sour grapes

grapes

Today was the eighteenth anniversary of the day I got married. Today was the seventh anniversary of the day we signed the closing papers on our house. Today I made my eight year old cry when I told him we would not be going on our annual camping trip. Today I have been thinking a lot about the quick blink of passing time, about unexpected settling, about disappointment.

For the record: this has been a rotten summer. The older kids have declared it “the worst” but I can’t even whisper superlatives without worrying about superstitiously tempting fate. Oh yeah? You think this is bad? Just wait. I know it doesn’t work like that, but I am spurned into a practice of gratitude anyhow. And even if I can’t avoid difficulties simply by focusing instead on whatever is vaguely good, I can try not to make it harder. Life can be hard enough.

Seven years ago, we moved into a house that had a recent but poor exterior paint job. We intended to paint as soon as possible. Turns out, it wasn’t possible until now. Turns out, we might be attempting the impossible.

We would have deferred this task longer, if it weren’t for chunks of our house beginning to crumble away to dry rot. We’ve had a lot of other stuff going on over the last few years; we put it off as long as we could. And, like everything we do, we’re doing it ourselves. I wish I could tell you it’s all for DIY bragging rights, for industriousness, for hubris. But the truth is that we can’t afford to pay someone else. It’s not glamorous to talk about finances. But I have never aspired to glamor and I know other families must be in the same predicament. We are a one income family, and while that income is decent we have a lot of expenses related to some rough blows we’ve had (a year of unemployment, lengthy hospitalizations) and keeping afloat feels like accomplishment. Any extra costs are not easily absorbed.

We are losing a whole summer to this project. The husband even took off a week of work and spent the equivalent of his usual (50 or so hour) workweek power washing and sanding and scraping. We might not even finish by the time the rains start (we live in Oregon: it’s wet here) but at least the house will be waterproof and the walls won’t wash away.

We didn’t do anything special for our anniversary. Heck, we didn’t do anything special for our marriage, so I guess it’s tradition. We don’t have the time nor money (nor extended family) for special. Frankly, when regular life is so tight and stressful, we don’t have the energy for special.

Tonight the husband and the two oldest are sleeping outside on the trampoline. It was the teenager’s idea, and the eight year old wanted to do it, too. But he was kinda nervous so the dad said he would join them.

This isn’t where I envisioned we might be, eighteen years ago. But I know that my marriage and family aren’t going to wash away. We might have rough times, we certainly have areas that aren’t lovely, but we keep at it, and we patch it up, and we do the best we can. And, in doing so, we set a new precedent for our children. We will always be there for you, we tell them, in everything we do.

It’s a bummer that we can’t go camping this summer. It’s a bummer that the only thing we hoped to do was a simple camping trip, and even that proved to be too much. We have good reasons to be very disappointed. And we have many terrific reasons to be very proud. My children know they don’t have to shoulder the burdens of this world alone. We have given our kids something that we didn’t have. We have given them stability and authenticity. It might not always be wonderful, but it’s always real. It might not always be fun, but it’s always dependable. I think that counts for a lot.

briansanding

(grape picture snapped today in my backyard. august is all about sour grapes, literally and figuratively. if you’re wondering: yes, we were practically babies when we got married. he was 23 and I was months away from my 21st birthday. i was going to post a picture of the two of us together, but i couldn’t find one. not even one! although, we didn’t even have our picture taken together the day we got married. civil service at a courthouse. we had no attendants or witnesses of our own. same as it ever was. the husband doesn’t know I took that pic of him today and he’s asleep and certainly doesn’t know I’m posting it. I think it’s ok, though. it’s a good capture of our life lately. he’s way up on a ladder sanding, sanding, sanding. he’s a good, solid, loyal person. i’m glad he’s mine. and, I hate to jinx myself, but I am going to try to write in this blog more regularly. maybe even tomorrow! I have a lot updates about Uly to share. somebody is still reading out there, right? maybe?)

Categories: life, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 17 Comments

come up for air

mtshasta

Step 1. Upload pictures from camera to computer. Wait, where is the camera? I can’t remember the last time I took a dslr photo. Battery is dead, of course it is. Charge battery. Step 2. Scroll through several months of pictures, since last upload, since last blog entry, and wonder ‘is there anything here I can write about?’ Step 3. Not really. Pull a random picture and write anyway.

There is this thing that happens in early Spring in the Pacific Northwest: you start seeing people again. We live on a street that gets plenty of foot traffic in decent weather; we’re a few blocks from our town’s “main street”. The walkability, the proximity to lots of useful stuff, was the number 1 reason we bought this house almost seven years ago. And while some people are walking for efficient transportation all year round, the frequency of passers-by increases so much once we start having warmer, drier days. Uly likes to stand on his little stool at our front window and announce, “man!” or “lady!” when he spots a pedestrian.

The last two Springs were rough. Two years ago, Ulysses was tiny and we were on the heels of his first open heart surgery and I was busy growing thicker skin. Last year, we were dreading another heart surgery and then dealing with a complicated aftermath. This year, I’m just busy. My skin is plenty thick now. I still notice dumb stuff people do and say, but anticipating that dumb stuff doesn’t consume me anymore. This year, I’m back to being annoyed by crabby Gladys Kravitz next door. This year, I am planning a garden again. This year, I have a two year old who cannot yet walk independently but wants to be as active outdoors as any two year old. This year, I feel a great disconnect between what I want to be doing and what I am able to manage.

If I have passed an acceptable age of being ridiculously moved by music, nobody told me and I don’t care. It was fun to see such positive feedback on my winter playlist I shared in January. I had started working on a Spring mix, but I got waylaid by one perfect song. I want a list of this one song ten times in a row. I want to sing it to everyone who walks by my house. I want to sing it to myself, “Get outside, get all over the world You learn to love what you get in return It may be a problem and it may be peace of mind Put your head down down and breathe one breath at a time.”

(are you like me? do you like to read the lyrics of songs like you’re sixteen again and cracking open the liner notes in a new cd for the first time? I wouldn’t want to be sixteen again for anything, and my own teenaged daughter does not experience music in the same intense way I did, but I do still like to read through the words of a good song.)

“Miracle Mile”

I was supposed to do great things
I know the road was long
But I wasn’t raised to shoot for fame
I had the safety on

I cut my ties, I sold my rings
I wanted none of this
If you start from scratch you have to sing
Just for the fun of it

I’d be alright, if I could just see you
Come up for air, come up for air
A miracle mile, where does it lead to
Come up for air, come up for air

I feel the air upon my face
Forget the mess I’m in
Hold me again, don’t count mistakes
I lost track of them

I’d be alright, if I could just see you
Come up for air, come up for air
A miracle mile, where does it lead to
Come up for air, come up for air

I was in the mud, I was in the dirt
Went underground and I found what I was worth
All alone and I know I cant stay
But we’re walking up and down the streets to stay awake

Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up

Get outside, get all over the world
You learn to love what you get in return
It may be a problem and it may be peace of mind
Put your head down down and breathe one breath at a time

Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up
Come up for air, come up for air, come up

I’d be alright, if I could just see you
Come up for air, come up for air
A miracle mile, where does it lead to
Come up for air, come up for air

I’d be alright, if I could just see you
A miracle mile, where does it lead to

(photo is a roadside capture of mount shasta from our road trip to southern california last fall. last fall! i have taken almost zero good pictures in months. check my instagram for more current phone snapshots.)

Categories: seasons, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

merry little

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I can get wistful pangs for the way things “should” be, like there’s some future foggy date when everything will finally click. The curtain will raise and I’ll be ready and every little thing will be done exactly right: a flawless performance, worthy of so many filtered phone pictures.  But this is not a dress rehearsal. This is it.

My oldest, fifteen this month, reminds me all the time that she’s just a few years from being an adult. She says it with the same mindboggling disbelief that have when I think about it, and we both shake our heads: How in the world? And now her childhood memories are like a shoebox full of special rocks, tucked away but fondly saved. It would be too late to start that kind of collection now. My kids are building their stories whether or not the things we do look the way I imagined them. This is it.

And so I can’t measure up traditions to my ideals or my own experiences. If I focused on what I wish we could do, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy what we have. Christmas when I was little involved a houseful of cousins and Grandma’s special Santa mugs. My kids don’t have cousins of the holiday-sharing variety. My kids don’t have a Grandma who paints their name on a special mug. We do holidays like we do most days: simple and intentional and small. And my kids freaking love it. They aren’t missing anything. (I am probably the one who missed out.) They have things I never had: homemade cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning, the experience of going to the same farm every year to find and cut a tree, advent calendars, delicate tissue paper snowflakes taped up in the windows.

We had a wonderful Christmas.

I am overwhelmed a lot during the holiday season. I get bogged down by the burden of being the chief magicmaker in the family. I can’t phone it in. I can’t hitch a ride on some extended family rituals. And that can feel like a lot of pressure! I worry about fumbling the ball and gifting my children time-release Resentment. I want them to look back on these days and feel as fond of them as I do now, as we live them.

We have swept up fir needles and ripped down paper chains. We welcomed the New Year with dear friends. I am relieved to have reached the sloggy lull of January. We ended 2013 on a very high note: on the morning of the thirty-first, Uly’s cardiologist told us he won’t need another check-up appointment for a WHOLE YEAR! (apologies for repeating what I’ve already shared on instagram.) Onward!

While I’ve been writing this entry, I’ve been listening to a “wintery” playlist I put together the other day. Taking a page from my friend Lisa‘s book, I started making seasonal mix cds quite a few years ago. The soundtrack to my early aughts are Lisa’s mixes and I credit her with bringing back the mix tape. (trivia: the first thing my old guy every gave me was a mix tape. we aren’t musicians in our house, but we do live music.) I won’t pretend to be original or clever in this regard, but I sure do like sharing the music I’m digging with friends. And, thanks to the future, I don’t even have to have my act together enough to burn hard copies. Sometime in the second half of 2013, rdio bested spotify as my preferred online music listening place.  I have some pretty kickass speakers attached to my desktop and I make good use of them. I hope this works for you: wintery playlist. If you’re reading my blog via mobile device, I’m not sure if you can access a rdio playlist. I’m not actually sure if you can access my playlist if you’re not already a (free!) rdio user. It might be worth the trouble of registering. These 10 songs feel very “January” to me, and you might enjoy them, also.

(I shared a shrunken version of the above picture on -where else?- instagram in early december. the boy -mister EIGHT!- waiting to catch the rope that the dada threw over the car for securing our just cut tree. a noble fir. we always get a noble fir. also, please do let me know if the music thing works. I might share more ‘mixes’ here if it does!)

Categories: traditions | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

an open letter to real life acquaintances, by way of the world wide web

bubeach

This letter was not written by me, but my husband. I had recounted to him an unpleasant exchange that Uly and I experienced with a young child at a local indoor play space. We discussed it briefly, shaking our heads at the daunting reality of knowing how close our son is to recognizing when hurtful things are said to/about him. At just turned two, Ulysses still thinks every face he sees is a friend. Our conversation was short, as the husband and our older son had to zip off to an activity. Sometime after they were gone, my phone chimed with an incoming email and I read the following words from my husband:

**********

Fellow homeschoolers,
Some of you we know well and others we are enjoying becoming acquainted with. I’d like to (re)introduce you to our youngest, Ulysses. He was born with many very visible differences, and a few not so visible differences. We all have these not so visible differences. I like to think that our differences are what make us the same… What gives us a common bond, a human bond, our humanity. So when Uly is specifically excluded from play within the context of our group… Our safe, known everyone for years group of friends and acquaintances for being weird… “Weirrrd” in the pejorative sense, not the “we’re are all weird”, “celebrate differences” weird, I am both shocked and saddened. I am not asking you or your children to actively include him in your play. I understand his differences are new to children, and children are honest about their feelings, but please discourage active exclusion. I hope, but do not expect, that knowing him will broaden you and your children’s scope of reference for how the world works. I hope you’ll embrace knowing him.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.166-7), Hamlet to Horatio.

Uly has a difficult life ahead of him. I want him to feel safe and accepted now when his world view is so impressionable. I want this to remain our group, our community of friends. Your kids’ questions are awesome. Ulysses is just as curious about the concept of feet as you might be about his hands. Please answer your kids’ questions about him, or ask us if you don’t know. Reticence and avoidance only perpetuate the “otherness”, the “weirrrd”ness. Encourage curiosity, don’t turn him into one. The more it is talked about the more he is accepted.

That is all.

**********

A few things. Yes, we homeschool. I don’t write about that part of our lives much; it’s a choice that makes some people inexplicably uncomfortable, but I’ve been at it too long -my oldest is nearly fifteen!- to feel inclined to explain our reasons. Assess all your choices. Pick the one that works best for your family. You’ll know if your kids are thriving or not. You won’t ever catch me wearing an “Ask Me Why We Homeschool” button because I don’t care to proselytize our lifestyle nor do I feel any obligation to help critical people feel more comfortable with my choices. I would happily talk about good books for kids all day long, though.

I texted my husband a response right away, something like, “Damn! Tell me you have an app that inserts appropriate Shakespeare quotes into writing!” but he said, no, it just popped into his head. We’ve been together more than eighteen years, and I still have plenty of fresh proof that I picked a good one. I certainly could not have composed one coherent sentence while also accompanying a child on an activity, but he can hyperfocus on just one thing for a few minutes. I am always thinking of so many things at once! Hence, the inexhaustible busyness of my youngest has impacted the frequency of my writing!

I decided to publish his letter on my blog because I think it’s the framework for an important dialog, for anyone who might read it. While it’s true that all of us have differences, most of us can blend in without our differences being the first thing people notice about us. Uly’s differences are no secret! His lack of lower legs are every bit a part of him as his dandelion puff of hair. But while it would be rude for my children to go on and on about another child’s hair color, for example, it is rude to go on and on about Uly’s physical appearance. So, I take the “asked and answered” approach that I’ve always used myself as a parenting strategy. When my kids ask a question of me, “mom, can I have a cookie?” and I answer, “yes! after lunch!” and in five minutes I’m asked again, “Mom? can I have a cookie?” I avoid potential frustration on both of our parts by reminding them, “you already asked and I already answered!” So it is with new friends we meet. We are happy to answer questions. But Uly is a busy little kid! He’s got better things to do than wait for you to wrap your mind around his differences. The understanding might take a while, especially for children who have limited life experience. But the kindness should be present right away!

(above picture taken on our late September road trip to southern California. We stopped for a night in Klamath, CA to visit Trees of Mystery. IF you like kitschy road trip attractions like we do, I recommend that place! We traipsed a half mile through slick, soggy woods on a trail from our motel to the ocean. Uly fell asleep on the walk and his dada held him while I took pictures and the big kids explored. The setting sun light was magical. I’ll add a few more pictures from that evening for context.)

driftwoodkids

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pacific

Categories: acceptance, differences | 4 Comments

super uly 2 years old!

Just over two years ago, I was told that the baby I was carrying would probably not survive birth. If he lived, he was not expected to live long. The known facts were incomprehensible and frightening; the predictions were even worse. It was as though the child I’d been anticipating had been pulled from my gut and replaced with a nightmare.

But he did not die. He surprised everyone by living. Despite legitimate fears and worries about his challenges, he surprised everyone by being so remarkably alive.

Ulysses is TWO now, can you believe it? I cannot. He’s zonked out on my back as I type (the only way to eke out a non-car nap for this boy is to wear him, still.) and the truth is that I’m a few days late in writing here (I had wanted to post on his actual birthday) because I’ve been so occupied with LIVING with him. That’s mother-of-toddler speak for: I don’t have time to write about my kid because my kid takes up all of my time!

No ultrasound scan could have determined that I would have a baby with such spirit and vim. No blood test could have indicated that he would be a busy, inexhaustible rascal, getting into everything in a flash. It’s been two years of heartbreak and wonder, two years of not sleeping, two years of swallowing stress and collecting bills and learning so much! It’s been a freefall through dread and inadequacy, a mountain climb without any gear. It has been hard. It has been a lifetime and an instant. Only two years? Two years already? Yes.

I put together a photo story of Uly’s first two years. If you have about five minutes to spare, you might like to a peek into his life, our family’s life. You might think about Ulysses as that little guy with limb differences, or of that baby who had a couple of open heart surgeries, or maybe as the toddler who is learning to walk on prosthetic legs. Those things are true. But I hope you also think about his grin and his sparkle, his impishness and determination. I don’t call him Super Uly for nothing, you know!

The slideshow ends somewhat abruptly, but I like to think that it finishes with visual ellipses. It’s been a full two years, but his story is barely starting. . .

(i used songs on the slideshow that are part of my experience with ulysses, and are very evocative, for me, in that regard.)

Categories: amputation, open heart surgery, terrible prenatal prognosis, unexpected | Tags: | 27 Comments

good thoughts

sunbeams

I shut the curtains now before 5 pm; any pretense of hanging onto some delusional fragments of summer ended more than a month ago! I held on for as long as I could, pretended that the warm lazy limbo was limitless, although such a freewheeling season is largely an idea, not reflective of real life. Even summer has its stresses and obligations.

I did not realize I was actively dreading Fall until it was upon me and I remembered, Oh! I’ve spent significant time in hospitals the last two Novembers. No wonder I’ve felt a vague sense of foreboding as the leaves changed colors, as the rain settled in, as the temperature dropped.

Today is the sixth of November, one year exactly from the date of Uly’s leg amputations. One whole year since I consented to having part of his body cut off and discarded. It was the right decision. It was not an easy decision. A  year ago, he was in such pain, he had complications from surgery that made recovery slow and difficult. He had to go back into the operating room several times; his skin was dotted all over with evidence of so many IV pokes.

But now? Now that little elf zips around like a speedster with the aid of his prostheses and a tiny walker. (not all the time yet, or even most of the time. but we aim for “leg time” every day.) Our daily life is a cakewalk in contrast to a year ago. I have nothing acutely worrisome on my radar, and yet I still feel jumpy! I guess 2 nerve-racking Novembers in a row is enough to set a subconscious pattern of troubling expectation.

I took an intentional, lengthy break from this blog. I’ve taken a break from writing much at all, because my brain used all of its energy in keeping the regular stuff going and that has been good enough. It had to be good enough because that’s all I had. But now I have a little bit more again, or at least the gumption to keep at it. No duties have been allocated elsewhere, and no long-term concerns have disappeared, but I had some time to figure out if this blog is helpful (yes.) and if it matters at all (I decided that it does.) and whether or not I want to continue writing here (I do. even as I need to make writing elsewhere a priority). And I don’t mean to imply that it’s been all woe and worry in my life lately. It has not! I think I do a pretty good job of keeping on top of things, enjoying the good stuff and weathering the rough. And by “rough” patches, I mean the regular daily wheels, nothing unexpected gumming up the works. But it’s amazing how the regular stuff can ooze all over every minute of the day and not leave much space for anything extra.

Since the last time I updated: we took a few quick, nearby trips, the husband and I acknowledged SEVENTEEN years being married to each other, we went on a terrific road trip to southern California and back, I had a birthday, and Uly was fitted for his second set of legs.

And now we’re leaning into a steady Fall routine. And now I’m feeling grateful that we don’t have any hospital stays planned, and that I have this grinning sunbeam in my life:

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(the top pic was a phone shot from last January; if the kitchen chalk wall isn’t full of a grocery list or a chores for the kids, I try to throw a thoughtful quote up there. this one is a favorite. and the bottom pic is a recent one I pulled off of instagram. hashtag super uly!)

Categories: amputation, gratitude, seasons | 5 Comments

“don’t throw your leg at the cat!”

runninguly

I feel a little guilty every time I call Ulysses “The Baby”, even though, as the third (and final) child in our family, and with two siblings quite a bit older, he will always be the baby, to some degree. He’s twenty-one months old now: a toddler by any counts. But what do you call a toddler who doesn’t toddle? (this is not the set-up to a joke! I’m serious!) The very word conjures up wobbly steps and independence. Uly’s evolution to walking has been, remains, complicated and very dependent.

He is a toddler. He has all the parts of toddlerdom generally assigned to this age, minus autonomous steps. It has been a frustrating stage for him. It’s been a frustrating stage for me, too. The only thing separating Ulysses from other children his age is, well, the ability to run around. But typically-limbed babies aren’t given a lesson on wanting to walk. Nobody needs to tell a baby, hey! you want to stand up taller and get around like everybody else does! Babies just do it. Their bodies and brains work together to meet developmental milestones. But what happens when a body can’t keep up? The brain gets frustrated! Crawling is still his main self-ambulation, and I think he’s pretty much done with it. He’s a good sport, but there are times when he tries to pick up something large and move it, or reach for something too high, or just get out of my arms already, and he screams that impatient toddler scream. And there’s not always something I can do about it.

After the longest spring, and a gradual return to normalcy, this summer has seen us getting back to weekly physical therapy appointments, back to lots of prostheses practice at home. Uly has always been thrilled with his legs. His superlegs, his kicking legs, his walking legs, as we call them. But he can’t put his legs on by himself. It takes me a few minutes. And he can’t walk without a spotter close-by. And he can’t take steps without holding onto something, a table, his walker, my hands.

But, he’s walking! His steps are every bit as determined as any toddler you’ve ever met, if not more. Ulysses cannot yet take unassisted steps, but he is absolutely walking.

And we are so excited for this boy. It’s a long road ahead of us still. And I think that might be the undercurrent of my frustration. I am shy to talk about his legs and his walking, because I think there is a misperception that once an amputee has prosthetic legs, walking is a snap; heck, he’ll be running races in no time. While I certainly appreciate the encouragement and optimism sent Uly’s way, the truth is a lot slower.

Something clicked in the last couple of weeks and Uly understands now that his superlegs aren’t just a funny game we play sometimes. He has started to get it. He has started to ask to put them on. He says, “wah-wah-wah” (walk walk walk) and shakes the little basket where we keep his prostheses supplies. When he gets going with his walker, he is so freaking fast. I have to hold on gently to the back of the walker to provide a bit of drag, so he doesn’t run over himself!

But it’s still a very deliberate thing we do, leg time. He needs direct assistance, which is actually not unlike all the rest of the time, when he needs help doing the toddler things he is busy doing all day. I have introduced my little guy to several people like this, “so this is Ulysses, less bones, more spirit!” and that’s just how he is. Uly is a firecracker of delight or mischief. He is quick and busy and wants all the attention, all the time.  But that busy attitude in a baby-who-wants-to-be-running-but-can-only-crawl means the up-down-up-in-and-out-of-mama’s-arms stage feels infinite.

I’m starting to see glimpses of his future walking self. I’ve seen him let go from his walker with both hands, balance alone for just a moment, and then reach out for something else, a wall, or a chair. He is making significant progress every day.

I can get really stuck in the weeds of borrowing worry. Will he ever be able to play unassisted outside? Will he be able to negotiate walking on stairs? His residual legs are so hot and sweaty after one hour of prostheses wear, what will happen when he starts to wear them all day?

Those are valid concerns, but I have to stop myself from thinking too far ahead. When he was a newborn, I couldn’t imagine how he’d move around at all, and yet he turned out to be my earliest crawler, my most determined to Go baby.

We’re doing something completely new and previously unknown to me. We are so lucky to have a team of therapists and prosthetists helping him, and cheering us along. So I don’t have to invent the wheel. We have helpful professionals in our corner. But in my murky brain, it can feel solitary and unsure. The What Ifs and Hows can be overwhelming.

So we take it one step at a time. I’m sorry for the cliche but, how else can I describe the process of letting go expectations as my amputee baby learns to walk?

Although, if it were up to him, I think he’d be running already! Look at Uly go!


(forgive my wonky narrow video. I neglected to tilt my phone to landscape, too distracted by the adorable laughing baby hurtling himself down the sidewalk, and if you’re looking at my blog on an idevice, i’m not sure the video will play. darn it. Also, the title of this blog post? totally something that came of my mouth tonight.)

Categories: amputee toddler, Super Uly | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

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Last night was the first night we put Uly to bed without a bandage of any kind covering his chest wound. Maybe we’ve quietly crossed over some vague delineation between wound and scar.  It isn’t raw and bloody anymore; I don’t think we can accurately refer to it is a wound. But it’s a doozy of a scar.

I finally removed the last remaining medical supplies out of my office, which was serving as some kind of ad hoc nursing supply closet. When I ask the older children to clean in-progress art projects off of the table, it’s not because we need the surface for dressing changes and a nurse visit, but probably because we’re about to eat.

It’s back to normal around here. Ulysses was removed from the wound vac  a month ago. Without that beeping albatross, we have been free to do as we please. Actually, I mean, we have been free to do the boring stuff people do without too much foresight or frustration.

But sometime back there, while we were extolling the merits of tegaderm and taking inventory of saline syringes, summer happened. Do you ever look at the google street view of your home address? The actual front view of my house hasn’t been updated since google first unleashed the feature, but our cross street picture is more recent. I can virtually click myself down my street and jump ahead in time by several years. The old pictures have a grainier resolution and washed-out color. The new pictures are of sharper quality, more vivid. The difference is a jarring surprise. There is evidence of the work (six years worth!) we’ve put into our little yard. We’ve transformed a dull city lot into a lush agrarian corner and, despite my orwellian mistrust of google, seeing the contrast so easily is both amusing and gratifying.

Summer feels similarly surprising to me this year. I know what we’ve been doing, but it feels like we got here in one quick click.

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I am so sporadic with updating that I feel embarrassed every time I return. Like driving away from a party and realizing I forgot something and not wanting to turn back, for fear that the hosts have already gone to bed.  Hi, it’s me. I’m so sorry! Hate to bother!

I might not ever stop feeling awkward but I do aim to get back into a more consistent rhythm here. I have so much to tell you!  Maybe if I wrote more I wouldn’t want to listen to The Flaming Lips Do You Realize? on repeat in the car for several days in a row. Pretty sure my kids are permanently scarred for hearing their mother sing, “everyone you know someday will die” so many times in a row. (not really. they were singing along, too. it’s true, you know.)

Categories: life, Super Uly | Tags: , | 3 Comments

the middlest

fezzikcatbedguard

I jokingly tell people frequently that large sibling age gaps are one of the best kept secrets of family planning. You only get the joke, though, if you realize that we didn’t actually plan it this way. The great irony of family “planning” is that we can’t, not any of us, know what the future holds. It’s a gamble, a cliched leap of faith, and if our “plan” works out, we pat ourselves on the back for being so clever. But, for those of us on Plan B, or so, we know that the truth is a whole lot messier. If you have the exact number of children you wanted, spaced apart like you wanted them to be, it wasn’t your good planning that made it happen that way.

I read an article the other day, something about studies indicate the most stressful, the most challenging, increase in family size is from two to three children. Hmm. When I was pregnant with Ulysses (two whole years ago! whoa!) I thought we’d avoid stereotypical birth order dynamics. I wasn’t pulling Pollyanna expectations out of my backside: it truly was a breeze to add number two. He was a cherub from birth. My pregnancy with him was a cakewalk. He was born at home easily, all ten plus pounds of him. I threw him in a sling and took him wherever I needed to take his big sister.  Adding a new baby to the mix was as easy as anything. And I looked forward to a similar scenario while we were expecting number three.

But, you know. It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t simply bring the baby to the older children’s activities; the baby had so many appointments right from the start and the older children had to adapt to his schedule. A mere three months after his traumatic birth, Ulysses had his first open heart surgery. That kind of thing throws a wrench into the works of any machine. Although, to be fair to the wonder baby, the machine was more complicated, too. Every child is born into a different family, even if they have the same exact parents, in the same exact home, as their siblings.

Now my first boy, that cherubic bear cub,  is seven and sandwiched between a teenager (need I say more?) and a surprising baby with special needs. He is the least squeaky wheel.

When he was about two, he started calling himself Worker Boy. He introduced himself as Worker Boy, insisted I do the same, and refused to answer to anything else. He has always been a boy with a job to do and a mind set on finishing it.  He called himself Worker Boy for years. (hello, friends reading along! remember Worker Boy?) While the snappy name eventually faded, I think it continues to describe his demeanor well. He has always been solid and dependable, a rock. I have said before, without humor, that I want to be like him when I grow up. His wisdom would be something to admire in an adult, but is a remarkable trait for child. He is a long, deep thinker, observant and insightful. Book-ended by more dramatic siblings on either side, though, he could get overlooked. I worry about that. Which is to say, I don’t let it happen. All the wheels in this house get oiled, whether they request it by squeaking or not!

I go into his room before I go to bed, to switch off his lamp. His dad reads to him every night before bed. I am the daytime read aloud-er, but the husband reads at bedtime.  They’re reading the Boxcar Children series now. When the husband says goodnight, he presses play on the boombox on the desk; the boy falls asleep listening to whichever of his favorite books he has in the player that day (Trumpet of the Swan? The Hobbit? The Horse and His Boy? a Redwall book? we’ve amassed a decent collection of audiobooks and he knows them all well and listens to them constantly like familiar, lulling friends).

By the time I walk back there, several hours later, the story has stopped playing. It’s quiet. His good cat is always on guard at the foot of the bed. And even when I’m in a hurry, maybe the baby’s crying across the hall, maybe the kettle’s whistling in the kitchen for that one last cup of tea, I think for a second about him, and our day together. Did I give him enough?

Family planning might (if you’re lucky), grant you a certain size of family. But you can’t plan circumstances. You can’t plan personalities. My family isn’t quite the shape I set out for it to be. I thought, when we started this family journey, I’d be at the helm of a large crew, feisty and bookish. But three children, spaced widely apart, is less organized than a crew. Their interests and abilities are far apart. I am always pulled in wildly different directions. But we can, and did, plan what kind of family we wanted to be. And that’s not a luck thing, that’s a choice. We choose to be a family who want to know each other. I want to know my kids. I choose to know them when they’re little so that I will know them when they’re big. And if they don’t come to me, that’s not their job. I go to them. My seven year old, my middle child, my worker boy, might spend so much of his time in his quiet thoughts, that I could shrug my shoulders and say, eh, he knows where to find me. But it is never the job of a child to do the work of building this relationship. I go to him. I seek him out, I plop next to him on the couch and squeeze him, I tell him I love him every day.  I don’t want him to assume that he’s loved. I want him to know it undoubtedly.

I like to see what he’s left out on his desk. He is serious about his drawing work, his head bent over such tiny, detailed pictures. He leaves them arranged just-so, unfinished, but ready to get back at it tomorrow.

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Categories: birth order, choice, family, family planning, life, love | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

watch this now. maybe we can talk about it later.

It took me all day to get through this 20 minute video, because I had that many interruptions. But it was worth my time, and I think it will be worth yours, too.

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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