Sunday, May 26, 2013

Lost and Found

One of the many hats I wear is that of substitute teacher at my daughter's school. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away I received my Masters in Teaching and spent one year as a full time teacher before moving on to my next career as a full time mom.  Many moons later I have been lucky to get to put my toe back into the profession that was always as natural for me as breathing.

The unique advantage I have in my situation is that I have chosen to only substitute teach at my daughter's K-8 school. This has given me the opportunity to really get to know all of the kids in the school. I know each of them by name (even if I occasionally mix them up now and then...there are a lot of them) and it's a real advantage as a substitute when you can walk in a classroom and immediately be on a first-name basis with the kids.

Recently, I had a moment of triumph when I was unexpectedly called in to sub in the jr. high because a teacher suddenly fell ill. The kids weren't anticipating having sub since they had seen the regular teacher there earlier in the day so they were surprised to find me standing at the front of the room. But I won't lie, I was pretty pumped when one of the 8th grade boys walked in and looked at me quizzically and said, "Are you subbing today?" Upon hearing that I was indeed going to be at the helm for the afternoon he thrust his fist in the air and said, "Yes!"

Now, that could have been because having a last second sub in jr. high usually means some version of study hall and a chance to get your homework done early but still...I decided to take it is a compliment. With that age group you have to take what you can get.

The last few weeks I have had several opportunities to spend the day on the opposite side of the school building with our littlest students. Anyone who knows me knows that in the depths of my teacher's heart my affection lies with the primary grades, even though I have grown to enjoy different aspects of all the grades (another advantage of being a sub-you get to see it all). So, I'm not kidding when I say that I really do enjoy teaching the Kindergartners...but...

Lately, as we get closer and closer to the end of the school year, days in Kindergarten have started to feel like feeding time at the zoo...for six hours straight.

Last Friday, as I was watching the clock and willing it to inch closer and closer to dismissal time I noticed one my little peanuts had tears welling up in her eyes. Some of her loyal little friends rushed up to me clearly in a state of utter panic.

Mrs. S! Gracie can't find Pink!

I needed clarification.

Wait. What? She can't find Pink? What or who is Pink?

Looking at me like everyone should know who Pink is they cried in unison:

Her baby doll! 

And then they all fell all over themselves trying to make the urgency of the situation abundantly clear.

She sleeps with Pink every night! She's had her since she was baby! She never goes to bed without Pink! It's the most important thing in the world to her!!

I pride myself on staying pretty cool under pressure but even I was picking up on the fact that this was a BIG deal.

Search parties were formed. Backpacks were dumped out. Children were crawling under tables and chairs. All while poor Gracie became increasingly inconsolable.

Wiping the sweat from my brow, I looked at the clock and saw we were mere seconds from the final bell of the day. We had no choice but to start gathering everything back together at lightning speed and get ourselves out to the carline. I've noticed Kindergarten parents in particular get concerned when their small children don't appear at the end of the day so I was now focused on not being the cause of unnecessary heart palpitations for 25 parents out in the parking lot.

I held little Gracie's hand as we walked down the hallway and assured her I was going to turn the classroom upside down until I found Pink and that once I did I would bring her to her house.

She was still weepy and looked skeptical but I could see she was trying to be brave.

Gracie was being picked up by another mom so I went up to her and gave her the news as calmly as I could. I didn't quite know what to say but figured it was best to just give it to her straight.

We can't find Pink. 

Her eyes flew open wide in terror. She literally grabbed my shoulders and said in a restrained whisper,

Dear God, NO!

I nodded solemnly.

It's true. We looked everywhere but I'll keep searching.

She patted my shoulder gravely, her eyes weary with resignation, and told me she'd be praying my quest for Pink would be successful.

At that point, so was I.

I went back to the classroom and enlisted my daughter's help to search the room. My own child was tired, hungry and ready to go home but when I told her it would be like losing her own precious Pinky Bear she was eager to help.

I knew they had been playing in the Kitchen Area during Centers and figured Pink must have been a central feature of their game of House so I concentrated my efforts in that general area.

And then I saw a little, dirty pink foot poking up out of the rubble of a tub of blocks.

I'm not ashamed to say, I shrieked.


Annie and I both did a little dance around the classroom feeling victorious and relieved at having fulfilled our rescue mission.

I realized then though that I wasn't sure if I was going to have to leave Pink on their front porch. It was starting to sprinkle a little so I went in search of a plastic bag to put her in.

I found a group of teachers standing out in the hallway so I inquired if any of them might have a bag I could put the doll in.

One of the teachers wrinkled her nose and said, "What is that??" (I will admit, Pink does look like she's seen better days. Well loved toys usually do.)

I quickly explained it was Gracie's special doll and it had been lost but, thank goodness, I found her. I'm pretty sure I was beaming, still basking in the glow of victory.

Another teacher said, "Why did she even have it at school?"

I was a little confused then because at that point it seemed irrelevant to the good news of something so precious having been lost and now found.

I told them that in Kindergarten the children are allowed to play with an appropriate toy from home during Center time at the end of the day (they are five- remember?)

I asked again if anyone had a plastic bag because I wanted to be able to take it to her house and wasn't sure if they'd be home. I didn't want to just leave Pink lying on the front porch at the mercy of the elements. She may not be much to look at but I wasn't going to be responsible for her ending up soaking wet.

One of the teachers disappeared into her classroom to get a ziploc bag and another one looked at me half-smiling and said, "You're too nice, Lori."

I just grinned as I made sure Pink was safely tucked into the bag and shrugged.

When I got to Gracie's house, her older brother and a friend were playing in the front yard. When they saw me, her brother asked excitedly,

Did you find her??

I held up the bag triumphantly and he went tearing into the house yelling,

Gracie! Mom! Mrs. S. found Pink!! She's here! She's here!

Gracie's mom and I met at the door at the same time and without hesitation she folded me into a huge hug. Over her shoulder I saw little Gracie peeking around the corner smiling shyly with red-rimmed, puffy eyes.

I handed her Pink and felt a little teary myself as I watched her squeeze that ratty baby doll close and heard her whisper to me,

Thank you.

I knew within that household, for a moment, peace had been restored. Redemption had found a sad little girl and a worried, tired mama and hopefully everyone would be able to sleep that night.

I know that I, myself, slept like a baby, completely comfortable with having allowed myself to be consumed by a small child's sorrow, a lost baby doll and the journey to see them reunited.

I'd do it again in a minute.

** Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Except Pink. She really is just Pink and I'm hoping she is okay with having starred in this little narrative.

*** This is not intended to be a criticism of the other teachers. They teach older kids and sometimes when you don't work with the little ones you forget what issues are very real to that age group. Everyone is also a little war-torn by this time of the year. That is another thing I enjoy about being a sub- I always get to see things with fresh eyes and don't get as worn down by facing the same mini-dramas day in and day out.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A thousand words: Part II

Soulumination, a local non-profit and organization that I love has been getting a lot of press lately. It's exciting to see for many reasons not least of which is the hope that it might generate more financial support as greater numbers of people are exposed to their gentle mission of love and compassion. But perhaps even more so are the lessons to be learned in the work of Soulumination.

When I was on the board of Soul (our affectionate shorthand for the foundation) we always made education an underlying priority to our overall mission of providing beautiful photographs to families with either a parent or child facing life threatening illnesses. Lynette Johnson, the founder, is keenly aware of how uncomfortable our modern, Western society is around the difficult subjects of illness, death, loss and grief. The discomfort is understandable, I share it in many ways, but it becomes unacceptable when it means we leave people walking through the valley isolated and alone. None of us will escape this life untouched by the particular sorrow felt by losing someone you love, so perhaps we would do well to acquaint ourselves with how other people have coped with such grief.

If we can find it in ourselves to abide with and learn from someone else's experience of loss, or at least not turn away from it, we will be better prepared and less likely to say something stupid when someone close to us is facing unimaginable grief. Because believe me, truly insane things come out of the mouths of people who are nervous and tentative around profound sorrow. I mean jaw-drop-to-the-ground-nutso.

None of us want to be that crazy person spouting off about silver linings, and how everything happens for a reason and how someone else you know had it really bad so be grateful that at least that didn't happen to you because that would have been so much worse. Oh, and how about how all you have to do is stay positive and focus on your blessings and everything will be fine. It's like busting out a round of A Spoonful of Sugar to a person whose beloved has just died. Not. Super. Helpful.

None of us want to be that person, right?

Just weeks after our twins had died I had a well-meaning, good-hearted, truly very nice friend who I know was probably fumbling all over herself when she ran into me at the ATM, ask me excitedly, "So, gosh Lori, with both boys in school now what are you going to do with all your time?"

Ummmmm.....well, there were those two babies I thought I was going to be taking care of 24/7, but that kinda fell through...

We can do better.

We can try harder to not flinch and run away from the subjects of death, loss, illness and grief.

We can put on our big girl underpants and remind ourselves that this is part of being a real grown up, and a compassionate human being, and (if that is your thing) a child of God who believes we are not only here to love one another but that we have been commanded to love one another.

And all of this is to say why I believe the work of Soulumination and the photographs they take and the families that agree to share them with us, all matter so much.

I didn't think I wanted photographs of my babies. My mom asked several times if I wanted her to bring a camera in case we wanted photos after they were born. I said, no. I was scared and sad and I didn't know what to expect and I didn't think it was anything I was going to want to remember with something as vivid as photographs.

Our nurse took some pictures anyway. They weren't very good, nothing like a photographer from Soul would have been able to do, but I will never stop being grateful to her for knowing better than I did what I would need later.

Photographs, especially beautiful, professional photographs like the ones Soulumination provides, do so many things for families. Depending on the age of the child they might mean different things to different people. I can only speak to what it means to lose a tiny infant who never comes home.

For me, those photos are validation. They are proof. They are evidence that even if no one outside my immediate family ever saw our babies, they existed. I had a reason for my sorrow. It wasn't just my imagination and all of those well-meaning words about how it "wasn't meant to be" were irrefutably wrong. They were meant to be, I know that because they were here. Yes, something went wrong- as it does all too often in our fallen world- but they were meant to be.

I have the pictures to prove it.


I encourage you to read the article about Soulumination that recently appeared in Slate Magazine.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Low-drama Mama

The other night Annie and I were having one of our many, many, many chats about school and friendships and the trials and tribulations of navigating both. Inevitably the conversation drifted toward a discussion about "friend drama" and we ended up talking about what it means to be "dramatic" versus what it means to just express your feelings.

It's a fine line, don't you think?

Anyway, it was a lighthearted conversation and not particularly angst-filled so at one point I leaned in close to Annie and teasingly said, "Do you know who my most dramatic child is?"

Without blinking or missing a beat, Annie looked me straight in the eye and said flatly...


She's catching on, that girl. I think she's gonna be okay.


The last time I felt really sad about one of my kids taking the next inevitable step in life was when Timothy was graduating from pre-K. He was my baby then and we had been trying for over a year to have another baby so I had a lot of emotions about seeing my littlest taking the next big leap forward. But considering that was 10 years ago now, and given the fairly significant extenuating circumstances, that should give you some indication of my approach to seeing my kids moving upward and onward.

I have never cried a single tear when one of my kids started preschool, Kindergarten or any other grade.

Even when we forced Jack and Tim to change schools in the 8th and 5th grade respectively, and they were upset and nervous and sad about the change, I sent them off to their new school that first day with nary a tear.

When we had our baby, little Annie, change schools a month into her Kindergarten year I dropped her off with butterflies in my stomach but dry eyes.

Now, lest you think I'm cold-hearted, it's not that I didn't have heartfelt, conflicted emotions around all of those events. I prayed mightily for my boys that our decision to change schools would prove wise in the long run. I watched my little girl walk into that new, big school and part of me wanted to run after her and whisk her right back home with me.

But, at the end of the day, as much as there is always part of me that wishes I could slow the hands of time, there is a bigger part of me that sees how ready they are to take that next step. Sometimes more than ready. And life has taught me that holding them back would not only be futile but potentially disastrous. Because my experience is that when a kid is ready for more, leaving him in a place that is stifling him is only asking for trouble.

Anyone who knows me well knows I have many sad feelings about our first child leaving the nest. I don't think anyone can blame me for feeling nostalgic and wistful about such a major life event. But when people talk about tears at graduation or when we drop him off at college, I honestly cannot predict what will happen. I keep telling Superdad to be prepared for anything. I could sail through his graduation with smiles and cheers and nothing more than tremendous pride (and relief), or I could be a torrent of embarrassing, ugly, snot-filled sobbing.

I wish I knew.

I do know though that he is ready. Not ready for every single thing that is going to come his way from this point forward. None of us are ever wholly ready for every eventuality life can throw at us. But he is ready to be done with high school. He is ready to test those wings out in bigger skies, with a smaller safety net. He's starting to chafe against the restraints that are a necessary part of keeping high schoolers in line and teachers sane. And he's ready to trade those restraints for the responsibility that comes with owning your own decisions and your mistakes.

I have seen a lot of kids making some questionable choices as they approach the finish line and as an adult it is so hard not to want to scream at them and ask, "Why are you doing this? You are almost done! Can't you just get through a few more weeks??"

They are acting like children because they are dying not to be anymore.

They remind me of race horses penned into the starting gate. The agitation is palpable. They are straining at the bit and the reins attempting to keep them contained. They prance in place, knowing they can't move forward yet but all of their pent up energy won't allow them to be still. All of their attention and focus is centered on the freedom that they know is coming but is not here yet.

Which is why I don't know that there will be any tears at my son's graduation.

I will be proud and exuberant and yes, a little relieved...but I don't know that I will be sad.

He's so ready.

And as much as I love that boy and will miss a thousand things about having him in our home on a daily basis.

I really am excited for him.

P.S. So, just hold on a few more weeks, son... You are almost there. Just coast to the finish line, Buddy. We are rooting for you all the way.


Friday, May 10, 2013

The rocky road

I have mixed feelings about Mother's Day.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly enjoy being served my favorite latte along with some sort of purchased baked good while still rubbing the sleep from my eyes and wondering what happened to "sleeping in"(I requested a long time ago that my mother's day breakfast come from Starbucks and not our kitchen). And I always get a kick out of my boy's yearly efforts at putting into writing how much they appreciate the clean laundry, food, shelter and general happiness they receive as members of this household. And, of course, there is sweet Annie who would turn the day into an all-out morning-until-night-snuggle-fest if I would let her (and I probably would if we didn't have to get to church). Then there's Superdad who is always thoughtful and in spite of my efforts to keep the bar low he never fails to make it a lovely day (well, there was that one year early in our marriage when I spent the day doing several loads of laundry... but he never let that happen again).

So, it's not that it isn't a nice day. And it's not that I don't enjoy receiving gifts, treats and a little appreciation as much as the next gal.

I just know that as hard as it is to be a mom, can be even harder to become a mother at all. And that is something that is never far from my mind on Mother's Day.

I've tried to be very open about the fact that all of our children were conceived with the help of various forms of fertility therapy. It wasn't always easy to be so transparent about such a personal endeavor, and certainly when we were first going through our struggles to have a baby it wasn't something I advertised to the world. But one of the reasons I believe Jack is here today is because someone else, a virtual stranger, a friend of a friend, chose to be vocal about her fertility struggles and gently offered me some advice and guidance that I am convinced (because I was there), changed everything.

Once I had made it to the other side and had become an infertility success story, I made every effort to be that person for others. I didn't put a big yard sign out with 'Got Questions?' on it in big letters, but I also didn't shy away from being honest about my story. Sure enough, there would be the occasional phone call, or the acquaintance who pulled me aside at a social gathering, or the friend who would want to know how they could be of help to their friend, or sister, or cousin...Other women quietly struggling, feeling alone and wondering how to cope with the grief that keeps mounting month after month after month.

So, there is that. One reason Mother's Day resonates with me in a way that is both happy and sad.

Little did I know then that there would be more twists and turns in my path of motherhood. New sorrows and new lessons learned. Two precious babies, born too small and gone too soon. Again though, as I emerged from the fog of grief (which took awhile) I made a decision not to hide our family's loss in the hopes that by making our babies known, others with their own angel babies would feel less alone.

So, there is that, too.

But, nowadays, my ambivalence has far less to do with my own rocky road of motherhood than it does with my deep sadness for all of the other rocky roads out there.

Motherhood is not for everyone and some women choose to remain childless. That is a choice to be respected and honored. But there are so many for whom motherhood is something they long for, have strived for and yet for countless reasons, remains beyond their grasp.

It breaks my heart.

Which is all part of why I have always created an atmosphere of low expectations surrounding Mother's Day in my household. I want my family to know that while I appreciate all of their love and thoughtful gestures, they really aren't necessary.

I am the lucky one.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The road not taken

When Jack was a toddler he decided he'd like to wear glasses. It might have had something to do with a certain aardvark named Arthur but, regardless, he was determined his life would be infinitely more wonderful if he were wearing glasses. When I told him that his eyes were just fine and he didn't need glasses... he took matters into his own hands.

When Jack was five years old he wore a sport coat and tie to pre-K for three months straight. He would play on the playground in full coat and tie. He would ride his bike in his little suit. He would go to friend's houses in full dress.

Even once he lost the daily coat and tie he still spent most of his 5th year in some form of semi-formal attire even if it was just a snappy plaid shirt with a bow tie. All because he liked it.

In grade school, when all of his friends were getting buzz cuts and dreaming of becoming major league ball players, Jack grew his hair long and took up skateboarding with a passion.

We had visions of broken bones, concussions and a slippery slope to a life of crime but...none of those fears came to pass. Skateboarding proved to be a great outlet for our athletic but non-competitive boy. It gave him a unique, diverse social circle that taught us all something about acceptance and being slow to judge based on appearances. That, and he knows every parking lot, sketchy alley and set of concrete stairs in the greater Seattle area. I'm sure that knowledge will come in handy at some point.

Last year, his American History teacher had this to say about Jack:

Jack marches comfortably to the beat of his own drummer. Always upbeat, always smiling. I appreciate his positive attitude and unique outlook on life.

Not many words about Jack's study habits or scholarship but I still read those words with a smile and a nod. Thinking to myself, Yep, that's my boy.

All of this is to say that I really shouldn't have been surprised when his college decision ended up being the one I absolutely least expected. 

Completely, totally...did. not. see. this. coming.

I really should know by now though that if there is one thing you can count in with Jack, it is for him to take his own path, in his own time, in his own way.

But because of that I guess I always thought he'd be one to want to go away, to go somewhere different and experience a new place, new people,  a new climate perhaps (our maritime climate has frequently interfered with his skateboarding). I always thought he'd be itching to GO.


He's staying as close to home as he could get without participating in some sort of online university from his bedroom. He will, in fact, not be living at home (no way, no how) but if he were feeling particularly energetic he could walk home if he wanted to. It's that close.

I won't lie, at first I was disappointed. Concerned. I worried what this would mean for his "college experience." But with further thought, I realized my concerns had little to do with whether this school was the right fit for Jack and more to do with the fact that he was making a college choice that was very different from the choice I had made.

Yeah, the kid was daring to blaze his own trail and choose his own path.


And then I knew this was my opportunity to start learning how to parent an adult child. Don't get me wrong, I don't think of Jack as an adult yet. I don't think Jack thinks of Jack as an adult yet. But he's headed that direction and if there is one thing I have observed in watching some tricky adult child-parent relationships, it is that it is very, very dangerous to start creating expectations in your mind as to who your adult child should or shouldn't be. And you definitely need to be careful that you don't take personally any decision your child makes that might differ from your own life's journey.

I chose to go two states away for college. Jack has chosen to go two miles away.

Good for me. Good for him.

Truth be told, my experience had its pluses and minuses. His probably will too.

And in the end, his "college experience" will largely depend on what he makes of it.

And if I know Jack, it will truly be his own.

He will find his own way to fly, probably in the way we least expect.

And it will be awesome to watch.

I'm sure of that.