Tuesday, March 25, 2014

10 Ways to Handle a Fiendishly Long Winter

10.  Immediately de-friend anyone who still has a winter scene as their profile pic or cover photo. It's a conspiracy, and they are partially to blame. Sorry, that means you, sis, and the hubby (I don't see my photography credit for using this shot anyway, btw, ahem ahem)

9.  When you go outside in the morning to the shocking embrace of 27 fun-loving degrees, yell mild profanities at the sky. I have personally assumed this ritual on my front porch every morning, "C'mon Spring, ya stupid wimp!" (I'm talking really mild, toddler-friendly profanities.)  It's oddly soothing. Try it sometime.

8. On second thought, try reverse psychology.  Pump your fist in the frigid air. "YEAH!  Eternal winter rocks!"

7. Cry for the crocuses. Just weep for those poor, frozen, Pollyannaish flowers. Maybe chisel them out of the ground and take them inside and put them by the fireplace.

6. Hunt the White Witch. She is OUT there, I'm telling you. She's even on Twitter!

The Lion, The Witch and the IKEA Wardrobe.

Oh, and speaking of queens:

5. Stop watching Frozen.  Yeah, yeah the DVD... JUST STOP RIGHT NOW. Duh, people!!  There has to be a correlation.  Disney, that was pure evil of you, really.

4. Call to mind the adage: "If you wear shorts, warmth will come."  To this end, dry clean all your winter coats, store them in locked crates, and don the sandals. You know you want to!

3. Drink iced coffee, open your windows, crank Margaritaville, and cruise around the block. Go back home, put the coffee in the microwave, sit in front of a space heater, and sob.

2. Google: "Prayers For Warm Weather." Get "A Prayer for Fine Weather."  Snort, realizing "fine" has many definitions.  Happen upon "A Prayer To Keep Our Neighbors Warm."  Mumble a prayer to that effect, but selfishly feel unsatisfied.

In the process of this research, realize it's a solemnity you heathen: the Feast of the Annunciation.

1. Reflect on a sanctifying approach to the chill, and saying yes to God's will, at least in regards to the weather, I mean right?  You can do that, right? Resolve to try.

For now, Note that all paintings of the Annunciation seem to appear in a spring-like setting. So gripe-blog about the cold anyway.

"The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, 
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land". Song of Solomon 2:12

Linked to Many Little Blessings

Friday, March 21, 2014

A year ago, on this day, at this hour

I was in shock.  And I was afraid.  I was told I could labor for several hours--even days--at home, once I finally saw blood, which could be tomorrow, or next week, or two weeks from then. And that this likely would have to be followed by D&C anyway.  I was told my health was in danger, as I was already swelling from all that had gone so very, very wrong. I was told I had to decide right away, because it was Thursday afternoon, and tomorrow was Friday and then the doctor "who does this" would be gone for the weekend. While I was at 17 weeks, I hadn't had an appointment in a month, and there was concern since, as the OB so delicately put it, "Who knows how long this has been inside you like that?"

"This" was my baby.  And "like that" meant without a heartbeat.

So I chose the only option that made any sense in a moment that made absolutely none at all.

The next day, I was swept into the middle of the great hurry that was procedure number 4 in a day filled with such mundane events before OR staff could go home and relax and watch their favorite television series. I had mistakenly thought that having a dead baby removed at Women & Infants Hospital would be an event approached with the tremendous sensitivity it required. Instead, in the whirl of triage style curtains, it seemed they were running behind, and my grieving thing was holding them up from lunch break. 

Trying her hardest to distract me from my rounded belly, the nurse chattered during prep about her two daughters who had joined the military, and how she raised them to be tough, and how kids grow up all too quickly and too soon.

I remember the back of the doctor's masked head as he "introduced" himself while staring at a screen. I remember his ill-concealed annoyance with my insistence on a final ultrasound "just to be sure."  I remember his clipped "no" when I asked for a final picture, "Can't do that on this machine."  I remember the disgusted incredulity on his face when I asked, before he disappeared behind the curtain again, to "be gentle with my baby, because I love him so much."  At the time, it seemed reasonable to me to ask him to be careful. Nothing really made any sense anyway. If I had been presented with a deed to sign my house over to Putin, I would have signed it. The world was unreal and spinning in a frantic, wobbly fashion.

No medical personnel took the time to discuss any options, or to clarify any confusion. Despite the fact that my desires to "have a moment" with my baby afterwards were made abundantly clear, loudly and tearfully, over and over. Before and after, I asked to see the little one that turned out to be a "her."  I begged, I pleaded, I insisted. Please.  Please, please give me my baby.  After all that... I just really, really needed to swaddle her and cuddle. We'd both had been through so much those two days.

"No! It's not possible." I don't remember them even adding a "sorry" to this answer. Apparently, my request was absolutely disgusting,as the baby would not be "in great shape." And anyway--went the prevailing thought--I was "only" 17 week, about a month shy of a stillbirth, and "the fetus" was small. My request was completely unthinkable and totally unnecessary. 

Only the funeral home, days later, made it possible. I am forever grateful I was able to tuck her in a pink blanket and kiss her goodnight.

In memory of my youngest daughter, I've spent the last year advocating for change at the hospital that handled my loss so insensitively. I've been honored to meet some of the most fantastic human beings who work at the hospital, staff who were devastated to hear of my unnecessarily cold experience. My "story" ended up starting a "Miscarriage Task Force" that is working to address hospital losses at any stage--from the earliest miscarriages on--with appropriate sensitivity.

It has been a strange, life-changing year. Now, a reality I couldn't bear to dwell on before my loss has become a pretty normal topic.  Just beside this computer are books on the experience of stillbirth, pages of literature on how to deal with grief, minutes of meetings about infant burial options and memorial tokens, edits on a better pamphlet to distribute to miscarrying moms. I'm knee-deep in the saddest of subjects. But it has been so very, very worthwhile.

Two weeks ago, I was told that there was a woman like me in the OR, sobbing hysterically over a little one gone too soon that had to be surgically removed. But this time, the chaplain was there before the event. Awaking from surgery, she found that caring nurses had swaddled her little one. Then the grieving mom was wheeled to a new "quiet" room on the floor, so she could say her hello and goodbye in private. 

After hearing the news, I found myself grinning through tears. It is so sad that "loss" work is necessary. But I am so endlessly glad my story helped another woman have her once in a lifetime moment with precious little hands and tiny perfect toes. A tragedy and a triumph, all in one.

I'm absurdly proud of this thing; I've never had a job that required a badge. I still giggle with delight when locked doors magically open when I wave it at a sensor.  Kinda like how God has, through His mysterious methods, opened doors for me these 12 months to be able to help moms who face sudden ends of new beginnings.  It's been a year of difficult conversations, awkward silences, unlikely humor ("We soooo need a new name for 'booty charm' people!") and a billion tears in a job I never, ever would have chosen. But somehow, after all that's happened, I find myself today feeling I'm exactly where I am needed and should be. It's a great feeling, that.

I love you, Perpetua Grace. I'll always wish you could have stayed longer. This whole grave visiting and decorating thing is just plain old lousy; it would have been much more fun to have all you girls together, causing even more spills and clutter in my house.. By now, you would have been crawling everywhere and learning to stuff small objects in your mouth.  I wish you could have done that.  But I feel you helping out in so many wonderful ways, nonetheless, and I couldn't be prouder, Pepper.  Thanks for being you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Turning green

After a wee bit o' tidying up around o, say, 2 AM, I decided I would be postponin' the corned beef and cabbage plans.

Aye, I'm here now. Typing in me fake Irish accent for ya, as I turn green instead o' wearin' it.  It's different, 'tis.  Can't say that I recommend it.

From the top o' the morning, I've been tryin' to nibble on Cheerios, I am, and sip juice, but the wee ones just made off with it 'tall, and now are demandin' I play hide n' seek.


So I must be off.  Thanks for your prayers to get me back in the pink, and I'll be talking with you soon now. Got all kinds o' things to talk about, mind, it's just that I've been editin' and actin' and now I took a turn. But it will all be over soon, 'twill, in a day or two. Or it better be, I did me time back in December... right?

God love you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Getting Rid of My Babysitter

I spent the past week observing Pepper's anniversary.  And learning how to dance while I sing at someone's face at the top of my lungs. Great stuff happening at Annie rehearsal, I'm telling you.  Seeing my husband pretend to drink brandy, constantly talk about how much money he has, and insist he doesn't know a thing about little girls... it's awesome, really. :)
Also been engaged in the mundane task of earning money editing a friend's wonderful work of historical fiction (stay tuned), as well as volunteering at the hospital and writing an article to help my babysitter leave. 
I wanted to post this selfsame article here to help her out.  I thought of calling the piece "Solve a Problem Like Maria's," but I succumbed to the above title instead.  Here goes, article-style (read to the end to find out how to help!):
On January 2nd, 2014, Maria Gonzalez received the call she'd been waiting for her entire life. Sr. Mary Fidelis of St. Dominic's Monastery in Linden, Virginia had very important news: Maria's application to be accepted into the convent had been approved. There is now a simple room waiting for her in the convent with a bed, a desk, a bureau, and a cross.
To see the 27 year-old, the casual observer wouldn't assume that here was a girl with a spot in the cloister waiting for her. These days, one most likely would find Maria in one of two places: praying at church, or cutting hair at Supercuts. With her own brown locks tied back simply in a low ponytail, the young lady's eyes sparkle. She's never been so happy. She's never been so in love. And—eager to eliminate school debt and enter the monastery as soon as possible--she's never worked so much overtime in all her life.

Maria on right, with a friend, and cake
A nun is a religious sister who lives a contemplative life in silence and solitude as an offering to God in union with Christ Crucified for love of his body, the Church, for the salvation of mankind. There, I said it!” laughs Maria, describing the drastic change her life will undergo as soon as funding can be found to eliminate the debt that keeps her from living her vocation. Maria hadn't always planned to retire from the world. From 2004-2008, Maria attended the University of New Hampshire, pursuing a career in anthropology. Between working towards entering the field of archaeology and trade school for hairdressing, her faith and religious things in general were on the back burner for awhile.
In 2010, Maria's mom invited her back to church. “I said, 'Why not, I guess?' And I was back.”
The first parish I joined as an adult was St. Pius V Church in Providence. I started frequenting the sacraments and taking an active role in my faith” Maria remembers. A Dominican parish with a very active young adult group, St. Pius was a place Maria could have fun and get back in touch with the faith of her childhood.
Fr. Hyacinth [Marie Cordell, O.P.], our chaplain for the Youth Group, relates well with all of us. Besides adoration and talks, the weekly group also hosts pilgrimages and fun excursions, such as mountain climbing. “Through Father's example as well as that of the Dominican sisters at my parish, I have been able to observe a healthy balance between both the spiritual and human side of a holy, joyfully lived religious life.
Fuzzy pic of Fr. Hyacinth in white, with St. Pius Youth group, Maria second from left

Fr. Hyacinth has this to say about his aspiring parishioner: “Maria is a remarkable person of prayer, moral integrity, gratitude, and joy. It is such a tremendous joy for the parish and for myself to see and be a part of this grace that has blossomed in her. It is so exciting that a young woman we know well is becoming a Dominican contemplative nun! These sisters are at the very heart of the Church, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux perceived so lucidly. Maria understands this well, and it is such a beautiful thing that she wants to offer herself in this way.” For two years, Maria planned various service projects for the young adults, such as helping at the homeless, at nursing homes, and post incarceration shelters. Through these years as “Works of Mercy Coordinator,” Maria saw that “God’s will resides within the desires of my heart.” She eventually saw where these desires best found their fulfillment: “In consecrated religious life, I have found my path: my motherhood, my service to God and his Church.”
I felt moved to give my life to God in this complete and total way one particular day in adoration, four years ago.” Maria relates. “During my vocational discernment, I experienced a great need for silence. God was kind of just forming me into my vocation.” The lack of silence is now one of the most challenging aspects for this woman between two worlds, the one full of noise and distractions she's leaving behind, and the world of silence of prayer she longs to be part of.
Seeking silence would be my advice to anyone considering a vocation. Silence is nothing to be afraid of, and it's great for the soul, because God's voice is silent. I would encourage them not to give in to distractions, and to keep their eyes fixed on the one thing necessary. Be easy on yourself and others. Love earnestly from the heart. Frequent the sacraments and the response will be nothing short of a natural response to falling in love with Love, Itself. Asked when a person discerning a religious vocation “knows, for sure,” Ms. Gonzales smiles. “I asked God that, too, and I feel the answer is 'You'll know when you know.' In my case, as I learned just how deeply loved humanity is by God through Jesus Christ, I had an overwhelming ache to give back to God all the love of my heart. “
While she gradually felt the call on her life grow stronger and stronger over the years leading up to her acceptance this January, it didn't mean that this decision has been completely easy for her. Maria adores children, and is a babysitter in high demand. “Often, people say, 'But you'd be such a great mother! Don't you want kids? And what about romance?” My answer is: I have to follow my heart. Life is all about relationships. Religious life is about dedicating oneself to the most important of relationships. A nun draws close to God every day through prayer. She grows in love with others through charity and through the challenges of living in community. Her heart extend to the whole world.”
Currently, I am striving towards my primary vocation: my call to holiness in the present moment, which is the everyone's call.” That's what she's doing while she's waiting, cutting hair, praying at St. Pius, and spending time with her family. “They are happy for me, but sad they will miss me. In the end though, it's not about what I am leaving behind; those things and people weren’t really 'mine' to begin with. Rather, I am gaining God’s will. It is the greatest gift one could be given.”
In the interest of living out “the fullness of life” as she calls it, while waiting anxiously to clear her school debt, Maria—when not cutting hair--has found helpful ways to pass the time. “I enjoy doing art, especially religious art, knitting, exercising regularly and occasionally running in charity races, and singing Irish and folk music with a group of friends. We occasionally sing at a local Irish pub. Doing these things gives me the joy of bringing God to others, and finding Him everywhere and in everyone. I have also come to realize the beauty of God’s creation in simple things like food, and have embraced eating healthy in a whole new light.”
While she works to enter as soon as possible, Maria finds comfort in the description of the enclosure fence from her future home at St. Dominic’s Monastery:
The enclosure is God's space and is consecrated to Him.  It is a place filled with the Holy One, where He is present in a special way.  It is the place where one encounters God.  This is why a young woman enters a monastery:  to live with God in the desert of the cloister and to find Him in that place of solitude.  This limitation of space and contacts with the outside leads to an opening of space within the heart of the nun.  Rather than restricting her, the enclosure broadens her heart to embrace with compassion the suffering and needs of the entire world.”
Friends have set up a fundraising effort to get Maria to the monastery. “I am definitely going to pray for all those who kindly help me get to the convent by any contribution to alleviate my debt problem. And yes, people sing me that song from the Sound of Music all the time,” she laughs.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pretend friends

TAP. Tap TAP. Tap tap TAP.

"Yay! There's mine!"

Cecilia's ever-enthusiastic mood sharply contrasted with my own today.  The beginning of March had kinda smacked me in the heart. Distracting myself with a fit of fresh organization attempts, I was putting up coat hooks, using a hammer to beat nails into wood.

"Yep, that's done."  Cecilia proudly stuck her pink puffy coat on the hook.  "Felicity's turn!"  More taps. Another gleeful chortle, and a smaller, darker pink puffy coat's hood was hung up.  Good.  They needed something their own height.  Straightening up, I looked around for something else to hammer at.

"Mom!  What about pwetend fwiend?  She needs a hook!"

Suddenly the hammer looked blurry.  I turned to the toolbox and shut it tight, leaning over it.  Deep breaths. 

My four year old has two pretend friends.  One is a boy slightly older than herself.  He's been around as long since Cecilia could talk. So what if his name is "Coco." 

But the second pretend friend is a girl, "smaller than baby" I'm told, who oddly only made her appearance this past year.  Cecilia carries her around sometimes, makes her go first or last, buckles her into the car seat, gets extra toys for her to have, and occasionally blames messes on her. Ce changes her name all the time. Sometimes she's "Lily," sometimes "Sparkles."  But usually, she's just "Pwetend Fwend." 

I suppose I can be forgiven if I sometimes like to pretend they're there, too.  It does seem unusually apropos for my daughter to have this particular set of playmates.  

Cecilia doesn't know about the events of last March.  She just witnesses that we sometimes bring decorations to "Pepper" at a field of stones where mommy cries a little and then we all sing a short song and depart, making sure that she [Cecilia] has not absconded with any floral arrangements.

Someday this odd routine will all make more sense to Cecilia. Someday I will tell Felicity that she is not the youngest; that she is--in fact--a big sister.  Some years from now, though.

For the present, it makes me smile to witness the attention the pretend friends receive.  Ce often wants "Sparkles" to get pushed in an empty swing beside her.  She insists that I "Look, look!! Pwetend fwend is chasing me!"  And shrieking with laughter, the stomping, shouting four year-old tears away with the dainty two year old, not seeing the lack that I see, not realizing anyone is missing in the merry pursuit. On foot in the house, or on trikes at the park, pretend friends are rarely far behind for Cecilia.

"Mom, Pretend Friend is chasing us!" 
When I couldn't bring myself to do anything about it, the pregnancy app of last year eventually became "Your Baby This Week" reminders.  Every Wednesday, I get an update: "Expect baby to hold out her arms to you soon.  Her eyes can follow you around the room now.  She'll be able to tolerate sitting down for short periods and you may finally get a break from holding her!"

Oh I'm not trying to be morbid, or "wallow" in my loss, or whatever people who haven't "been there" might assume a person like myself is doing in such a situation.  I'm just not the type to "move on" by forgetting. I do want to remember how old Perpetua is up there. In case the baby ages and stages apply in some vague way in eternity.  And if it does makes any difference outside of time: she's almost six months old now.  That noticing, grabbing, smiling stage where she would learn how to sit up with that green Bumbo thing I have that her sisters loved to sit in, watching me intently as I cracked eggs and swept floors.

No, getting a break from carrying around little people hasn't been an issue for me.  My smallest is an active two year-old with an immense vocabulary.  She'll be out of diapers before long.  Her face is changing, taking on the look of a child.  She's no baby anymore.

I guess it makes sense that this month will be difficult. A year late, I am keenly aware of her struggles in March. Every day, throughout the day, I wonder if this is the day she last fell asleep.  A frantic inner monologue commences: 

"What was this day like for you last year, Pepper??  I'm so sorry I didn't notice.  Mommy is so very, very sorry.  I just hope I wasn't yelling at your sisters when you... Oh.  I just hope not.  I hope I was singing or humming something soothing. I hope that's the last thing you heard when you went to sleep but oh it's just that I can get so sick and grouchy when I'm pregnant... I mean I hope I was at least talking softly, or heck, just breathing softly.  I wish my own breaths could have helped you.  Darn it, I was probably just sleeping here in this bed, stupidly and tragically unaware... helpless, either way..."

I wonder if this is kind of how Peter felt when he remembered Good Friday. "I couldn't do anything to save Him. But at least I could have been there, been beside Him till the last.  Why wasn't I?  Why wasn't I..."

Not that any of these anxious ruminations matter in the end.  How can you be more "with" someone than with your unborn baby, anyway?

Pepper, I know for certain that--at least--you heard my heart.

Whenever I visit her resting place, I sing her a song.  I try to make up for the fact that I likely didn't sing her into her last sleep.  Figure if I sing to her each time then, throughout my lifetime, I will sing her all the songs I know.  I will chat with her about everything.  She will know her mother well.

I can't wait to get to know her.  Certainly something to look forward to.

I'm finding that one can, kind of, with lots of wincing, get more accustomed to the parallel universe of "if" and "what would have been."  I mean, after such "what if's" teach you exactly how many hours you can cry at one sitting, and drive you to sleep nights with a large teddy bear in any bed than the one that could have been where That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Dwelt-On happened while you just slept and had no clue, no inkling at all...  

"No, Ce.  Pretend friend doesn't need a coat hook."  If she had needed one, it would have been for the pink crocheted coat, with a short zipper and a small hood.  I know exactly which one, and exactly where it is: deep in storage.  

I snapped the tool box shut.

"Momma.  Look!"

Fliss is smiling up at me. She doesn't have pretend friends. I paste on a smile. 

"Look at what, Fliss?"

"Tinkerbell!  Right there."  She giggled.  "Right behind you!"  Her tiny finger pointed emphatically.  

I almost expected to see more than air when I turned.  But it's just my living room.  I looked for a Tinkerbell sticker, toy, book... something.  Nothing there.

Fliss was still smiling.  Looking over my shoulder.

Aww shucks... Pep, Sparkles, Tink, whatever you go by these days:

You know I believe.  You know that I love you.

I will tend to your sisters now.