Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Birth Story

Eleven years ago, on a stifling July day, we dropped Jack off at our friends' house and headed to our local hospital. It was still 2 weeks before Margaret's due date, but we wanted to have her early, if possible, to make sure I could get a full course of IV antibiotics before she was born. I am strep-B positive, and the fact that Jack came 2 weeks early made me nervous that Margaret wouldn't get the medicine she needed if we didn't induce.

The doctor who was supposed to deliver her had forgotten that it was her OWN daughter's birthday and asked if we could come back, say, in a week or so. After some discussion with her partner, we all decided to let the partner deliver the baby as long as we could go ahead and do it that day. In my vast birthing experience with Jack, I had come to realize that it's the nurses who do most of the work anyway.

So, they did a little something something in my nether regions that hurt like c-razy to get started, and sent us on our way for a few hours. The hospital was located near a town center with restaurants, movie theaters, and upscale shops centred around an outdoor fountain. We decided to kill some time there while waiting for things to get moving.

When we got to the hospital parking lot, I walked (lumbered) toward the car. Tim looked at me and said, "What? Shouldn't we be walking? Doesn't walking help labor?"

It troubled me a tad to think that my husband, the pony to whom I had hitched my proverbial cart for the rest of my days, was suggesting that a pregnant woman, in labor, should walk to and from the town center on a 97 degree day in the Virginia humidity.

What, pray tell, did he plan on doing with me when things really got moving? Ask a Gap employee to put me on a clothes rack and wheel me to the hospital? I wanted to go back to the doctors and see if they could un-do whatever gross thing they had just done to me to start my labor because there was certainly no way I was going to procreate, yet again, with this man. Alas, it was too late.

Tempted to be passive aggressive and walk to the town center just so I could complain about it later, I decided not to risk it. I put my swollen foot down and firmly said I needed a ride. Period. I also realized I could get mileage out of this story whether we walked or not.

So off we headed. Tim had also seen somewhere that laboring women should not eat anything. Awesome. Since the docs hadn't said that to me and I knew the heat, my girth, and active labor could all make me cranky, I snagged a bagel as we walked outside from shop to shop. Tim purchased a shirt and vest that he still wears. We call it "Margaret' Outfit."

After a while, we went back to the doctor's office which was connected to the hospital complex. They put us in an exam room and told us to wait. This is before smart phones, people. No blogs. No Words with Friends, Facebook, or Draw Something. Instead, we chatted and took turns reading a lone travel magazine over and over.

Time passed. Lots and lots of time. I've told you that Tim and I don't speak up much, right? That there is no one in this relationship who can send back food or return a pair of pants?

Well, turns out everyone forgot we were there. While we were waiting in the exam room, people were looking all over the hospital for the couple in labor who never showed up in the maternity ward.

By the time Tim stuck his head out the door several hours later, the office was in a tizzy and we were rushed to Labor and Delivery.

Bottom line? We were having our little girl two weeks early and we still didn't get the entire 4 hour course of antibiotics in my arm. I found that I was much more anxious about Margaret's birth than Jack's. It was as if the more I knew, the more nervous I was. About her safety. About everything that could go wrong. With Jack, they inserted my epidural wrong four times, but I didn't know it wasn't supposed to hurt that badly. With him, the cord was wrapped around his neck, but I didn't know that until after they had unwrapped it and he was, Thank God, fine. So a lot of friends were on prayer-alert for us because I just felt a lot more vulnerable this time.

Tim and I tried to stay relaxed and around 6pm it was time to get down to business. My sister couldn't be there this time, so we had her on the phone from Florida. I asked for a mirror so I could see what was going on "down there," a fact that disgusts Margaret to no end, even though she is determined to have at least 4 kids. I was hoping to see my beautiful baby be born and NOT see anything else.

My nurse left the room to check on something. The stand-in doc came in and started chatting up the other nurses. As he joked about his glove size, I interrupted and said, "Hey, guys, GUYS, I think it's time to get started." And it was.

One or two pushes later, out came Margaret with a full head of black hair. She was 6 lbs 8 oz of adorableness. I wished I had kept her in the oven longer so she could have grown some more, but we were so grateful she was absolutely, positively healthy.

The doc was gone within 10 minutes total, not to be seen until my 6 week postpartum appointment when he told me to go home and "Do your wifely duty." Nice.

Margaret was cuddly and delightful. Tim had to leave to be with Jack, so I kept her in bed with me the whole sleepless night. We had some very emotional times when I found out something was very wrong with my hospital roommate's baby. I never got details, but my heart broke for her and I knew I had done nothing special to deserve the gift of the beautiful, healthy baby at my side.

Two days later we took her home, by that time scrawny and yellow. I remember our friends bringing us a rotisserie chicken. In my hormonal glory, I took one look at it on the counter and burst into tears. With those tiny arms and legs, the chicken looked like my baby, minus a head.

It took Margaret a full 3 weeks to finally regain her birth weight, and she's been a little peanut with a huge personality ever since. Many of you have told me Margaret needs her own blog to record her zany insights about life. She's a great writer, so I'll let you know if she ever does!

Our daughter was a gift that hot day 11 years ago, and we admire her for her humor, intelligence, people skills, creativity, compassion, bravery in the face of adversity, athleticism, and her love of God. Her future is brimming with potential, and we are blessed to be along for the ride.

She is an amazing daughter, granddaughter, cousin, sister and friend.

Happy Birthday, Moops!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For the Record

I'm going to pick up Jack's medical file from the pediatrician today. I needed Margaret's for some back to school stuff (yes, it's only July!) and I figured there was no need to leave Jack's there anymore.

No need.

I'm writing this BEFORE the pick-up, because knowing me, the aftermath will be more conducive to sitting in the parking lot reading and crying than sitting at this desk writing.

As parents, we all try to keep meticulous records of shots and well baby visits. We keep folders full of speech therapy notes, report cards, scout awards, and test scores. We track medications and side effects and weigh the pros and cons of every decision.

I found my own yellowed shot record from when I was a baby, written neatly in my mom's small handwriting. With 3 kids within four years of each other, Mom didn't get around to filling out my baby book, until after I found it EMPTY in 2nd grade. It was not unlikely to see grocery lists and phone numbers scrawled on the back of report cards and other important documents in our house, because the probability of finding both a working pen and a blank piece of paper within reach of our kitchen wall phone was highly unlikely.

But our shot records? Were completely filled out and filed away carefully. For they were our tickets to summer camp, sports, and eventually, college. They showed that even in the chaos of busy family life, there was a sense of constancy and order.

For Jack, I have folders full of documents, plus a journal of hopes and dreams I kept for him as baby and young child. We have all of his school work, because he loved to look back through it. We have our family Christmas card from each year, one for each child, tucked in a folder to give them as adults.

I pretty much know what Jack's medical chart will look like. Nothing too unusual, aside from his hovering below "0" on the weight chart. At one point I had them write, "Dad weighs 140-145" across the top to let it be known I was not starving my son. But the doctors were never too concerned with his weight because it was...consistent. Jack was Jack was Jack.

There will be many positive strep tests, administered never after a sore throat but always, for him, when he seemed listless, and a quick touch of his forehead and a glance at his "sick eyes" would let me know something was up.

There will be the physical from 2 years ago when both kids got to go down an office corridor we'd never seen before-- The Secret Hallway! We waited and waited and the kids managed to follow my admonishment of "Don't touch ANYTHING!" while still entertaining each other with their games and making the doctor smile when he saw how much they enjoyed each other.

I know the chart will say Jack weighed exactly 70 lbs, because when I took him in 3 days before the accident because of stomach pains, we discovered after a summer of situps and pushups and increased eating, he had finally gotten out of the 60's just in time to enter 7th grade!

The chart probably won't reflect how Jack was so very ticklish, that any manipulation of his midsection brought in a bevy of witnesses, because his laugh was so incredible, and his smile so big, it was actually entertaining to see him writhe on the table for a bit.

I think in a way, a child's orderly medical file can seem a sort of talisman against the bad in the world. We may hold the belief that if we stay on the proper schedule, with dental cleanings and check ups and specialists when needed, that our children will be okay. And with the many advantages of our Western world, thankfully, that is very often true.

Until it isn't.

Until a standard WBC test comes back awry.

Until neighborhood fun turns to shit in a way no one would ever have imagined.



Until you are forced to realize that life is not what you thought it was. That the control you thought you had was an illusion. Until you learn the secret that so few people know or even want to know: that this world, with its joys and its sorrows and its structure and its chaos is really just a sorry imitation of how the world was meant to be.

And you will long for that other world, while still living here in this one. And you realize now that fear is pointless because whatever it is you feared is not what you now face. And all that fear and planning didn't keep tragedy at bay. And you learn to live in this exact moment more than you ever have before because try as you might to grasp it, the past has slipped through your fingers, and the future you face is unrecognizable.

And you continue to keep up your folders and files and the structure of your life, because you find comfort in the rhythm of it. And you will keep living and loving and never giving up because that is who you are, but you'll have one foot poised waiting for when it is your time to blow this popsicle stand, and when that time comes, you will have no fear.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rare Bird God Wink

One of my closest friends and her husband founded a Christian school in New Jersey a few years ago. To illustrate just how close I mean when I say "closest friends," let's just say we were together during our Junior High youth group days a la mullets and short OP shorts, ardent bordering on obsessive devotion to the 1984 men's Olympic gymnastics team (Bart Conner!), were college roommates in the late 80's, and served as bridesmaids in each other's weddings.

After Jack's accident, my friend asked if she could share his story in a school chapel service. I said of course, as long as she wasn't trying to present Jack as perfect, but just a special kid who loved God and others. This spring she did just that. You could have heard a pin drop as shared about Jack's life and death. She read a Prayer of Thanksgiving he wrote, and many, many people were touched by what they heard.

But the neatest thing happened on her way into the service. She was praying and listening to Christian radio as she arrived at the school. A Chris Tomlin song called "I Will Rise" was playing. It deals with death and victory over the grave. Pretty fitting since she was going to talk about Jack's new life in heaven.

Here's the chorus:

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagle's wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise, I will rise

Listen to the entire song here

As she pulled into the lot, she saw a sight she had never seen at the school before, even though she was there every day:

Yep, an eagle. A bald eagle. It was still there when she left.

Rare bird. Rare bird. Rare bird.

Love my kid. Love God's creativity in sending us comfort. Love you for caring about us.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

SocialLuxe Smile Award Nomination!

Just found out An Inch of Gray has been nominated for a BlogLuxe Smile Award at BlogHer this year!

I am so honored that someone took the time to nominate me, and that this blog sometimes makes people smile. Kind of a bummer that my latest post is about the non-smiley topic of grave stones, but if you'd like, please head over to this link to vote for An Inch of Gray.

It's a one click, no sign-up kind of vote, which I consider the best kind. Don't the others just make you feel a little annoyed and exhausted? Maybe that's just me.

Not sure what the Smile Award entails, but considering it is sponsored by Edy's Slow Churned Extra Creamy ice cream, it sounds pretty darn good to me!

Thanks and Love.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grave Matters

I got a letter today from the cemetery. It pointed out that we are approaching the one year mark of the burial but have yet to erect a gravestone for Jack. If we do not have one by the year mark, the cemetery will place a plain flat marker there for us, for a fee.

Margaret, too, has noted that we haven't yet taken care of this detail. I'm sure to her it seems as if we just can't get our crap together to mark where Jack's ashes are buried. And getting our crap together has been difficult. I have much less energy and gumption than before. Tim is plodding along doing what he needs to do and has also been picking up my slack-- paying the bills I used to pay, cooking dinner, and making runs to he store.

But something "extra" like trying to figure out how to capture what Jack was like on a slab of granite? Has seemed like far too much for either of us. I've been telling people we are following the Jewish tradition of waiting one year, not because we are Jewish, but because I haven't been able to face it yet.

Of course I think deep down I am just morally opposed to any parent having to commemorate the spot where her child is buried, because I don't think moms should have to bury their children. Ever. So Jack's blank grave is, in a way, my silent protest.

Not that mothers haven't been doing this since the beginning of time, placing rocks or crude wooden crosses on top of tiny mounds of dirt all around the world-- if they were fortunate enough to know their chidrens' resting places. In fact, many bereaved mothers have not had the opportunity that I have. They've had to leave their children behind on a wagon trail, in a concentration camp, a jungle, or a desert, with no chance to mark or revisit the spot. I am fortunate that the cemetery is in my town, and that the small, wooden box of ashes, along with 3 tiny lego pieces, is buried right next to my mom.

When, as a teen, I used to drive her old minivan to the cemetery in the dying light, startling the deer in my headlights, I would walk over to her grave. Sometimes I would cry. Other times I would just pat the stone, look around a little, get back in her/my car, and drive away. But even at dusk, I could see that some graves were unmarked, save the little tin and plastic nameplates from the funeral parlors. Many were several years old. This must have been long before the 1-year rule was adopted. I felt sorry for those people. They seemed so neglected. I figured their families were too poor to buy a stone or had forgotten about their loved ones completely.

Now I realize that cemeteries are different for different people. My grandparents take great solace in visiting my uncle, their beloved son, at the cemetery where he is buried. They have planted lovely flowers there and made it a special place to visit.

I went to my mom's cemetery, infrequently and always alone, speaking into my soul about how hard it was to be without her.

And Jack's grave? Will eventually have some sort of stone. I want to have a place people can go to pay their respects. Where it can be what it needs to be for them. I'm thinking of seeing if a stone bench will fit, instead of a headstone, so I can continue my protest (in a small way) yet provide a place for people to sit, pray, laugh, or cry.

I'll update you when (and if) we make any progress.

But the whole process seems paralyzing and leaves me with questions:

How do you capture the sparkle in an eye? A contagious laugh? Wit? Wisdom? A pat on a sister's back? How do you show a love of logic and math coupled with words, words, and more words? An introvert? A leader? The world's softest cheek?

Can we truly convey the essence of someone who touched so many lives in 12 years, but should have had about 71 more to do it in?

No. Of course not.

I guess sometimes those little tin and plastic markers really say a lot.

Jack and...Jewelry?

Thank you for all of the kind words and encouragement after yesterday's post. I am dealing with just plain old missing Jack, as well as being patient with God right now.

Breaking News:

Not only has Jack's life and death touched so many hearts, he is also making a tangible difference for suffering people around the world through his favorite charity, Samaritan's Purse. Thank you for all you have done to help with this by running races in his honor with Jack's Lanterns, packing shoe boxes through Operation Christmas Child, and making monetary donations. Thaknk you. Thank you.

My dear friend and fellow blogger, Jill, has generously come up with another great way to raise money in Jack's name for Samaritan's Purse... through an online Stella and Dot Jewelry party!

What will this look like?

Well, we will force ourselves to look through the gorgeous baubles and bling and see if any (ha!) pieces call our name. Items will be shipped directly to buyers' homes.

A SIGNIFICANT (like, VERY significant) portion of every sale will go to Samaritan's Purse in Jack's name, most likely earmarked for Emergency Relief. Our local congressman (and friend) recently visited refugee camps in Sudan where Samaritan's Purse was at work feeding and caring for needy and hurting people and shared his report with us. The needs! Oh the needs!. You can read more about this humanitarian work here.

Soooooo, please do not feel as if you have to buy something. No pressure! But if, like me, you might like a few pieces of lovely jewelry and you love the idea of not only helping others but thinking of Jack while you do so, please check out the invitation and start browsing.

A few of my faves:

Thanks and Love!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

That Stinks: How to Lose Friends and Un-influence People

So, I'm still in computer Hades right now. Most of these problems stem, I believe, from the big storm last week. I'm a firm believer in turning computers off to "let them rest" before trying them again, mostly because I have no other computer skills up my sleeve, so there's been a lot of that going on. And some cursing. I also managed to spam (and possibly lose) many of my friends by sending them a blank email when I was trying to let them know about a fabulous jewelry party/charity fundraiser I'm having in Jack's memory. More on that later (p.s. you're all invited!)

The other thing going on is my dealing with an incredibly stinky dog. I scrubbed the little drip pan under the fridge (did you know you have one?), freshened up my garbage disposal, and emptied all of the trash cans in the house before I convinced myself that the horrible odor in the house was either me, or the canine who follows me around so closely she might, as well be up know. When I took a whiff of her back, it smelled like decaying animals. Nice.

We took a pleasant (not really) bath together and I used all manner of products to get her de-smellified. Yes, I was IN the tub with her because it was the only way to get her in. That, plus some Meaty Morsels.

I spent extra time at work today hoping the smell would continue to abate while I was gone. Unfortunately, as soon as I got home, the dog ran to the side yard and started rolling guessed it...animal carcass. Just can't BEAR to take another bath with her, so for now I've spritzed her with dog shampoo spray and I'm trying to keep my distance, which is impossible.

We have a lot more to catch up on, my friends, but for now could I just ask for your prayers? The past few days have been hard emotionally, for reasons that have nothing to do with technology or smelly pets.

Thanks and Love!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Universal Language

Lots to write about, but can't seem to get computers to cooperate these past few days. It's not like I'm asking for much, just to send a few emails and blog a bit. My frustration level is about where it was in the late 80's in the college computer lab, cursing my floppy disks.

So in the interest of keeping it short and sweet, this is from Margaret in the backseat of the car:

"Everybody always says music is the 'universal language'(scornful voice and air quotes) but that's not true. We all know Potty Talk is."


Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Storm

It's been a weird weekend over here. Friday night's storms ravaged our area, as they did so many other regions. I didn't even know the storms were coming until late Friday night.

It reminded me so much of that terrible day in September. Those storms were rain, rain and more rain, as opposed to the crazy wind and lightning we had on Friday night, but the way they grew out of hand with so very little warning was eerily similar. I feel like when a snow storm is coming, or a hurricane, that's all anyone can talk about around here, but that has not been my experience with other storms.

For instance, in September, I had heard NOTHING about the potential of flash flooding until it was too late. This was very different from all of the extensive hurricane talk of the previous week.

On September 8th, I just went to work and plugged away in my windowless office until it was time to pick up the kids from school. I am assuming it was similar for many people that day. The lack of awareness led to an almost carnival-like atmosphere as the kids in our neighborhood traipsed off of school busses into the rain, got soaked, and invited my kids to play that warm afternoon.

Similarly, last Friday night, Tim's softball team cluelessly played all the way up until 10:30 pm, leading to very dangerous drives home through the worst of the storm.

By the time Tim made it home safely, our power was already out, and the three of us tucked ourselves in bed as we have for the past 10 months since the accident. Crazy storm. Little warning. No power. How could we not compare these experiences?

Saturday was a beautiful, hot sunny day, just like the day after Jack's death. People walked outside, blinking in the brightness, taking stock, wondering what exactly had happened.

This time, I was just one of the many people talking about power outages and whether our milk had spoiled. 10 months ago, I was someone whose life and future had been forever altered, whose heart had been broken.

And as I learn more about this storm, I now know people died. So I'm praying today for those who unwittingly and unwillingly joined the shittiest club on earth this weekend. I am so, so sorry.

"This is the last sentence Morrie got out before I did: 'Death ends a life, not a relationship.'" Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie