Thoughts on Memorial Day

Lt. Col. Edgar W. Boggan with his wife, Edith.
Lt. Col. Edgar W. Boggan with his wife, Edith.

I never know what to say on Memorial Day. Thank you always seems so small in light of the courageous sacrifices made by those who serve in our military. Alas, as far as words go, it is all I have: Thank you. 

But words are not all we have, are they? We also have actions. I hope I honor the sacrifices of our military service members in the way I live each day, how I guide and teach my children and how I serve others. I hope our way of living brings life to the ideals you have died to protect. As I stare at my children, I am even more grateful. Their life is brighter because so many soldiers decided the future of this country was something worth fighting for, worth dying for. Thank you to all those who have served and died for this country. 

Thinking about Memorial Day in the context of this blog, I was thinking about the concept behind Umbrella Moms. What is an Umbrella Mom and how can it help us honor the sacrifices of those who serve, served or died for this country?

My mother grew up an Army brat. Her mother (Edith Boggan, pictured above) raised two children, essentially as a single mother, as her husband (Lt. Col. Edgar Boggan, pictured above) fought overseas in WWII. They were stationed, as a family, in Germany for five years following the war. My grandmother had umbrella friends who helped her get through the years her husband was overseas fighting the war. She had umbrellas who helped her settle in overseas. She had umbrellas who helped her settle in each new post they were sent to. Umbrella Moms help our friends. We help perfect strangers. We simply show up when we see a storm rolling in. We hold the umbrella over the one in need so they can focus on the important things beneath it. We strengthen other moms so that they may remain strong for others. Of course, we also revel with each other in the sunshine as well.

As I think about this, I want to challenge you. Let this Memorial Day serve as a reminder that it is not just the soldier who serves. Their loved ones serve as well. We can honor the sacrifices of our service members by offering an umbrella to the loved ones who remain stateside. Send a text when you are on your way to the grocery store to see if they need anything. Call to offer yourself as a babysitter. Drop off a meal, for no other reason than it it sometimes nice to not have to cook. Stop by to watch their kids so they can fold some laundry. DO a load of laundry for them. Bring flowers or sweets or a note saying what a great job they are doing. We can help strengthen our soldiers by letting them know their loved ones are cared for and protected while they are away.

I often talk about Umbrella Moms shielding other moms in the storms of life. Sometimes, the storms are so great there is simply no way to shield someone. The rain splashes back up. The wind batters the umbrella, turning it inside out and blowing it away. One must walk through this sort of storm without protection. Someone receives notice their loved one has been killed or is missing in action. In these cases, we show up and walk through the storm with them. Hold their hand. Hold them up. Cry with them. Hope with them. Remember with them. Love them. Let them know, we are with them, always. For however long it may take, we stand with them throughout the storm until they are able to see the rainbows and the sunshine again.

So, thank you to all the service members and your families. Thank you to those who died serving your country. You are courageous. You are strong. You are noble. You are loved. You have been our umbrella so we may be yours.

 

Kid-fatuations: Jake and the Never Land Pirates

Don’t ever let anyone tell you kids aren’t capable of having attention spans. I’ve learned they are selectively capable. When it comes to eating: no attention span. When it comes to church: no attention span. When it comes to getting dressed: no attention span. When it comes to school: no attention span. When it comes to anything preceded by, “Please look at Mommy”: no attention span. When it comes to a kid-fatuation… Defined here as any infatuation a child holds with the intensity and passion of a fully-fledged stalker. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a WINNER!!!

Silas is presently kid-fatuated with Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Morning, noon and night. He literally came into our bedroom the other night at 4:30 in the morning to tell us he lost his Jake toy and could we help him find it in the morning. Seriously?!?! At 4:30 in the morning you feel like asking us if we can help you find something in the morning? How about just waiting until the morning to ask us that urgent question?!?!

Whenever we get into the car, I am Izzy and I have sprinkled pixie dust over the car so it can fly. Izzy was given a bag of pixie dust by Tinker Bell and her friends but she is only allowed to use it in emergencies. Have to take issue with Season 1, Episode 10, Surfin’ Turf. She uses the “emergency” pixie dust to save a surf board. I’d like to submit that as a blatant abuse of pixie power. Although, I will concede that sometimes getting in our car to go somewhere IS an emergency. Sometimes the car nap is a matter of life and death and I am not always sure whose.

From the moment he wakes up until the moment he goes to sleep, Silas wants to either watch the show or pretend to be the characters. And since we limit his television, we are pretty much acting out the show all day long.  Every member of this family has played every role. Hollywood should take a creative cue from Silas as roles are not bound by gender or even species. I have played every character from pirate to parrot.

I had a moment of weakness and thought to myself, “If we’re going to do this from sun up until sun down, then let’s go all the way!” I let him take his allowance to the toy store to get a costume but he picked out a Bucky (Jake’s ship) tub toy instead. Now, he is constantly climbing into the tub to play with the one and only Jake and the Never Land toy we have. Of course, his birthday is coming up so everything on his wish list is Jake, Jake, Jake. So, I imagine that resource crisis will rectify itself soon enough.

Oh, dear. How much more intense the imaginary play will be once we have actual props! We will then be able to add in the pleasure of meltdowns when he loses pieces. Of course, once he does have all the toys he won’t be using his imagination anymore and the kid-fatuation will quickly recede. As exhausting as it is, I do love the way his mind turns ordinary things into pirate ships, swords, gold doubloons, treasure. I love the look of excitement on his face as he builds upon his imagination with us and his friends. It’s like watching a time elapsed video of a seed being planted, watered and grown. You can see that sunflower grow and tower right before your very eyes. Those thoughts and ideas tucked within his head spring to life. He’s learning that he can make things happen.

I just need a training program. As an adult, my imagination has withered on the vine. I need to put together a creativity challenge for myself like those 30-day plank challenges I’ve seen (and, of course, never done). Wait. There it is. Someone is up from his nap now. I hear the call… “Mommy! Mommy! Let’s play, JAKE AND THE NEVER LAND PIRATES!”  [Sigh.]

Not even 30 minutes after this exuberant proclamation he was very sick. He frequently suffers from croup which sometimes escalates into stridor. We have never had it set in as quickly as it did today. This episode was bad and the doctor sent us straight to the emergency room. The poor boy burst blood vessels all across his face from straining so hard coughing and trying to breathe. He could no longer walk by the time I got him to the hospital. All this, from a bouncy ball of excitement to limp and lifeless in a matter of 60 minutes. As much as a mother prays for a little break from the hyper insanity that is daily life with toddlers, it breaks our hearts when it comes this way. We’ve been here before but it does not make it any less terrifying. A little cool air, a dose of steroids and he was back to normal. I’ll bet you’ll never guess what he was doing 1 hour later. He was skipping out of the hospital singing the theme song to the show, “Yo ho, let’s go!”  A sight for this mama’s sore eyes. I hate fire drills but I like them more than fires.

After the scare he gave us today, and while I am building up my creative endurance, here is what I’d like to say when he asks me to play Jake and the Neverland Pirates, “How about we play Margaritaville instead? I’ll make yours a virgin and mine a double.”

April Fools

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* * * * * Folks, I was feeling horrible throughout the day I originally put this post up. I had been walking around wondering if I broke some unspoken code to not talk about such horrible things. I was about to log in and just delete it when I received an email from someone who told me sharing my story helped her when she was having her own crisis of faith, hitting bottom. So, while it is much darker than most of my writing, I will leave this story up, hoping it helps others know they are not alone, that God does have a plan and maybe it will help them find the courage to keep moving forward.  However, please be warned this has the potential to cause undue worry if you are currently pregnant and re-traumatize  if you have had a loss. Please think about your state of mind before proceeding.* * * * *

Our first child was due April 2, 2009. An April Fools baby.

We had been trying to conceive for two years to no avail. We finally decided to take a break since we had just bought a house and were in the midst of moving. Shortly after we were settled, I remember it dawning on me one morning that I was late. Very late. Of course, since we’d been trying to get pregnant for two years already, I had oodles of tests lying around so I took one. I laughed out loud when I saw a bold blue line appear. It was fate. Finally, everything was working out for us.

We wanted to wait to tell people until we made it to three months. We had an ultrasound and he was gorgeous. We had never been through this before and had no idea what to expect from that first doctor’s visit. We were both so stunned when the doctor turned on the sound and we could hear his heartbeat. It sounded like a horse galloping through the wild. So strong and fierce! Oh, we were so EXCITED! —So excited that we didn’t make it to three months but we did make it to eight weeks.

In retrospect, I know exactly when we lost him. We had dinner with my mother-in-law, to share the news, the meat made me feel nauseated. I had this weird flip-flop feeling in my belly and felt sort of like the world was spinning too fast. I just chalked it up to morning sickness when nothing happened. The spotting started the day before my three month check-up. My husband and I were sure everything was okay but I was definitely scared. I can still hear the horrible crack in his voice as he told his father, expressing remorse that it was the one time I wasn’t just worrying over nothing.

Our son (we both believe it was a boy), who we’ve come to call Noah, had died just after our eight week appointment. The specialists believe it was due to Trisomy-18. Neither of us could really believe it was true because there still wasn’t any real bleeding or cramping or anything. -Just a little bit of spotting. And how could he have died a month ago and not have passed yet?!?! How could I walk around for an entire month with a dead baby inside me and not know? All the while, gleefully dreaming away and sharing our good news with friends and family. The doctors compassionately assured me he was gone. I was still in denial so I refused the D&C and said I would wait to pass the fetus naturally. Like the dying embers of a fire, I still had hope they were wrong.

I remember where I was when it finally started to happen. At a stoplight near our home. I still can not sit at that light without remembering it all. By the time we arrived home, it was time. The cramping had started in earnest. It was so intense when I stood up to get out of the car. I collapsed into my husband’s arms and cried out, in pain and heartbreak. I remember the first gush felt like someone was ripping my soul from my body. I have cried many times in my life but that is the first and only time I felt like it was my heart literally crying out.

I did go into shock from all the blood loss but I still refused to go to the hospital. Looking back, I don’t know why it was so important for me to be at home. I remember being on the bathroom floor asking my husband and mother why it sounded like they were talking to me from inside a can. I bled heavily for four days. I would shake so hard my teeth would chatter. I kept thinking this is it and then there would be more. I kept thinking each clot was finally the baby. The pain meds did nothing to curb the pain. Nothing. It took four days for him to pass. We said a prayer before we bid him farewell.

We ended up planting a double flowering peach tree in his honor. It blooms beautiful and vibrant flowers for just a few weeks each Spring and then retires, just like our Noah. Interestingly, Silas has two favorite books and they are both about Noah’s Ark. Thad and I think he somehow knows his big brother is in Heaven watching over him.

In my mind, Noah died September 11, 2008, the day we found out. They opened the 9/11 museum today so perhaps that is why I am remembering all this now. I also saw a beautiful interview with Sarah Bessey today in which she recalls feeling forgotten by God during her miscarriages and her quest for children.  Forsaken: It’s a feeling I am all too familiar with. Her message is an important one: “..you are not forgotten.” Take the time to watch the interview. It’s worth it.

It took me a long time to hear that message. It was another two years before we found success on our journey to parenthood. I remember having a screaming match with God after one of many failed infertility treatments. I sat at the table yelling upwards, asking why as well as why not. Now, I know. God knows me like any parent knows their children. He knew this was the best way for me to become a mom. I believe He intended for me to care for two very specific souls, Silas and Emerson. They were not ready. So, He sent me Noah to let me know how very much I did want to be a mother. He sent me Noah to make sure I had enough fight in me to conquer infertility, to bring Silas and Emerson into the world when they were ready. And, maybe, He wanted me to be able to speak about my pain so others might know they are definitely NOT forgotten. Yes, you out there, thinking you are all alone… You are not alone and you are not forgotten. As Sarah Bessey says in the video above, “Wholeness is in God’s heart.” He has wholeness in store for you!

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I was undecided about whether to post this or not. Here is what my husband said when I asked for his thoughts:

It’s difficult for me to put into words – as with any loss, you go through periods of numbness and periods of pain – but that experience greatly exaggerated both the pain and numbness.  You probably remember before the first (and ultimately last and only) ultrasound, I was not very excited… for me, the pregnancy was simply a line on a stick, there was nothing real.  Hearing the heartbeat for the first time was a game changer, it was beyond anything I had experienced, and for me, it was literally the proof that god was real.  And then all that was taken away… there was no joy, no future, no god… the elation I felt only weeks before, had completely turned upside down.  That upside down feeling, that numbness lasted a long time – as much as I loved Silas, he was probably two years old before I felt comfortable about him going to sleep. Each night, I half expected (not even feared, just expected) him to not wake up the next morning; and every morning brought only a temporary relief before the next bedtime.

I’ve said before that sometimes a good memory is a curse – there are plenty of things that I wish weren’t so fresh in my mind.  So, reading this post, reliving all the events and the feelings that went with them, is not a fun thing.  It sucks.  That experience was so horrible that I would not wish it on my worst enemy; yet, so many people go through the same thing… or worse.  If writing and publishing that blog post helps only one person, you must do it.  The entire medical community (along with our friends and family) will tell you that 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage – of course, the intent is to be helpful, if not consoling.  But no one warns you how much it will hurt.  Fertility issues aside (that’s a whole separate topic), that single event, that single loss of a heartbeat, that single loss of life, changed our perceptions, changed our lives, forever.  So I say again, if this post helps just one person, you must share it.

 

Mismatched Pajamas (a.k.a. Happy Mother’s Day)

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Ah, Mother’s Day. The gifts started to roll in at 2:00 am when Silas woke up saying his pull-up had leaked and we needed to change him as well as the sheets. So he ended up waking up in mismatched pajamas. Polar bear top and monkey bottoms. The next gift came when Emerson woke up an hour early. His very first Mother’s Day gift was a massive amount of spit-up all over himself, my hands and my lap. Poor little guy! I just sat there laughing with my hands full of puke not really sure what the best way was to clean things up. Time for yet another wardrobe change and it wasn’t even 7 am yet. Now we all three had mismatched PJs on!

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to start Mother’s Day though. My Mother’s Days have always been mismatched from the ideal. My relationship with my own mother was complicated. Our relationship just never matched the ones you read about in the Mother’s Day cards. Then, I had fertility issues and every passing Mother’s Day without a child of my own was like going to a funeral. Now, I AM a mother and I am ecstatic about celebrating the day. Yet there is a cloud hanging over it because of sour relationships between the families of my siblings and my parents.

My mother has an auto immune disease and was sick a lot growing up. We also have a lot of mental illness in our family so she was sometimes depressed. I am a strong-willed person so there was a lot of arguing among us growing up, more than your average teen-parent relationship. As a mother now, I see how hard it is to do the job well even when you are at the peak of health. The lesson I learned from my mom is not in any Hallmark card, but it is sage advice for any mother: find people, groups or activities that can make up for your weaknesses. Invite them in and make them a steadfast part of your lives.  I’d like to thank her for having the strength to recognize her own weaknesses and find ways to provide safety nets for her children. She always made sure we had supportive and nurturing activities to engage in. She also had her own umbrella friends who sheltered, not only her but, her children too. Until a certain age, she wisely picked the things that surrounded us, keeping us safe, strong and loved.

My mother is the one who taught me to love reading. It was something I had trouble learning how to do, but she worked with the school to have a reading specialist, and I went on to earn a degree in English (as well as a Master’s degree later on). She taught me to value education and to work hard at learning. An invaluable gift which I think I can safely say saved my life. My education brought me knowledge about psychology which helps me understand the mental illness throughout my family tree. I can recognize the symptoms of depression as they rise in me and know how to cope with it to live a fulfilling and happy life. As an adult, I see our complicated history as a bruised fruit. Some might take one look at a bruised fruit and throw it away. With the gifts my mother gave me, her own as well as the safety nets around us, I have learned there is much value in that fruit. I choose to cut away the bad parts, throw them away and enjoy the fruit which remains. If you hold onto those bruises they can ruin your life but if you cut away the bad parts there is much sweetness to be had.

So, this year, Mother’s Day was good. I found the perfect card, we spent the day with our boys and both of our mothers. My boys gave me the most extravagant gifts: smiles, laughter and love. The kinds of gifts that come from the heart. The gift God has given me, in addition to my boys, is that my own mom is still alive for me to enjoy her as more than just a “mom.” I get to see her as a multifaceted person now and that is nice. I accept my mother for who she is rather than what she’s not. I love her for what she did rather than did not do.

Yes, we are definitely okay with mismatched pajamas in this house!

Come Here Often?

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Date nights. We’ve only had three in the nearly 11 months since Emerson joined our family. And, actually, they have been date days. With Silas, it wasn’t so bad because we gave each other a “night off” once a week where we could do whatever we wished, no matter what. With two, including a snobby eater who won’t take anything but fresh milk from his mama, we are finding nights off are nearly impossible. So we’ve started doing date nights “in.” We try to do something together at least once a week. Even that one paltry evening we find we have little energy to invest. There are bills to go through, chores to do, more work-work to do and there’s just really no more BRAIN left at the end of the day to stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. Or think. Or talk.

However, it’s also impossible to talk when you have a three year old and a baby constantly interrupting you in their adorable yet thought halting manner. Seriously, if there is ever a criminal mastermind the government is worried about defeating, just put them in front of a toddler and a baby… Their brainpower for scheming will immediately cease to exist.

So, a grandparent volunteered to watch the boys. Can you believe we actually debated letting her watch the boys while we mulched the yard?!?! The monster pile of mulch has been sitting in my driveway for two weeks. Untouched. I just keep practicing for a defensive driving test, driving around it, every time I come in or out of my garage. But finding something we both WANTED to do was so hard and there was so much we NEEDED to do. Go to the theater? The shows are too far away and/or don’t work with Emerson’s feeding schedule. Go see a movie? What?!?! There was so little we both wanted to see. On top of that, I think it might actually be easier to find the Holy Grail than a movie we were both interested in, which meshed with when a babysitter was available AND Emerson’s feeding schedule. Eating out? Ugh, that is all we ever do for entertainment.

In the end, we chose a movie (my husband took the hit for the team and we saw one I wanted to see) and had an early dinner. The movie was over by 4:30. We jointly decided we were too young to start eating that early and went for a walk. At first it was actually odd. Who was this stranger walking next to me?!?! I know him well. I sleep next to him every night. Yet we haven’t had a real conversation in months. The conversation started out slow but by the end of dinner we were chatting like it was old times. We had so many complete sentences I don’t think I can even count that high. Can I tell you how wonderful it is to have enough time without an interruption that you can finish a thought process?!?! Can I tell you how surprised I was to discover I am still CAPABLE of having a cogent thought?!?! Forget multiple orgasms. I want multiple complete sentences. I want complex thought. Forget tantric sex. I want tantric talk.  It was fantastic. Yes, when you live in a land of abbreviated children’s stories in board books, rhyming songs, toddler vocabulary and baby talk your fantasies get downright kinky. And I don’t mean “Fifty Shades of Grey” kinky. I mean, really crazy things like waking up on your own, sleeping in, eating a whole meal while it is still hot, being able to take a shower AND wash your hair AND shave your legs, going out without looking like Bozo the Clown because you had a baby swinging on you like a monkey in a tree while you were doing your make-up, heading out for a few “quick” errands, and the piece de resistance, a conversation involving multiple complete sentences.

So we did it. We had a date day. It’s awfully easy to think your marriage can get through anything when you have dealt with infertility together. So much heartbreak. So much pain. So much innocent ignorance from others. So much wrangling over values, morals, ethics, religion. So much up and so much down. So much hope and so much fear. And, for us, finally joy.  It was a battle that strengthened us as individuals as well as our marriage. I know we both felt our marriage could survive anything after we survived infertility. But, it only survived because we never stopped working through it together. If we aren’t careful, we could very easily lose what constitutes “us” as we focus all of our energy on the boys.

We started our date feeling a lot like strangers. We ended it the best of friends, yet again. Thad said he felt like we were headed into some very hectic times. I said, “Yes, and we’ll look back on them as the best of our lives. Because it will be like a busy day at work. Busy days are the best days. One day, we’ll wake up and they will be too busy for us. Another day, we’ll wake up and our sons will be gone.” And that is why we need to make room for date days. And date nights. Because after all is said and done, I want my husband to be my best friend. Not a stranger. We both know we are doing important work. We both know we are doing the hardest kind of work: Raising two healthy, secure and happy children. What we can’t lose sight of is the important work of maintaining our marriage. Loving each other, forever, is equally hard work. The rewards of each are soul satisfying.

So, no, we don’t come here often. But, my dear husband, my biggest umbrella of them all, we should and we will.