On Mother’s Day…

So, Mother’s Day holds mixed feelings for me these days. As my child would say, “It’s complicated.”

On May 9th, 1997, my parents left town for the weekend to get away from life for a bit. They traveled down to St. Simons Island and left me in charge. I was 20 years old. My five siblings were all younger, 18, 15, 12, 11 and 5. My 18 year old brother, Wilder, was headed to the prom that Friday. He came by the house before he and his friends left, full of excitement and swagger, ready for the fun ahead.

The next morning he came by again to drop off his tux, so I could return it for him. He said good-bye as he left for the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Just another prom beach trip. Sometime late that night (or early in the morning), the phone woke me. Croaking a bit, I answered.

“Hello?”

“Is Mr. Henry Smith available?”

“Huh?” I asked, not really awake.

“Is Mr. Henry Smith there?”

“Who is this?”

Then another voice came on the line, one I recognized.

“Katherine, this is Anna Kate. This nurse needs to talk to you.”

“Okay.”

The first voice spoke again. “This is a nurse at Hilton Head hospital. Can you get in touch with your parents?”

After getting off the phone, I woke one of my sisters.

“Some hospital just called and said that Wilder’s on a ventilator. Should I call mom and dad?”

I was now realizing that it was four o’clock in the morning, but I still wasn’t getting that what was happening was bad. Very bad.

“Yea. I think you should call them,” Barbara Jean said.

This was before everyone had cell phones. My parents were staying at a retreat center and could only be reached after going through a night guard. I got my dad on the line and gave him the number of the hospital.

Not long after that, my dad called back.

“Call all the aunts and uncles,” he said. “It’s bad. Mom and I are headed to Hilton Head.”

About an hour later we were all up. My Aunt Ginny, who lived next door and whose daughter, Anna Kate, was the same age as Wilder and was at Hilton Head with him, came over to ask if we were going to the hospital.

“We weren’t. Do you think we should?”

“I do.”

So we went. And Wilder was on a ventilator. He was very sick. At the time, we weren’t really sure what had happened. We know now that he had an asthma attack. An asthma attack. One of those “situations” that Wilder had been having forever. Something that was dealt with by sucking on an inhaler, or getting a shot. Not something that could do this.

My parents made the decision to move him to a bigger hospital closer to home. A helicopter came and got him. We got on the road to make the 3 hour drive to Augusta, Georgia.

My sister BJ, my cousin Richard and I were in my car. We got to the hospital before my parents and other two sisters. We walked into the waiting room of the ER at the Medical College of Georgia, the three of us, and saw my Uncle Mason walking towards us. He was shaking his head.

And I knew.

Wilder hadn’t made it. He died in the air.

It was May 11th, 1997. Mother’s Day.

So Mother’s Day after that was bitter. For my mom. Her own mom died in 1985. And now, Mother’s Day was a reminder that as a mother, she was incomplete. It was the anniversary of the day one of her children left before she did.

And now, she’s gone too. Taken too soon by breast cancer in 2012.

It’s Mother’s Day. And my mother is gone. But that doesn’t make me sad. Mother’s Day, 2012, was the first of these Sundays in 15 years that my mother didn’t have to be sad on Mother’s Day. For the first time since the day my brother never came down from the air, she was with him.

On baking…

In the kitchen, baking a cake, I found my mother.

She was there as I turned on the mixer, the whir of the KitchenAid blade beating the Crisco and butter together.  I heard her voice as I cracked the eggs one at a time into a glass, to be poured into the mixing bowl after checking for shells.  I saw her hands leveling the flour, measuring the salt and baking soda, turning the crank on the sifter.  I felt her near me as I prepared the pan with a paper towel, Crisco and flour.

Again she was there, when I beat the buttercream icing to soft white peaks, when I spread the icing onto the sheet cake in the smooth back-and-forth rhythms I learned just watching her countless times, and as I screwed the icing tip on the bag.  As I made figure eight’s on my son’s hand, I felt again the smooth texture of sweetness, of gift.

And as my son looks at his completed cake that is mixed, baked, iced and decorated by hand, I think, even though she’s gone, even though he will barely remember her, this cake and the many that will come after it, are gifts from her.  As surely as if she made it herself.

Because she was with me in the kitchen today, and I was so happy to find her there.

On Mother-Baby connections…

I read this article a few days ago doing my usual morning net surf. Started this post then, but wasn’t sure where to go with it.

Then yesterday, I had this little moment with Jude.  Jude is my youngest child and will turn five in a week.  Five.  When he was born, in my mind I saw him as a middle child of five kids.  I figured I would have at least two more babies before I turned 40 and then Mac and I would have to work hard at natural family planning in order to enjoy those retirement years in peace.  Haha, right?

Jude became the youngest of four when we brought Tristan into our lives.  Then last summer, after 4 years, we found out we were pregnant again.  I was thrilled.  A little worried as well, because we have come to rely on my salary more than we should and taking time off for a baby would be hard, but we had 8 months to save money and be ready.  Only five weeks into the pregnancy, however, I miscarried.

Walking to work yesterday, I thought about my youngest son who has gotten so big.  And then my thoughts turned to the baby that we lost.  He would be a few weeks old now.  I was profoundly sad at never getting to know him and at the idea that my body may be done having babies.

Then I thought about the article.  About how that little baby is still with me.  In my MARROW.  The idea takes the phrase “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” to a whole new level.  Each baby that I have is with me still.  The thought made me wonder at the world we live in – how little we understand it – how amazing our bodies and our connections to each other are.

 

On turning around…

I left my house today to walk to work.  I do this often.  Usually I say good-bye to every one in the house, but today I only said my good-byes to those who were downstairs.  No big deal.  A common occurence.

I had gotten about a hundred yards down the sidewalk when I heard my name being called.  I turned around to see Jude, my 4 year old, and Mac standing in the yard.  I waved. Jude took off running towards me.  He reached me, gave me a huge hug, said “I love you, Mommy” and “good-bye”, turned and ran back to his daddy. 

Just a little moment.  But my boy, smile lighting up his face, legs pumping away – that image took me all the way to work. 

On my screen porch…

Photo on 2-23-14 at 11.40 AM

Those of you who have known me for a while know how much I love my screen porch. When my husband and I were shown our house for the first time (it wasn’t our house then), we looked all through the place, loving the curved archways and picture molding. We decided to buy it that day. (the price was pretty amazing, too) A few weeks later we were back in town to meet a contractor to inspect the house, when we finally went out on the porch. It was huge! Built with brick as part of the house, with more arches and a tiled floor, we could not believe our luck. The wood and screens needed replacing, but Mac loves summer projects and he did the work himself.

Each spring, I come out and throw away the old plants, dust off the furniture, wipe down the tables and mop the floor. I fill my bird feeders hanging in the dogwood tree and in the mornings…sit. Sometimes we play board games out here. Sometimes we do homeschool out here. We’ve been known to eat lunch, nap and read (or even watch movies).

Last weekend after our second crazy ice storm of the winter, we had a week of 70 degree days. Sunny, warm…I needed my porch. So I spent a whole afternoon cleaning and dusting and pouring and wiping and now…sitting.

Just a moment ago I saw my first cardinal of the (almost) spring. His brilliant red feathers and beak were even more beautiful set against the bare branches and gray sky. Yea…I love my porch.

On walking away…

I read this article a few days ago, written by a man (a very intelligent man apparently – a PROFESSOR!) whose son had, by his account, an AWFUL time in kindergarten and first grade because of an undiagnosed disability. The story goes through so many weird twists that it’s hard not to imagine the whole scenario as the plot of a Lifetime Movie of the Week.

This father speaks of himself and his extremely intelligent (NEUROSCIENTIST) wife, their trusty psychologists and therapists and lawyers, up against the machinery of the school system. They bravely battle through until the Ever Benevolent Court gives them PERMISSION (Oh praise be to the Ever Benevolent Court) to move THEIR CHILD to a better school. And everyone’s happy.

And all I can think about through the entire article is WHY? WHY would any seemingly (I mean they have DEGREES!) intelligent couple send their PRECIOUS little boy into a place in which the only way that he can get through the day is by ROCKING in his chair?

“When we brought him to school, he would cringe away from the staff and refuse to say hello.”

Forget a disability, how about yanking your boy away from a place like that IMMEDIATELY? As in, never to return.

In the comments after the article, the father is very gracious to answer many of the questions that people pose to him about the situation. Only one person out of the bunch asks my question. Why not homeschool? The father’s reply? “To me, the solution is not pulling out, disengaging, and leaving everyone else to their fate, but instead speaking out and raising awareness of these issues.”

My duty, as a parent, is not to sacrifice my child’s needs on the altar of the public education system or the “greater good.” My job is to raise MY child. And to protect MY child.

I am not saying that every parent has the personality to homeschool, but there are a wide variety of options available to parents, especially affluent ones. I have no doubt that this man and his wife love their son very much, but the fact that REMOVING HIM FROM THE SITUATION was not seen as the most obvious answer to the question of what to do makes me sad for this little boy and the year of his life that was wasted on a battle that could have been won by walking away.

On spending money…

So it’s tax time. Time to sit down with those W-2s, scour through your piles of saved receipts, and look for ways to keep Uncle Sam’s hands off more of your hard earned money. Ugh.

I’m going to make a statement here that is going to sound like bragging. I apologize for that. I have worked only part time since my son Ben was born 11 years ago, so my salary has always been a supplement to my husband’s which provides a retirement package and very reasonably priced health insurance. So imagine my surprise when I got my W-2 this year and realized that I made more this past year than I have since that first year after I graduated from nursing school 14 years ago.

Here’s the worst part. I. Don’t. Know. Where. It. Went. I mean, I KNOW where it went. I’m a faithful Quicken user and have been since I was 18 and got my first Compaq computer for college. I can print out a report that tells me exactly where my money has gone.

BUT, seriously! Where did it all go? Intellectually speaking I know how to budget. I know how to plan for meals (and I do), but even after a year of listening to Dave Ramsey give the same advice to 3 hours’ worth of call-in guests, I still have not managed to get a hold on my (and my family’s) spending.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, daily prayer, consistent exercising, letting go of that second helping, and getting off of the couch are all part of the budgeting problem. They are all symptoms of a lack of discipline in our (okay my) lives.

And lumping all those other problems in with the daily prayer is kind of ridiculous, cause we all (okay I) know that prayer is the place to start. Beginning the day by asking the Lord to help us in ALL areas of our (okay my) lives is the best way to get MY spending habits under control.

I’ll let you know how that works out, especially heading into Lent.

On the rock in my pocket…

I have a rock in my pocket. It’s kind of a mutating rock. Sometimes it seems small, like a pebble. Today it’s a boulder. Last night, saying good-night to my boys, it seemed like a mountain.

How does one write about this? How does a person put down into words the countless emotions that run through my head when the thought “My mother is dead” comes sneaking in? For that is what happens a million times a day.

At home: I need to go the store and my mother is dead. What are those children doing up there and my mom is gone.

Watching T.V.: What a sweet movie. Mama would love this, but I can’t tell her about it because she is dead.

Coming home from Statesboro: I should call mom and let her know that we are on the way, but I can’t because she is not there. She is dead.

You see, rocks.

I feel muted. Not like someone has turned down the volume, but like gray and mauve and teal and burnt umber. Doesn’t that sound so very teenager angst? I feel – young. I feel – fragile. I look around at my children, who I won’t lie, keep me distracted somewhat from the immediacy of the emotions. How can I have time to break down when Jude is screaming at Sam who is chasing the dog because the dog bit him? I mean, who has time for all of this emotion when there are these children to take care of. I think I feel young because I look at my kids and I think that I am not ready to face the next few years with them without her. I feel young in that I want my mama.

But it’s a very odd sort of want. I know that she’s gone. I’m not in any kind of denial – I’m too pragmatic for that. It’s this whole facing mortality thing. It’s the knowledge that what happened to her not only has happened to other people in my life, but will happen to MORE people in my life, will happen to ME in fact and though I should be rejoicing because, hey, we all have to die and she lived a good life and she loved the Lord, blah, blah, blah, but it’s maddening to think that any of my family, at any moment could be gone and there is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing that I can say or think or feel that will change the inevitability of that. I think, surely, God wouldn’t take my husband or one of my kids from me because I’ve already been through this twice, but that’s BULL. God doesn’t work like that. THE WORLD doesn’t work like that, so what’s it all for? That is what I have to ask myself and what I have to come to terms with and what I have to FACE for the next however many years until I become the rock in someone else’s pocket.

That’s the rock in my pocket. Or pebble. Or mountain.

On standing up during my mom’s funeral…

The following is the eulogy that I read at my mother’s funeral today:

My mom did not start out her life as glue, as someone who kept the people around her from falling apart, but she learned over a lifetime how to be that person. I suppose some of this super-power of hers came from the family trait of stubbornness. This trait could, as a daughter, be maddening at times – certainly not easy. But that stubbornness – that in some people leads to a hardening and a pulling away – led instead to a softening and an opening up that could amaze me.

I am her oldest child. I do remember that young mom with a quick temper who could yell when she needed to. Now that I have my own children, I know that no one sees your worst side like your children do. But I also watched her change – with the death of her own parents when she was in her 20s and early 30s, through taking in her niece who became her daughter, through the loss of a son, and through her battles with cancer.

With each sorrow she grew in wisdom and strength, she reached out in ways that I am still becoming aware of.  She spoke with other mothers who lost sons and daughters – because she knew that pain, she knew how awful the pain could be, and she knew how to comfort and hug and cry with those who had lost one of their own. Through that loss she gained a different perspective on being a mother. She learned that love speaks louder than anger – that some things just are not worth the fight. It’s a grandmother’s wisdom – and I hope and pray that I listened enough to take those lessons so hard learned to heart.

When mom and dad found out last year that she had a brain tumor, that the cancer that we had hoped and prayed and believed was defeated had come back – she told us that she was not afraid to die. She knew where she was going and that she was going to see Wilder, my brother, again. That she would fight as hard as she knew how to stay here with us, but that if she lost that fight it was okay.

No person is an island and my mom was no exception. Even glue has to get it’s cohesiveness from somewhere and she got it from two sources. One was her husband. No matter how strong she had to be for everyone else, with him she could let go and pour out her sorrows to someone who knew her as no one else did. Their love for each other gave her the strength to be who she needed and wanted to be. And it has been an honor and a privilege to be witness to their love for all of my life.

But I know that my dad would say that he was strong for her and she would say that she was not afraid to die for one reason—and this is because of the Rock that they both stand upon which is Jesus Christ. He was and is, even more so now, the source and summit of her Faith. She learned to draw from the strength of Christ more and more as each sorrow came. She praised Him always. And to you here who knew her, you know that she was not afraid to share that love with everyone around her.

My mother was not perfect, nor would she want you to think that she was, but she did bring those around her closer to the Lord by her presence and by the unmatchable smile that I know is lighting heaven now.

I read the following verse at my brother’s funeral, standing in this same spot, and the words are just as true today as they were then.  From Ephesians 3, verses 14-21;

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

On homeschool lesson plans…

Here’s a dirty little secret: I’ve never made lesson plans for my home-schooled children. At least not until today. I never saw the point. I mean, Ben really just started to do more than learning to read, write and add/subtract within the last few months. It’s only been recently that I could make him a list of things to do and he just did them, checking them off one by one on whatever piece of scrap paper I could find to write his lessons upon.

So today, instead of just writing down a list of tomorrow’s tasks, I thought “Oh my, I could make a chart and have a list of his subjects on one side with the days of the week at the top and fill in blocks with his assignments. What a great idea! Do all teachers know about this? I should tell someone!” Yeah, I’m awesome.

I was telling my husband (a teacher) about this amazing thing and how I had a new appreciation for home-schooling mothers of 8 and 10 kids. Seriously, how do you guys do it? I have my one child that actually has enough work to do that I need to make him a list so that I and he can keep up with it all–and we don’t even do all that much. Especially not now with my mother sick and us needing to spend most afternoons at her house. Just before this current stressor, we had finally been getting into a history curriculum with my two boys that they (and I) were actually enjoying. But that has fallen to the wayside and the six-year-old is just doing an online phonics and math program. The phonics I’m happy with, but the math we need to be supplementing with some actual mommy-sit-down-and-help-stuff. I think I’ll save that for next year when the 3-year-old will be spending his mornings at a small church-run pre-school. Then I’ll need lesson plans for TWO kids. Oh my. Perhaps by the time the youngest needs lesson plans, I’ll just let the oldest write his own. Now THAT’S what I call home-school.

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