House Fires and Photos

We have had a crazy couple days. On Sunday my parents house burned down. Or, burned? There is still a house standing, so it didn’t technically “burn down”, but just saying “burned” sounds weird. It is no longer livable and a large percentage of their belongings were destroyed. My parents were out of the country when it happened and so my husband and I became the ones in charge of the situation. Let me just say, my parents can be very relieved that I married who I married, because my husband has been superman in a cape. I have basically stood off to the side wringing my hands. My brother also stepped up to the plate, long distance, and got all the insurance stuff moving while my husband worked on the grunt work of cleaning out paths of debris so you could walk in the building and boarding up broken windows and doors. The two of them have been amazing. Me, I have listened, nodded my head, said uh-huh, and hovered on the sidelines, available, but not sure how to help.

I ended up with 3 totes of water-soaked, charred photo albums. This became my baby. I told my brother I would try and find a company that could help with photo restorations. I called around. Everyone I talked to were full of lots of useful advice on how I should go about drying the pictures, and then, when the pictures were dry, I could bring them in. I asked one lady on the phone, is there anywhere I can take these where someone can help dry them? Oh no, she said, we really don’t have room for that. I’m sure you have a lot more room at home. Right. We have houseguests at the moment. I informed the lady that I had, literally, thirteen children in my home at the moment. There was nowhere safe I could lay out pictures to dry. She also didn’t seem to realize that we were talking closer to a thousand pictures or more. Not, a little handful. My mom is a photographer, my late grandmother was a photographer, and my mom is interested in family history. We’re talking about a 100 years worth of family photos here, from families that liked to take photos.

I finally took the very unorthodox method of sitting on a stool on my lawn and spreading wet pictures all over the grass. When they dried, I would then gather them up and put them in a box. I have been doing this for two days. I still didn’t finish all the photos. My brother, who drove down to help, finally came this evening and took the rest of the photos from me since I am now having to shift my attention to my son’s high school graduation which happens this Thursday, and all the hoopla that goes along with that.

It has been an interesting experience, going through all my mom’s photos. There’s pictures of me in the hospital, covered in wires. I was born a month early with weak lungs and then got pneumonia. According to the little notations on the photos, I didn’t go home till I was nine days old.

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Then there’s a pic of my parents when they were engaged. They were so 70s!!

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I found an awesome picture of me with my maternal grandparents when I was three years old. This picture means a lot to me. My mother was British and has two sisters. My mother married an American, one sister married a South African, and the other sister married an Englishman. Needless to say, I didn’t see my relatives on that side of the family often. My grandparents were missionaries in South Africa, our family was in Haiti or the US. I met my grandparents three times in my life: when I was eight months old, when I was three years old, and when I was ten years old. My grandfather died on the trip home after that last visit. I met my grandmother one other time when I was fifteen. They were amazing people, I loved them, and I wished that I could have had a chance to know them better.

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I found my dad’s baby book. My grandmother’s careful, elegant handwriting, detailing important facts of his first year of life. There was a picture of my grandparents holding my father. I have always been proud of the fact that my grandparents had an interracial marriage in an era when that was not very acceptable.

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As I gathered up all the dried photos, scattered across the lawn, everything got mixed up. Pictures of my children mixed up with pictures of my mother as a baby, mixed up with pictures of the Picazo family, mixed up with pictures of the Rigby family. All the time periods blurred together into a box that represented Memory. Memories that we were here. Memories that we lived in families, we hugged our babies, we smiled at birthdays, we got married, older generations died, newer generations were born. Memory of the human story. So Universal. So Personal.

In the end, I have played a small role in helping my parents with this tragedy. But I think it was an important role. Keeper of the Memories. I wasn’t really preserving these pictures just for my mom. I did it for me. For my children. For my grandchildren. Here is the story of our family. Let me tell you about these pictures.

 

Happy Mother’s Day

I want to wish all the Moms out there a Happy Mother’s Day.

To the Moms of older children, thank you for sticking it out, putting in your time in the trenches. You are a hero.

To the Moms with little children…This is the hardest time. Be encouraged. You can do it. It is going to get easier!

To the Moms who are raising children they didn’t give birth to, you are amazing. Your heart for your children is an inspiration to all of us.

To the Women who think they aren’t Moms, but who go around mothering all the children that enter their lives. You are so important. Raising up the next generation is a community project, and your role is vital.

And to my Mom…Thank you. Thank you for all the sleepless nights you put in. Thank you for sitting with me at bedtime when I was afraid of the dark. Thank you for letting me pour soy sauce all over your amazing cooking because I was too picky to enjoy it the way it was. Thank you for buying me chocolate whistles at the grocery store. Thank you for always having a tissue in your purse when I needed one. Thank you for letting me stay up late reading books. Thank you for turning a blind eye when I came home covered in mud. Thank you for french braiding my hair. Thank you for sharing your Cadbury’s chocolate bar with me. Thank you for making me a pizza with nothing on it because that was the way I liked it. Thank you for all the times you didn’t give me advice, just gave me a long hug instead. Thank you for paying for piano lessons, and not saying a word when I played the same piece over and over and over and over and over again. Thank you for giggling with me over the silliest things. Thank you for continuing to make my birthday special every year. Thank you for teaching me about prayer. Thank you for your hugs. Thank you for being my Mom. I love you.

Fat Fridays: Week 20 The Dreaded Clothes-Shopping Trip

It’s late. I just got back from seeing the movie Endgame with my husband. Awesome movie! And of course we have a house full of teens/kids who are Marvel fans and my son was lying in wait when we got home, wanting to hear our opinion of the movie. (He and his sister went on opening night. Then he took his younger brothers. My husband and I are some of the last to see it in our family.) It was a great date night. We went to the restaurant Tomato Head, a Knoxville specialty, that has lots of vegan and gluten-free options. I was wearing a new outfit. Wonderful evening.

So, about that new outfit…The subject that has been on my mind today is clothes shopping. How many people like clothes shopping? I happen to be one of those people that hates clothes shopping. I would almost rather go to the dentist than have to go buy new clothes. Almost. I avoid it like the plague. That of course, is a simple thing to do when you are a stay-at-home mom with lots of kids and a limited budget. Win-win for me. Don’t like to shop. Don’t have money to shop. Don’t have time to shop. It works. Except when I need new clothes. And I use the word “need” in a literal sense. As in, I don’t own any shirts that aren’t stained or ripped, or any shorts that I’m not constantly hitching up because they are too loose. Getting too small for your clothes is a good problem. Right? Except that I hate clothes shopping.

Well, the stars all lined up perfectly this week. I had time, money, and a need. I went to the store with the specific chore of buying a couple shorts, t-shirts, and a simple dress. Nothing fancy. I walked around, found a couple things that looked ok. As in, I don’t think that will make me look Too Hideous, let’s try it on. I took my armful of clothing and went to the changing room. That’s when the voice spoke up. There’s this really mean, horrible voice, that sounds a lot my own voice, and it’s pipes up in my head every time I go and try on new clothes. Look at you. You look horrible. You are so ugly. Nothing looks good on you. Why are you even trying to buy clothes? You’re too fat for clothes shopping. You should just go home…Even now, writing about this, it manages to evoke an emotional response. I suddenly feel worthless. Ugly. Less than. I hate it.

None of the clothes fit right and I felt very discouraged as I left the changing room. I don’t even think discouraged is the right word. I felt like someone had knocked me to the ground and then kicked me. There’s a reason I don’t like clothes shopping. I tried again to find something that might look right, failed again. The voice got louder. I was ready to give up. I’ll just keep wearing my old clothes. It’s not that big a deal. And then suddenly I was able to step back a minute and view the scene with some perspective. Why are you listening to that voice? Why are you talking so horribly to yourself? Why are you attacking yourself? I didn’t have an answer, and that’s probably a subject for a good therapy session, but I was able to stop. Step back, and look at the problem logically. I need some new clothes. Somewhere in this store is probably at least one pair of shorts and one t-shirt that will look ok. Try again. And so I did. I found a pair of shorts, two t-shirts, and on the way out, found the last dress of it’s kind in my size. Victory.

I imagine I am not the only overweight person who struggles with clothes shopping. Despite the fact that the average American woman nowadays is a much larger size, the fashion industry still focuses most of its attention on the skinnier sizes. I look at the magazines, then I look at myself in the mirror, and I obviously don’t match up to the standards of Beauty and Fashion that they are promoting.

There is a woman that I know, and she is my hero. She is very overweight, but she is beautiful. She does her hair fancy, applies her makeup beautifully, and is always wearing the most fashionable outfits. She is confident and happy. I want that. I want to look in the mirror and like what I see, whether it’s a size 20 or a size 10. I want to feel like I’m worth the effort to take some time with my hair. I want to feel like I am important enough, no matter what size I am, to set aside some money and go hunting till I find the clothes that look nice and fashionable. I want my self-worth to not be dependent on my weight. I’m not sure how to get from where I am to that level of confidence and self-acceptance, but maybe, even being aware enough to make it a goal, maybe that’s the first step.

 

 

Alien Bruises

So, I’m curious if anyone else is prone to flights-of-imagination/paranoia/weird theories? The other day I glanced down at my hand and I saw a bruise. A bruise that looked a lot like the bruises I used to get when I got IVs in my hand (10 pregnancies and hyperemesis got my fair share of IVs in my hand). Hmm. That’s strange. I haven’t been to any doctors lately. Nope, no memories of getting an IV. Wonder where that bruise came from? I pressed on it, yep, definitely a bruise. Definitely hurts. Any memories of injuring my hand? Ummm. Nope… and then my imagination kicked in. Aliens. Must be aliens. They must have drugged me so I couldn’t remember anything. Now, why would aliens want to abduct me? My brain went a little fuzzy then. Couldn’t really think of any logical reasons. But still! Why not aliens?

I remember in high school I had a weird thing happen. One day I noticed that two twin birthmark-like spots had appeared on my rib cages (does that word go plural or does it stay rib cage?). I mentioned this mystery to some friends at school and we had a great discussion on where these spots came from. The general conclusion, after many ideas were tossed out, was that it must have been aliens. (Aliens seem to be a real handy scapegoat for all unexplained phenomena.)

Of course, the real explanation is that I am clumsy, and forgetful, and usually really distracted. I go around a corner, somehow completely misjudge the distance and bang my knee on the corner. Two days later a giant bruise appears. Where did that come from? Must be those aliens again.

I am one of those moms, when my kids ask me if there are fairies, I tell them that we’ve never seen one, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. God created winged creatures after all! Extraterrestrials? Why not. Bigfoot? Definitely. Life is lot more interesting when you allow yourself to believe there are still mysteries out there. And it’s a lot more fun to blame your bruises on aliens too. Trust me, I know!

 

 

Fine, I Won’t Give Up

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I saw this meme on my friend’s FB today, and I was like, YES!! My thoughts exactly!! We’ve had a rough week. The Rotavirus and Adenovirus both came to visit. I have been nursing sick kids for seven days now and been sick for several of those days myself. We’ve been reduced to survival levels. Today, feeling a bit better myself, I determined it was time to catch up with some housework. We had managed to keep the downstairs livable, but the upstairs had completely fallen apart. I set the healthy children to work, thinking they would work on their chore list while I worked on mine. Right. In fact what happened was that I ended up supervising them in their chores, taking over where they completely failed at the job, and generally just stomping around in a bad mood, surrounded by kids who were in an equally bad mood. Lovely.

Of course, not choosing the moral high ground and instead letting myself completely vent my bad attitude did not make me feel better. It just made me feel guilty. What kind of mom am I anyway? What kind of Christian am I when I am my children’s only exposure to swear words? And then, feeling guilty lead to anger. It’s not my fault! I’m doing my best here and nobody appreciates it! I finally had the common sense to turn on the tv for the kids, go in my room, shut the door and take a nap. I’m still feeling sick and I was kidding myself thinking I had enough energy to tackle a big house-cleaning day.

Post-nap, my emotions have settled down. Time to get another perspective.

Another friend posted on her blog page The Chosen Broken this quote:

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“You have been chosen…” That sounds so Noble. Dignified. Worthy. Purposeful. I have been Chosen. Chosen to be the matriarch of my clan. Chosen to be partner to my husband. Chosen to serve the people in my sphere. It’s a calling.

”…you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” When you see the name J.R.R. Tolkien, you immediately think of epic adventures full of danger, excitement, great challenge. In this epic adventure called life I need everything I’ve got to keep pressing on, keep moving, tackle the next mountain, ford the next raging river. I think about all the gifts and talents that God has given me. Stubbornness. Who knew how valuable that characteristic could be? Kid, you might be stubborn, but I can out-stubborn you any day, you will do what I ask you to do if it takes us all day and night to make it happen. Responsibility. This is a heavy one, but it gets things done. I’m laying in bed sick, it’s suppertime, kids are hungry. I get out of bed and make supper. They’re my kids, my responsibility to make sure they get fed. Sense of humor. I couldn’t survive without this one. If you can’t laugh at yourself and your circumstances, seems like life would be rather miserable.

There’s a bible passage in Ephesians 6: 10-20 that talks about the armor of God. Not only does God equip us with natural gifts and talents that help us with our challenges, he also gives us supernatural armor to protect us. I need that today. The helmet of salvation. I need to remember that my sins are forgiven, my future entails eternity with Jesus. I need the belt of truth, God’s word is alive and well and powerful.

I hate this day. Ok, but the Bible says in Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” 

Life stinks. Ok, but the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV) “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

You get the idea.

Step by step, I read through the armor of God, think about what it means, apply it to my situation.

I have been chosen. This life is a quest and right now we’re going through some rough waters. But I’ve also been equipped with everything I need to battle on through, and one day, I will be victorious. As the old hymn says,

What a day that will be,

When my Jesus I shall see,

And I look upon His face,

The One who saved me by His grace;

When He takes me by the hand,

And leads me through the Promised Land,

What a day, glorious day that will be.

 

Till then, we battle on, using what strength, heart, and wits that we have.

 

Fat Fridays: Week 19 Why Am I Doing This?

Hello Everyone…How’s your week been? I hope it’s been a bit better than mine. We’ve been struggling with a horrible virus this week that’s really wiped out our little kids. But, there is hope. Our littlest guy seems to be feeling better this morning, and the older kids who got the virus seem to be getting over it quickly. I’m sitting in bed feeling kind of yucky myself, but hoping that this will be done and over with by tomorrow.

So, the past couple days I’ve been thinking about goals and dreams. I heard once, years ago, that if you really want something, have a big goal, you’ve got to think about it often, daydream about it, focus on it. The more thought life you give towards your dream, the more likely you will continue to pursue it and see it become reality. So, here’s my dream: to lose 110 pounds and go from a size 20 to a size 10. I think about it a lot. It’s helpful when I’m really stressed out and want to reach for something sugary and then I remember, size 10. You’re not going to get to a size 10 if you eat that stuff. Anyway, you get the idea.

This week as I’ve been reading the news, seeing reports of the terrorist attack on Christians in Sri Lanka, seeing how villages have been wiped out by a cyclone on the coast of Africa, see how activists are trying to fight against crazy man-made natural disasters, see how many problems there are with our foster care system…When I see all these things, and then I think about my goal, I feel rather shallow, and selfish. Here I am focusing all my energy on losing weight while out in the world people are facing Real Problems. Yeah, this is definitely a first-world problem I’m dealing with here.

So, I’ve been thinking about this, and I came to some conclusions. Why is it so important for me to lose weight? Right now my extra weight is keeping me from living a lot of life. My husband loves to bike and go hiking. I don’t go with him. I can’t keep up. And that makes both of us a bit sad. I want to lose weight so I can share experiences with my husband again. Skinnier me used to go out in the yard and play Capture the Flag with my children, and jump rope, and tag, and running games. I haven’t done that in a long time. I want to lose weight so I can play with my children again. My older children have gone on an inner-city missions trip to Buffalo, New York for three years in a row now. This summer one of my sons launched a campaign to get me to go on the mission trip too. I thought about how busy they are on their trip, how physically toiling it is. I know that right now, in my current shape, I would be exhausted and uncomfortable most of the time. I told him I couldn’t go this year. I want to lose weight so I can take part in mission trips, actually engage in some physically hard work in order to help people. My overweight me is looking at Type 2 Diabetes and too-high cholesterol. I want to lose weight so I don’t spend the rest of my life sick. I’ve been learning about how inflammation in the body can aggravate mental health issues, like depression. I want to stick to this diet so that I can hopefully lessen my episodes of depression. I want to lose this weight so I can be me again.

I guess my goal isn’t so bad after all. Kind of like the instructions: put the oxygen mask on first, then help those around you. First things first. Lose the weight. Then I can engage in life and all it’s challenges and problems with a lot more stamina and ability to help.

Onward with my goal.

This week, things that have gone well and not so well…I tried a couple new dishes. I found at Kroger a Coconut Curry Mix that had a big bag of fresh vegetables to stir fry and then a curry sauce to pour over it. It was only $5 for the bag which seemed like a good deal to me. Tasted pretty good too. I also bought a jar of Tikka Masala sauce at Aldi’s then poured it over a big pot of cooked potatoes/sweet potatoes and fresh green beans and a can of beans. That was really yummy too. My only problem is that everything I cook tends to look like a pile of mush. It doesn’t help anything when I offer my fare to the family, Here, it’s vegan, want to try some? They stare at the glop. No thanks mom. I also tried cooking a rice blend for the family that had brown rice, red rice, and wild rice. It was really good, but unfamiliar to my white-rice-loving family. They didn’t eat very much of it. Sigh.

Exercise didn’t happen. Dealing with a household of sick children severely limits your time. I’m not going to feel guilty about that.

Goals: recover from this virus. Yep. That’s about it. Since I started writing this blog today, my fever has spiked, I”m aching all over and feel like a truck ran over me. Good news, I don’t want to eat anything. At least I won’t be tempted to cheat.

See you all next week, hopefully in much better health.

 

 

Grace in a Mother’s Hands

A virus has come to visit our house. It’s ferocious and mean and seems to be jumping from one person to the next like a grasshopper. I’m in day three of nursing sick children. It’s made me think about how vital physical contact is to the job of motherhood. Nobody ever really mentioned that, when I was pregnant with my first. I heard all about sleepless nights, temper tantrums, nursing problems, potty training, when to start solid foods…I even heard all about the emotionally draining years of the teens. But, nobody ever talked about how much I was going to use physical touch in order to be a good mom.

My two year old is very sick. Call the doctor kind of sick. The nurse on the phone said take him to the emergency room. I asked what I could do at home first before I took that step. She suggested Pedialyte. If it worked, I should be ok at home, if it didn’t work, go to the hospital for dehydration. Good news, the Pedialyte has been working so far. I’m keeping a close count on wet diapers, keeping track of how many ounces of fluid he takes, what time he last drank something. The problem is that everything just keeps coming out, both ends. Let’s be honest here. That’s gross. Throw-up is disgusting. It makes me want to sympathy-throw-up. Nasty diapers that smell like toxic waste are also disgusting. It also makes me want to run away. But what does a mother do? She picks up the sick child, bathes him, dresses him. Holds him in her arms, rocks him, murmurs comforting words. Lays down on her bed with him till he can go back to sleep. He snuggles up against his mama, taking comfort in her physical presence.

My four year old was also sick, though not with the same intensity as the younger one. I put him on my bed in the afternoon and he slept. Occasionally I would go in and touch his head to see how hot he felt. Kiss his hair, rub his little back. He was still sleeping at bedtime so I made a pallet on the floor next to my bed and laid him there so I could help him in the night if he needed it. He woke up once, restless, achy. I rolled over, put my hand on him and he settled down and went back to sleep.

The eight year old got sick too. I put her to bed in her own bed, but told her that if she needed me in the night she could come lay on the pallet that was still next to my bed. She showed up around midnight. I reached my arm out and patted her on the back to let her know I was there if she needed me. She went back to sleep, comforted at being close to her mom.

Usually, sickness is an indicator that we need to stay away from someone. Oh, you’re sick? Here, let me move about five feet away…how contagious are you?? I tell this to my other children. Your brother is sick, please don’t go near him. The baby is sick, don’t kiss or hug him. But Moms have different rules. Your son is sick. Pick him up and hold him. The baby is sick. Cuddle him close, murmur love words against his head while he sleeps in your arms.

How do mother’s learn to do this? I’m going to guess it’s partly instinct and, if you were fortunate, partly remembering what your mom did for you. I remember my mom’s cool hand on my hot head, placing wet washcloths on my forehead while I struggled through some harsh tropical sickness. I remember her making potato soup for me, her hands stroking my hair while I tried to eat a couple bites. I remember, as a child in Haiti, when I was very, very sick, we were far away from any hospitals and the medicine wasn’t working. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, my mom’s hand on my head while she quietly, fervently prayed that God would heal me. Healing from a mother’s touch.

And I carry it on to the next generation. You’re crying? Come sit on my lap. You hurt yourself? Let me kiss it. You’re sad? Let me hug you. You’re sick? Come, climb in my bed, I will take care of you.

May this urge to use our hands, arms, bodies to administer love and care, may this never cease. May it pass on to the next generation of mothers, and the next, and the next. Full-body mothering. Grace in a tangible form.  

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