” I remember my heart pounding, my husband and I searching each other’s eyes. I remember thinking, “You need to hear what he has to say. This is important, and you’re the one who understands the science jargon. Listen now. Cry later.”

And I did. I heard it all. I did not cry until he left the room. And then I collapsed into my husband’s arms as we wept uncontrollably. I shook all over. I put my head between my knees when the room started spinning.

And then I went to work. I made phone calls. I got angry. I lost 6 lbs in 5 days because there isn’t much time to eat when you’re fighting for your child’s life. I heard every single word the doctors said, and I can still recall much of it, verbatim. I fought through anger and doubt that nearly destroyed me.

Cancer, you sneaky, vile thing. You came like a thief in the night. You sought to devour.

But one year later, let me be clear: YOU LOST.

You did not destroy a life. Actually, you gave me an appreciation for all that I have in a way that wasn’t possible before this.

You did not shatter hopes and dreams. You fueled a dormant passion. You rekindled fire that had begun to fizzle. You reminded me that this isn’t the end – it’s only the beginning.

You did not tear a family apart. In fact, you expanded it. You brought people into our lives that we now stand beside as we continue the fight to defeat you.

You did not steal my baby’s childhood. You see, she doesn’t really remember you. She doesn’t remember your pain. She doesn’t remember the way you tore at her cranial nerve, leaving her face paralyzed on the right side. It’s hard to remember when that paralysis isn’t there any more. She doesn’t remember the spinal tap, the bone marrow biopsies, or the way you threatened to destroy her hearing. Which, by the way, you did not do. Let that be a reminder: You were beaten by a 5-year-old.

You did not leave us paralyzed by fear. I had a very small, very feisty warrior reminding me that fear is a choice, and it’s a choice she never made. So we do not fear you. We will not wait helplessly for you to return. We will press on, and we will continue to fight for those you are still seeking to devour. But we will not live in fear.

You did do a lot, though, in a year’s time. You taught me to love more deeply than I ever thought possible. You used a child to teach me what it means to fight. You created a love between 3 sisters that can never be broken. You took a rock solid marriage and made it even better, because there is a tremendous bond formed in the thick of battle. You taught people how to give, and how to do so selflessly. You forged friendships that will never be broken. You taught me to believe in a God that is greater than I could ever hope to understand, and certainly bigger than you. You taught me that in a matter of moments, there are people worldwide who lift us up in prayer, and believe me, I will never forget that. You taught me to hope, and that is something I had forgotten how to do.

Cancer. You did so much. But remember one very real thing you did not do:

You did not win.

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Parenting FAIL Friday: Is she…twerking?

I love Smush so dang much. She is zany and loving and silly and in a world all her own. Beyond the whole break-all-the-things issue she seems to have, our only current problem is that for the life of me, I cannot get her to understand the concept of a “stranger.”

Since birth, she has been so ridiculously happy and friendly. Grocery shopping took forever because I kept having to wrangle my children, much like a sheep dog wrangles sheep. Only with produce involved. 

But also because she would wave and bat those ridiculously long eye lashes at every single person who walked by. I figured she would grow out of this. I was wrong.

Around 2 years old, she suddenly yelled in said grocery store, “Stop! Go back to the other side!” When I asked why, she said, “Because there was an old man! He’s my friend. I need to say hi.” Oh. Of course.

The Nerd and I actually kind of enjoy this. She spreads smiles and sunshine to passersby all the time, and I super loved that. Until this summer.

Setting: A family festival for children with cancer. In attendance were patients and families, med school students, a professor, a magician, and some other awesome people.

(Side note: My life-long dream has always been to work in medicine. You’ll see why that’s relevant in a bit.)

The kids had lined up to hit a pinata, and I noticed Smush wasn’t with us. I didn’t panic, because she had been hanging out all day with Goo’s buddy – a first year med student who hangs with Goo at every appointment – to help Goo, and to learn about this road from the family’s point of view. BRILLIANT PROGRAM.

Me: Buddy, is Smush with you?

Buddy: No. I thought she went to the pinata.

Me: Sigh. Nerd! Nerd! Is Smush with you??

Nerd: No. I thought she was with you.

Me: *Scanning area. I see a large group of med students standing in a circle, obviously staring at something in the middle.* I approach the circle.

Med student: She’s over here! Your daughter’s over here.

Me: Oh thank you! *enters circle*

Me: Oh for the love of all that is good and holy – WHAT is she doing?

And there I found my adorable, virtuous 3-year-old. Bent over, hands on the ground, moving her little heiny back and forth, giggling with glee at the large audience she had amassed.

Me, to nearby student: Is she…twerking?

(If you don’t know what twerking is, just Google “Miley Cyrus twerking.” And then get a therapist for what you are about to see.)

The students erupted in laughter. I hanged my head in shame as they would undoubtedly assume she learned that from me. Or from some horrific music video I let her watch.

I picked her up, brought her over to the pinata, and informed the Nerd that his daughter had been twerking in the middle of a crowd of people. 

I can see it now. After years of waiting, working, studying and praying, I make it to a med school interview.

The interviewer promptly says, “Oh hey! You’re that mom whose toddler was twerking in public! I remember you.”

I think we can kiss that dream goodbye. 

Parenting FAIL Friday: Look, Mommy! Gloves!

There are certain phrases every parent hates hearing. The ones that make you cringe, and steal just a little piece of your soul. Phrases like, “(CRASH) Sorry mom!” Or, “Mommy! Come see what’s in the toilet!” Or “(CRASH) I’m okay!”

We cringe because we know – we know that somewhere, deep within the bowels of the earth the kitchen, something has been destroyed. Your cell phone just took a swim in the porcelain pool. Grandma’s bread dish just served its last family dinner. Your good necklace isn’t your good necklace anymore.

At this point, I should just know. I should know that, “Look, Mommy!” generally precedes them showing me something I very much do not want to see.

But I don’t know. I haven’t learned yet. Which is why when Smush called for me asking me to look at her gloves, I didn’t worry.

I should have worried.

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You know what that is? Fluff. Sticky, messy, good-luck-getting-that-off-anything, marshmallow fluff. I’ve purchased this exactly twice in 9 years because it’s basically sugary chemicals. So what happens when I get the kids a treat? This.

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And this. That’s the play kitchen in the toy room.

No treats for you.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: ACCO, and behind the scenes of childhood cancer.

It’s still childhood cancer awareness month. We’re still fighting cancer. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you may have missed that my last organization to highlight this month was St. Baldrick’s. They contacted me and asked me to do a piece for their blog for childhood cancer awareness month, and I happily obliged. You can read it, and learn more about this amazing organization, here.

Today I’m highlighting another of my favorites, the American Childhood Cancer Organization. By now, you’re probably aware that the federal government gives a whopping 1% of the cancer research funding to children. I still can’t wrap my head around that one.

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Still my favorite picture. We’re fighting to change the face of childhood cancer.

That’s why it takes families like ours, and groups like the ones I’ve been talking about, to really impact childhood cancer. The ACCO has one mission: to change the face of childhood cancer treatment. To refuse to say, “80% is good enough.” When 1 out of every 5 children dies, that is most certainly not good enough.

They’re coming at this silent monster from every side: raising awareness, raising funds for research, and advocating for legislation that won’t leave our children on the back burner.

One of their big fundraisers – which we are hoping to do in Punkin and Goo’s school this year – is PJammin, a pajama day where kids and grown ups pay $1 (or more if they wish), to wear pajamas to school. You can do this fundraiser anywhere – businesses, churches, schools, etc. It’s fun, easy, and not only raises money for pediatric cancer research, but helps give us an opportunity to share about pediatric cancer.

There is so much more to it than many people – previously, myself included – realize.

This week we had to stay at the hospital longer than expected. Why? Because Goo had a cold. When you hear “cancer,” most people know about chemo and radiation. They don’t know that every time your child’s temperature hits 100.3*F, you have to go to the emergency room, where needles will be inserted into the port in your child’s chest, blood samples (and nasal swabs, and urine samples) taken, and mass amounts of antibiotic will course through their veins. If their blood counts are okay, you may be allowed to go home, and come back the next day for more mega-antibiotic. If they’re low, you’re not going anywhere. This happens every. single. time. they get a fever. It’s scary, and traumatizing, and unbelievably exhausting. (Because we all know that the only time a child can possibly spike a fever is in the middle of the night). It wreaks havoc on the other kids left at home, and your little hero. Cancer is a big fat jerk.

Organizations like ACCO need to work because while treatment is getting better, no new drugs have emerged in 20 years. Twenty years of struggling with “cures” that can lead to lifelong infertility, brain damage, and secondary cancers. Call me crazy, but if your cancer treatment causes cancer, 1% isn’t cutting it. .

So click over to ACCO. Have a pajama day. And raise some awareness – and research funds – for childhood cancer.

We need it.