Friday, October 17, 2014

His Grace is Sufficient: the Allegory of the Suitcase

Part of this post is a retelling and part is a continuation of what I wrote before. I feel it is important to document it in one succinct(ish) story and now, before baby #4 is born, is the time. So, here is the whole story of the missionary suitcase from beginning to end.

During a visit with my in-laws we were told they had my husband's missionary suitcase and they wanted us to take it home. I was not excited at the prospect of having another suitcase living in our basement, but I suppose they weren't fans of storing it either. Only an hour or two was spent wondering what we were going to do with another suitcase in the house when we already had two other full size sets of luggage. I came across an article written about prospective missionaries in Zimbabwe, how the efforts of three good women were helping them achieve their goals for serving the Lord, and about how readers could also contribute to the cause by filling a missionary suitcase. (Side note: the missionary suitcase is a part of the larger organization Eyes4Zimbabwe) It was quite clear to me that the suitcase was meant to be filled for a sister missionary in Africa. There was no doubt in my mind that I was being given an opportunity to help a missionary to serve, just as so many others had helped me.

The article had a list of everything needed to fill the suitcase. As much as I knew that I was supposed to take on this project, I also knew there was no way I would be able to provide all the items on the list. Even just the clothes would be far too expensive but I figured that, because I was doing what I needed to do, things would work out and I would figure out a way.  That wouldn't be a problem, as I had extra fabric and patterns on hand. I prayed to know what sizes I should make and gather together and then got to work to make it happen. It was a lot of work to get everything sewn up but it was totally worth it.
The skirts. The three on the left have adjustable waists.
Most of the fabric pieces were things I'd had for a while and wasn't planning on using myself, but which I couldn't let go of for some reason. A couple of the items came from fabric I had planned on using but felt it was better used for a missionary.
The tops. The purple one has pockets.
 The white and coral fabrics had a plan, as did the fabric for the dress below. They'll be much better used by a missionary.
Accessory jacket and dress
As I came closer to finishing the clothing I knew that I wasn't going to be able to just figure out what to do to acquire the rest of the suitcase items on my own. The only way to make it happen was to ask for help. I asked family and friends for the things I needed and they came forward beautifully. With their help I was able to check off every item on the list, as well as adding a slip, and a couple of extra goodies. I was very grateful to everyone who helped make it possible and felt really good about what I had accomplished.
Most of the items and the suitcase.
On drop off day I lovingly packed the suitcase. I couldn't find the slip I'd purchased and planned to just pick up another one. Two different addresses had been listed for drop off so I did a little more online searching to find which site was preferred. What I found horrified me. After finding the correct location I also found their list of items to pack the suitcase. It was different than the list I had been working from and my list was incomplete. In a moment's time I'd gone from feeling only warm and fuzzy to feeling like a complete failure. I had neither the time nor the money to gather the rest of the items. What I had spent so much time and effort putting together had fallen short of what was required. I felt like I had let down my family and friends who helped, that everything I did was worthless, and that taking it to the warehouse would be a waste. Thankfully I remembered reading where they said that a partial case was better than nothing at all. I still felt ashamed that I was bringing an incomplete case but I knew I had to let it go because I'd done my best. A voice in my head told me that my best sucks and I should have known better from the beginning so that my efforts and those of my loved ones would not have been in vain.

Disappointed and hours later than I had planned, I put the kids in the car so we could head up to Salt Lake to deliver the suitcase. I tried to retract the handle I'd been using to pull the suitcase along and quickly discovered it was jammed. It was impossible to get that handle to go back in where it was supposed to be. It was officially broken. The disappointment I'd felt before quickly turned to despair. That same voice that had told me my best sucked seemed to delight in reminding me that the whole project had started because we'd gotten an unexpected suitcase, so what did it mean that the suitcase was broken. obviously it meant that I had vaunted myself up far beyond where I should have, that I'd wasted my time and resources, as well as that of everyone else who helped. And obviously making the trip up to deliver it would be stupid because now even the suitcase was as useless as I was. I sat on the van's bumper and lost control of my emotions as I tried unsuccessfully to fix suitcase. My four year old saw me in obvious distress and said, "It's okay, Mom; you just need to practice some more." That shook me from my misery just enough to recognize that the voice in my head was being much more abusive to me than I allow myself or anyone else to be. I got in the car to drop off the broken suitcase, weeping and hoping for a miracle I didn't expect.

My miracle happened. Still red-eyed and soggy from crying, I stopped in at Sister Missionary Mall to replace the slip that had gone missing. The owner, Jenni, was there when I got arrived. We know each other from when I was a Missionary Mall employee. She saw the state of distress I was in and I told her everything that had happened. Without hesitation, Jenni offered me a brand new suitcase. That brought on more tears but this time they were happy. She also donated a new slip and a belt that matches the dress. I am so grateful for her generosity. It was fortunate that I got there when I did so that Jenni could help.

After the new suitcase was repacked I loaded the kids up in the car and we were off to the warehouse. It was amazing to see the people there and all the donations that had been made. This project covers far more than missionaries. I had no idea how much there was for all types of charity work. Books, hygiene kits, clothing, newborn kits...it was truly astounding. We made our way over to where the missionary suitcases were being gathered. I went over to a couple of the volunteers and, rather apologetically, explained that I had used the wrong list and the suitcase was incomplete. Along with that, I told them how the original suitcase had broken and I had been given a new one to pass along to the missionary. We all cried together and then they shared more stories with me that they had heard from others who had come with their suitcases. One of the women then compared the list of things I had in the suitcase with the list they had on hand. My heart lifted even higher when she said, "It looks like you have pretty much everything. Just a couple of sweaters should do it." That was when Reeve came out. She's one of the organizers from Zimbabwe. She gave me a big hug and thanked me for my donation as one of the volunteers told her about my broken suitcase. While I told Reeve my story, the other volunteer walked over to the table of loose clothing and chose two sweaters in the appropriate size and added them to the suitcase I'd brought. The list was complete. Reeve made sure chat with my kids and asked me to send her the story of the miracles before we left. The kids and I left with happy faces and warm hearts
Reeve with the kids, my pregnant belly, and me
This story is wonderful in and of itself. It is certainly an experience I will never forget, and not just because of what I've already written. I expected to make my donation and pay forward the blessings and help I received as I prepared for and served my mission. I did not expect to also be so richly blessed from what I learned. This is where the allegory comes in. I learned about the process of repentance and forgiveness.

Receiving the suitcase came with the knowledge that something needed to be done. A recognition that change is necessary is the first step in the repentance process. Repentance also requires some work on our part. It is changing our ways, stretching ourselves and striving to become better. Sewing the clothes certainly did that for me. We were not meant to do everything in this life on our own. The support of our friends and loved ones makes the repentance process so much easier. There are people out there who care and want to help. Some of those people may surprise you with what help they can offer. I couldn't have provided what I did without the help of so many who gave what they could.

The road to repentance is not without its bumps and opposition. Old habits and temptations can easily creep in and get in the way of your efforts. Finding out I didn't have a full list and then having a broken suitcase were difficult for me to bear. I'd tried so hard and felt like those setbacks threw me back to where I'd started. There is one who does not want us to succeed in overcoming our mistakes and weaknesses. His poisonous voice tells us we are inadequate, that we will never measure up, and that we needn't bother because we will just fail. He tells us there is no coming back. He is a liar. I felt worthless and weak even though I had already accomplished much more than if I had simply let the opportunity pass me by. That voice that tells us we are out of our depth and can't possibly measure up is the one that wants us to fail, not the voice of the One who died for us because He knows we were made to succeed. This was an especially poignant lesson for me, as it helped me to understand what it must be like for someone who feels like they have gone too far to be able to make their way back.

Meeting with Jenni was like meeting with the bishop. At first it was uncomfortable to see her in the state I was in. But she quickly and lovingly put me at ease.  More importantly, she provided me with the tools I needed to make everything right. After seeing her, the suitcase I had to give was no longer broken.

And then I arrived at the warehouse with Reeve. I felt nothing but love there. No one told me I wasn't good enough or that what I brought was a poor excuse for a contribution. Instead, everything was made right. Where I had fallen short despite my best efforts, the difference was made up. I was welcomed with embraces, smiles, thanks, and love. I anticipate feeling all those things when I one day meet my Savior and bow at His feet. I look forward to the day when my shortcomings will be made up and my best efforts will be perfected through grace. His grace is sufficient for us all. There is no one who is a lost cause, no one who cannot come back to the Savior, and no one who He doesn't love with a perfect love. What a great blessing that is.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Missionary Suitcase

There are times when everything falls into place beautifully and miraculously. This is one of those times. I wanted to both document and share it.

Not quite three weeks ago we were over at my in-laws house for dinner. They told us they had my husband's missionary suitcase stored and that we should take it home with us. Because we already have two full sets of luggage we were not too excited about the prospect of another larger suitcase living in our basement and I wondered what on earth we were supposed to do with it. A couple of hours later I got my answer in the form of a link to an article titled Why We Suddenly Have So Many LDS Missionaries from Zimbabwe.

If you didn't read the article (and I highly suggest you do), the gist of it is that there are young people in Zimbabwe with desires to serve as missionaries. The efforts of three professional golfers has made it possible for these youth to get the necessary paperwork and such done that would have otherwise been impossible for them. Now that the way has been cleared that far, they are in need of the other things missionaries need to take with them, clothing, scriptures, towels, bed sheets, certain toiletries, stuff like that. The goal is to fill 10 shipping containers. Below is the video posted in the article.



I was touched by the article. When I went on my mission there were several people who came to my bishop saying they wanted to help support me. I don't know who these people are, but they have my eternal gratitude. Ever since then I made a promise that when I was in a position to do the same for someone else, I would.

Well, right now we aren't exactly in a financial place where we can do much. Kid #2 broke her nose and all of those bills are coming in to the tune of about $2,300. Kid #4 will be arriving shortly and the cost for that will probably be at least as much as the nose. When I looked at the list of things needed for a sister missionary I knew there was no way I could pay for it all, or even for most of it. What I did know was that I have patterns, fabric, and the skill with a sewing machine to pump out a wardrobe. I also knew how I would feel if I didn't try. When you pray for opportunities to serve those opportunities may not come in the way you expect.

So I got to work gathering up my patterns and extra fabric. With an ocean between us, there's no way to fit the clothes to the sister who will receive them. I hoped and prayed to know which adjustments to make. How it all work out was nothing short of amazing to me. I don't keep a whole lot of extra fabric around. I prefer to get rid of it when it's served its purpose. There were, however, several pieces that I just couldn't seem to let go of. Those pieces ended up being exactly enough to make up the patterns I had chosen to sew and with the alterations I had decided the patterns needed. The basic picture of the sewn pieces is below: Four shirts, four skirts, a dress, and a little jacket/shrug thing.

After I got all the sewing stuff gathered I decided that the project was bigger than me. I needed to ask for help if I expected to fill a suitcase beyond anything other than the suitcase and the clothes. The response was humbling. Several people came forward with bits and pieces to add. There were gift certificates, store credits, additional patterns and fabric, items on hand, and a generous gift of cash. Without all of the help there is no way I could have gotten everything together. As of Friday night there are still a few sundry items to pick up, but that much we can handle on our own. The filled suitcase goes in a shipping container on Monday.

It has been a real blessing to see everything come together. The whole experience has been a testimony that if we follow the promptings we receive the way will always be opened to accomplish it. Filling a suitcase may not be as important or impressive as going back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates, but it will certainly make a difference to a sister missionary and to the people whose lives she touches. I just feel lucky to have been a part of it all

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dealing With Miscarriage

This is a post that has been done before by others.  However, everyone grieves differently so maybe something I have to say will resonate with someone else.

Just before Halloween I had a miscarriage.  I was eight weeks along.  I hadn't yet told anyone I was expecting.  The first thing almost anyone heard about this pregnancy was that it ended.  It felt far more private than any of my other pregnancies.  This was my second miscarriage.  It was vastly different from my first in almost every way.  But many of the feelings I've had made me remember reactions and feelings I had forgotten or pushed away.  My aim is to give a bit of advice about what the mother may be feeling and how to be helpful rather than hurtful.  This is obviously not a comprehensive list, just what I have felt or needed after my losses.

Allow for differences
My first loss happened at 20 weeks.  It was catastrophic and left me broken.  I didn't know how to be happy anymore.  I was scared and devastated and inconsolable.  I missed my baby like crazy.  It was my first pregnancy.  I felt like the time had been wasted.

My second loss was at a few days over eight weeks.  I had felt oddly peaceful through the entire pregnancy and was blessed to continue feeling that peace once it became clear the pregnancy was ending.  The loss was the result of a blighted ovum (a fertilized egg which produces a placenta but no baby) so there was no baby for me to grieve.

While both losses left me sad and confused, that's where the immediate similarities end.  One loss destroyed me and with the other I was calm.  Sad, obviously, but still calm.  After my first loss I needed to tell everyone what had happened.  This most recent miscarriage is one I haven't wanted to share.

The moral of this little story is that everyone needs to be allowed to grieve in their own way.  Some people withdraw, some reach out.  Some people scream, some turn stoic.  Some people find help with support groups, some prefer solitude.  There's no wrong way to grieve (unless it involves harm to oneself or others), so let those who grieve work through their feelings in the way that works best for them.

What to say...or not say
After my first loss it felt like almost everyone told me what a blessing it is to have the plan of salvation and know that we could be together again.  My first Sunday back at church was Mother's Day, so I got an especially generous helping of it that day.  The only thing that kept me from smacking those people was knowing that they meant well.  I wanted to scream at each and every one of them that I didn't want to see my baby in the future.  I wanted to carry him to term and raise him to adulthood.  Anything else felt like a consolation prize.  Even when the nurses at my hospital discharge tried to comfort me by saying they would see me again in a year (that allows for the three months before another pregnancy and the nine months of gestation) it was painful.  I wanted the baby I lost, not a different one.  

So what's the right thing to say?  I still don't have that completely figured out but "I'm so sorry" and a genuine "I'm here for you" are generally well received.

Fill the hole
Pregnancy take an enormous amount of mental energy.  Everything we eat, do with our bodies, plan for the future (e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!) takes the pregnancy and future baby into consideration.  After a loss it leaves an empty space where thoughts of the baby used to be.  For me, finding a way to fill that hole was helpful.  I needed something else to think about and do with my hands to take the place of baby thoughts and preparations.  While this is something that is best chosen and embraced by the mother, it doesn't hurt to spend time with her and help fill the void.

Allow for hormones
All those lovely post partum hormone shifts occur with or without a baby.  They tend to make emotions run high.  And while added hormones may make the mother look out of control (totally happened to me) or irrational, it is vital to remember that her feelings are real and they are valid.  They are just intensified by what her body is doing to get itself back to normal.  Be sensitive to that.  And never, never, NEVER blame her feelings or emotions on the hormones.  I will cut you.

More than a miscarriage
The feelings I mentioned in conjunction with the hormones are more than just grief.  There is much more going on than grief.  When my first baby died in the womb I was left with so many unanswered questions and fears.  Did my body reject the pregnancy?  Would I ever be able to carry a baby to term?  Was there a genetic problem with the baby that caused him to die?  Would all our babies be at risk?  Would we ever be able to have children?  Did the loss come because we were unworthy or unable to be good parents?  Testing results all came back inconclusive.  The unanswered questions and fears where overwhelming and maddening.  They drove me to the brink of my sanity.  My emotions were much more than grief, though the grief was palpable.

Now that I have three healthy children those questions are no longer on my mind and sometimes seem a bit silly.  But they were very real at the time.  Despite the calm I've felt about the miscarriage, my mind is still in turmoil.  I'm not yet willing to share with anyone the other thoughts and fears bubbling under the surface of my calm, but I can assure you they are there.  I can't even bring myself to fully consider them yet, as it tips me over the edge and overwhelms me.

Just know that while the sadness is most evident to everyone on the outside, there is much more going on that can't be seen.  And, as I will go over in the next paragraph, sometimes you don't even see the sadness.

Wait and notice
The hardest times I've had with my most recent miscarriage took almost two weeks to come to the surface.  I knew I needed something but I didn't know what.  I have not been grieving the loss of a baby because there was no baby to lose.  But I have felt weak.  I've needed to be taken care of.  I did such a good job of telling people I was okay (and I was) that some of the concern for me may have been alleviated.  But the mental process doesn't happen overnight.  Things I hadn't considered came to mind.  The weak feeling got worse and worse until I lost all motivation for pretty much everything.  I've been working through that.  What I really needed was for someone to notice.  I knew I needed help, but the help was useless if I had to ask someone for it.  I needed someone to think of me and step up without my saying anything.  It's a tall order, as people have their own lives and responsibilities to worry about.  It's also hard to notice sadness when the person has withdrawn.

After my first miscarriage I wondered how people could walk around so bright and happy when I was so miserable.  Couldn't they see by looking at me that I was broken, that nothing would ever be right again?  Of course they couldn't.  The thing I really needed in the weeks following the initial support after the miscarriages was follow-up from people who thought of it themselves.  That was more meaningful.  And it's been true of both pregnancies.  "I've been thinking about you; how are you doing?" is what I've wanted to hear more than anything.  Asking for the help has felt hollow and insufficient.  I wanted someone to see my need and fill it, for someone to take care of me...without a request from me.  I know it's an unreasonable desire and I didn't expect it.  But I wanted it.

I was thankful today when the Relief Society presidency came to visit me.  She knew about the miscarriage. When I wasn't in Relief Society today the presidency all came to check on me.  It was a comfort to have them tell me they love me and want to help in any way they can, including specific questions.  The Relief Society president waited to come see me so I would know she was still thinking of me.  I feel blessed to have that.  

Remember due dates or other significant times and extend that love and comfort.  At the due date for my first I received a note from a friend letting me know she remembered and cared.  It was such a small thing that made me feel so greatly loved.
Sunset the night before the miscarriage.  It felt like a promise that everything would be all right and that there is still beauty in the world.
What I've Learned
I feel this narrative would be incomplete without a note to grieving mothers about a couple of things I've learned while wading through this particular trial.  If this is where you find yourself, I'm so sorry.  I hope what I have to say helps rather than hurts.

First, the world keeps on spinning around you even though yours may have stopped.  People will still be happy.  People will still have healthy pregnancies that result in healthy babies.  Even that woman you know who shared your due date.  Or the one who smoked and drank and screamed non-stop at her boyfriend and other child.  Even the woman who was upset to be pregnant.  Those all happened to me.  It's maddening and unfair, but it is reality.  It's hard to accept.  I found that the sooner I stopped allowing the bitterness to take over I was better able to heal and move forward.  It's part of learning to be happy again.  You may want to hold on to the grief and sadness because it keeps your baby real.  As one who has come through it, your baby will ALWAYS be real to you.  I still love and miss that first sweet baby.  He will always be real.

Second, you need people to be patient with you as you heal.  You also need to be patient with people around you.  They will say thoughtless and insensitive things that will make you both angry and devastated.  Most of what you hear, however, will be well-intentioned.  Just poorly delivered.  Some people really are emotional clods who need a flick in the eyeball but most are just doing the best they know how to help you.  It's a learning process for you and for them.  If someone isn't being helpful they probably want to know.  Gently tell them you appreciate the thought but the action isn't making things better.

Third, asking why accomplishes nothing.  In my experience, a miscarriage or other loss can either bring you closer to God or drive you away.  It all depends on how you move forward.  Placing blame is a dangerous game, whether you blame yourself, God, or even another person.  With my first I wondered if I had done something with my body that hurt the baby.  I wondered if God was punishing me for something.  I blamed my neighbor for creating an unsafe environment.  None of that was true.  It happens because it happens.  We don't know why I lost my first.  I loss this last pregnancy because there was no baby.  Seeking answers that may not exist is frustrating and exhausting, while releasing the anger (when you're ready) is cleansing and cathartic.

Lastly (for now), healing doesn't happen overnight.  That's not true physically or emotionally.  I keep thinking I should be over this most recent miscarriage by now.  I'm not.  I've been cycling through most of the steps of grieving and haven't been able to settle in to "acceptance" for more than a day.  It just takes time.  There will always be a hole in your heart but time helps if you let it.  The sun will keep rising and setting every day

Hopefully this has been something helpful.  As I said, everyone grieves differently and there may well be people out there for whom this list would be a total bunk.  Just remember to be kind, patient, and understanding of those who suffer.  Love them truly and show up when they need you.  If there is anything else I have missed (and I know there is), please feel free to mention it in the comments.

Monday, September 02, 2013

First Day of School...and Ellie Getting Lost

It's here! It's here! When Eliana was born I remember thinking that kindergarten was a million years away. Time passes in an obscenely fast manner.

I decided we needed to do something special to recognize Ellie's first day.  We didn't spend any time at all prepping for it on Saturday so I had to do a mental scramble on Sunday to come up with something.  I also had to come up with something for dinner.  We had Alaskan Waffles.
Waffles with peanut butter, vanilla ice cream, and syrup
As far as I know, the only reason they are called Alaskan Waffles are because my mom's college roommate from Alaska introduced them to her.  Or maybe it's because of the ice cream.  I don't know.  But they're tasty...in small doses.  I think I just need to put less peanut butter on the waffles.  My thought was that the meal would become a tradition for the night before school dinner.  Probably not.
Fascinated with a random bug on our porch.  "There's dirt on our uniforms from chasing all the ants and worms..."
Eric gave Ellie a father's blessing.  It was so sweet to see Ellie folding her arms and bowing her head as he prepared to bless her.  I teared up and I think Eric did too.  Mostly I wrangled the other two kids to keep them from crawling all over everyone.

After the father's blessing I thought I should turn on the camera and interview Ellie.  I definitely want that to be a tradition.  It will be fun to look at in the coming years.  I do not, as Ellie suggests, leave food on the ground for her to eat.  I can't seem to get it to upload the video here, but for people who actually know me, I posted it on Facebook.
She was super excited to start school, if you couldn't tell.
Because I am super lucky to personally know Ellie's teacher, I was able to give her a quick phone call to see if it's kosher for me to stop in to the classroom to snap a couple of pictures of a uniformed-Ellie in her classroom, at her desk, and with her teachers.  They're pretty strict on the rules at Liberty (one of the reasons I was drawn to it) so I thought I should just check.  Her teacher was expecting it.
If there was ever anyone to whom I was willing to give my daughter for school, this is the woman.
I left Maya and Quintin with Eric's dad so I could focus on just Ellie.  We walked in the school at the same time as another mom and daughter going into kindergarten.  It was also her first child in school.  It's nice to know I'm not alone.  We snapped pictures of our little cuties and walked them into their class.  I was happy to see their teacher and give her a hug and best wishes...and ask for a couple of pictures.  Ellie was just ready for me to be gone so she could get moving on her assignment to draw a picture of herself.  She's very much like me in that respect: very independent, though she seemed more confident than I felt on my very first day of school.
There's a kid at the desk behind her who hid every time I busted out the camera.
After lending our little sign to the little girl we met on our way in, I packed up and left my little girl behind in her classroom.  I may have gotten only slightly misty, but my time of crying my eyes out because of the close of one phase of life and the beginning of another were past.  I'd come to terms with it, thankfully.  Ellie never saw me blubber about it and that's good.
Bittersweet picture.  I love it but it means she's growing up.
There was, however, about a half hour of blubbering at the end of the day.  Here's the background:  Parents were sent an email survey asking about preferences for bus opportunities.  I responded that I would be interested but that my daughter was starting kindergarten and I wasn't sure yet.  At the back to school night I asked the lady at the bus table if it was available for half day kindergarten.  She said it was not and I didn't give it a second thought.
My little poser.
Now for the rest of the story:  Ellie's first day of school was a very busy one that included dress rehearsal for the girls' last dance performance of the summer.  I arranged for one of the neighborhood moms (her daughter was also in the class) to take Maya to her dress rehearsal, as it started exactly when I was supposed to be there to get Ellie.  Then the plan was to have her change into her stuff and we would be there just when Ellie's class was rehearsing.  Well, the other mom had been watching someone else's kids and their mother wasn't able to get back on time, making her late to pick up Maya.  It was stressful for me, but what can you do?  I rushed over to the school and waited in the carpool area.  They have that carpool down to a science, let me tell you.  Anyway, when I got to where Ellie should have been, she wasn't there.  They called her name on the megaphone.  They called it over the PA system.  I started to get nervous as they went to her teachers to ask where she was.  When the answer came back that she had been put on the bus because her name was on the list I had to choke down the panic.  I had not looked at the emails with bus routes or stops because I thought it was unavailable for Ellie.  They suggested I go to the front of the school and ask for help there.

I parked the car and hauled Quintin out.  There were several people around the front desk working through all the first day of school stuff.  I interrupted a woman who WOULD NOT stop chatting with the receptionist to tell them my five year old daughter had been put on the bus when she should not have been.  I had already been late to the school, so who knows how long the buses has been gone or which one she was even on, for that matter.  One of them said, "Oh, how scary," and remained planted in her seat, while another asked me if I hadn't wanted her to ride the bus just for that day or if we needed to change it to carpool every day.  Not helpful, ladies.  Not helpful.  I don't think they understood she was missing.  by that time I had spotted a paper with the list of bus routes and asked for it.  I decided which route and stop were my best bet and asked for a copy.  "Sure, let me go find a copy machine..." was the response.  I think they finally understood what was happening when I sprinted out the door as soon as the copy was in my hand.
I drove to the most likely bus stop while making phone calls to let the mom who had Maya know that I wouldn't be able to pick her up as planned, due to a missing five year old.  When I arrived at the bus stop there was one other car there.  I pulled up and confirmed that she was waiting for the bus and what time it came.  There was still another 10 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive.  Then I called Eric to let him know.  I'd figured there was no use in panicking him without cause or while I was trying to make sure my two year old wouldn't also get lost.  That's when I started with the sobbing.  I'd held it together pretty well before then.  Eric started driving to a couple of the other stops on the list while I waited and prayed that she hadn't just gotten of the bus in the next town over.

When the bus arrived all the other moms had their cameras out and taking pictures of their kids getting off.  I stood around with tear stained eyes hoping that each child to step down would be mine.  When the last kid got off I still hadn't seen Ellie.  With growing panic I ran around the bus and looked in the windows.  No Ellie.  Not ready to give up (but ready to call the police) I started to board the bus and there she was.  She'd laid down on her seat while I was walking around.  I cried some more but tried not to show Ellie how terrified I'd been.  No sense in scaring her.  She asked me why I hadn't told her she was going to ride the bus.  My brain almost exploded with that one.
Little girl, big new world.
So all's well that ends well.  I got it worked out with the school the next morning.  She's not riding the bus anymore.  Maybe next year.  But Ellie is LOVING school as much as I could hope.  So am I.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Back to School Night

Two posts in one day on this blog means some big time stuff has been on my mind.  Tonight was Back to School night at Ellie's school.  I was both anxious and excited.  And anxious.  I posted about it here.  Taking Ellie to the school was a salve to my troubled soul.  All day long she couldn't wait to go.  She wasn't best pleased when I told her we had to wait until Daddy got home, but she waited as patiently as her little five year old self would let her.

It was pretty busy inside the school when we got there.  Between the information tables for buses, lunches, carpools, and special ed there were all the students and parents milling around and greeting each other before heading off to meet the teachers.  We went in right behind our next door neighbors and another family in the neighborhood.

Going into Ellie's classroom was both surprising and wonderful.  The surprising part was that they have desks.  There weren't desks in my kindergarten class but there must have been tables.  I'm a bit hazy on that.  The wonderful part was seeing Ellie's teacher.  I feel so blessed and fortunate that Ellie's kindergarten teacher is a woman I know and love.  I started to tear up as I saw her.  She showed Ellie to her desk and pointed out the bathroom in the class.  She let Ellie ask any questions she had before ushering her to the door leading to the playground.  I wish I could remember what Ellie asked her.  Anyway, Ellie happily ran outside to play on the toys, with Maya following closely on her heels.  Mrs. Truman (it feels weird to call her that) then turned to me to chat just a bit.  The other families from the neighborhood came in to say hi and see how she was doing with getting ready.  She said she felt overwhelmed and I confirmed that that was totally natural.  I'm so glad I know her personally so I felt comfortable being completely candid and not just another parent.  When the other families left I told her Ellie was over the moon excited and that I was beyond pleased that she would be Ellie's teacher.  Then Mrs. Truman asked if I was okay.  I told her I wasn't and cried as we hugged.  She commiserated with me and I felt much better.  Then I allowed her to meet the other parents and children because I can't take up ALL her time.  And also because I'm her visiting teacher, see her at church, have her number in my phone, or can just walk to the end of the block and across the street if I want to talk to her.  I'm lucky that way.

On a related note, I realized that the reason I've had such a hard time with sending Ellie off to school boils down to being afraid that they won't love her like I do.  Well, duh.  I'm her mother; no one will love her like I do.  As a teacher I had my fair share of students that I didn't love like I hope their mothers do.  But if anyone can love and appreciate my amazing little girl, it's Mrs. Truman.

Eric and I let Ellie and Maya play outside for a bit while we stared at the classroom.  As I looked out the door and into the hall I saw one of the other students I knew would be attending Ellie's school.  They were in preschool together.  Her mom recognized me and they came in to greet us.  We all went outside to reunite the two little girls.  Ellie came off the playset and they gave each other a big hug.  It did my heart good.  They continued to play, holding hands at every possible moment.  I cried again.  Ellie will be fine.  They may be in different classes but, with the other girl in the all day class, there's a good chance they'll be able to meet up at recess.  And hopefully they'll be in the same first grade class.  Fingers crossed for that.

Now that I've been able to let go of my fears I think I'm as exited as Ellie is.  Maybe.  She spent the day asking about when she was going to school and giving me a massive hug and an, "I'm so excited!!!" every time I replied.  She can barely contain herself and it's charming beyond words.

After we left the classroom I decided to stop by the school's surplus sale.  So glad I did.  Not long after I got there and started browsing through the books, the woman who was supervising and taking money (also in my ward and one of my running buddies) announced that, because of the lateness of the hour, all the books would be 25 cents each.  I left with 12, nine of them Usborne books.  The cost of just those Usborne books would have been upwards of $60 so I was pretty stoked.  I had not brought along cash or check so I was really glad I knew the one taking the money.  She whispered to me that, as an employee, she was able to get things on an IOU and she would just let me pay her.  Score!  Three dollars for at least $80 worth of books is pretty terrific.

So the night was a huge success for both Ellie and me.  I think Eric liked being there, too.  I know Maya will be super happy when her turn comes for school.  And Ellie may just burst with excitement before Monday comes.

Getting (Mommy) Ready for School

Ellie starts school on Monday.  Three days from now my oldest baby will start the next phase of her life.  It really is a new chapter for us.  Thankfully we had her in preschool last year and that, I think, will ease the transition.  I hope.

So far I've seen nothing but excitement from Ellie.  I'm really happy about that.  When I talked to Ellie this morning and had her try on her uniform (now that I've finished sewing her shirts) I asked her a few questions. She's very excited.  When I asked if she was nervous at all she told me she wasn't in a tone that told me she sees no reason to be nervous.  That makes me happy.  There were a few hours yesterday when I was a wreck thinking about Ellie starting school.

I have no worries about the school itself.  I spent so much time and effort choosing a school that I am confident it's where Ellie should be.  And, if what I hear is right, she has the teacher I really wanted.  I visit teach her and she's kind of my hero.  We'll find out for sure about her teacher tonight.  If she has the teacher I'm hoping for then I will feel even better.

My nerves all came from thinking about the friends (or lack thereof) that Ellie may have.  She knows four other incoming kindergartners at her school.  None of them are in her class.  Two are in the all day class and two are in the other half day class.  There was one other student Ellie knew who was assigned to her class, but they decided it wasn't the best thing for their family and will be at another school.  I was pretty devastated that Ellie's little friend wouldn't be in her class but I certainly can't fault her parents for doing what's right for their family.  Knowing her parents, I would expect no less from them.  I'm happy they're making the best choice.

Once I got final word of their decision everything became real and it happened all at once.  All the fears and insecurities I've spent years either overcoming or denying came out.  The difference is that this time I'm feeling them on behalf of my sweet little girl.  I cried.  I have to let her go to experience whatever comes, good or bad.  I can't shield her from the possible emotional growing pains.  Possible emotional growing pains.  I hope my fears don't come to pass, but they might.  Or they might not.

I remember starting kindergarten.  I remember feeling nervous and a little scared.  My mom remembers me waving over my shoulder without looking at her while my two best friends clung to their mothers' legs and wailed.  After we all came into the class I led my two friends around the circle until I chose a place to sit, then they sat down on either side of me.  They had not met before, as one was my friend from across the street and the other was my friend from church.  Now that we live in Utah my kids' friends are both in the neighborhood and at church.  That's something I never had growing up so the experience is different than what I'm used to.

Once I found out Ellie won't know a single student in her class I started to worry.  I started my worries.  I am so grateful that her worries are different from my own.  Part of me always believes that when I go into any new situation I will be rejected.  Brutally.  Or that, if I am accepted, it will be out of grudging obligation and I will still always be considered an outsider.  Over the years I've learned to squash that fear and go in confidently, whether or not I actually feel it.  Fake it 'til you make it.  It works for me.

But...what if my baby girl is rejected?  I can't protect her from that.  I've seen her approach a group of little girls only to have them turn their backs to her as if she never existed.  I wanted to go over and shake each of them by the collar and tell them it's wrong to treat someone that way, especially if the someone is MY little girl.  I stood there, heartbroken, and did nothing because I knew Ellie would need to learn to deal with that kind of disappointment and because I didn't want to make a big deal out of it for Ellie's sake.  I'm glad I didn't rush over to her.  She looked perplexed for a moment, then walked over to another little cluster of girls and joined them.  Part of me was still heartbroken, but I was so proud of Ellie in that moment.  I hope she keeps that ability all her life, the one that allows her to simply shrug off the mean people and find something better.  I hope it's one that I can more fully develop.

There are so any what ifs.  A few months ago I bought a book called Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster in preparation for Ellie entering kindergarten.  Turns out I needed it more than Ellie.  The Whatif monster asks the scary "what if" questions that can make anyone nervous about doing something new.  Jonathan James then asks the great "what if" questions that can make a new experience wonderful.  So while I'm worrying about "what if everyone rejects her", the better question is "what if she finds her very best friend".  What if Ellie finds her bosom friend, the Diana Barry to her Anne Shirley.  I am hopeful.  Monday will be scary for me but I hope it will be wonderful for my baby girl.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Full Fourth. (Also my 400th post. Cool.)

This year's Independence Day was a super busy and super fun day.  It started off with me waking up early to participate in the Freedom Run 5k.  I ran it in support of this cause, raising money for a new mom fighting brain cancer I had thought about running the 10k because I've never run a 10k race before, but opted for the 5k because my training schedule had me at 3 miles for the day rather than 6.  So 5k it was.  That may have been one of the better decisions I've ever made.  It was one of the hardest runs I've ever done because it was so humid.  To give you an idea, I spilled a little on my shirt at a water station and it took over an hour to dry.  Yeah, humid.  I'm not used to that.  Still, I made pretty good time considering I had to stop and walk several times.
I didn't bring my camera along so here's the only shot of my face before the race.
After the run I met up with Eric and the kids so we could watch the parade.  I got to use an actual bathroom when I saw our former upstairs neighbors on their lawn before I found my family.  They graciously let me use their facilities so I wouldn't need to use the blue Honey Bucket.  We stayed at the parade until the kids were done and Eric realized that the 501st wouldn't be in there.  Nerd. ;)

Following the parade I changed out of my sweaty, stinky running clothes and we had lunch.  We headed over to the vendor booths downtown and got our yearly fix of Texas Twister and cinnamon pecans.  Mmm...  Ellie really wanted to go on a ride so we bought some tickets.  She wanted to ride this one:
I tried to talk her out of it but she was determined.  She and Eric waited in line until they told her she's not tall enough to ride yet.  We reevaluated our tickets and found Both the girls and one parent could go on this ride:
image via clowningaround.me
The girls and Eric loved it.  I hung out on the sidewalk with Quintin.  Just watching it spin makes me queasy.  I'm a carnival lightweight.  Eric enjoys training his future roller coaster buddies.  The girls also got to meet a princess and they were pretty happy about that.
I made their little shirts
My aunt and family are in town from out of state, so we joined up with my extended family for some swimming fun at the pool at my grandparents' condo.  Ellie proved herself fearless by jumping straight into the pool with no one to catch her while I was still holding Quintin and hanging on to Maya's hand (Eric was changing).  She had swim lessons two summers ago and that's it.  The man in the pool noticed as I called for her to wait for me before she jumped.  Her head popped out from under the water for a moment before she went back down.  I knew the man had heard e call to her and had watched her jump in.  He was close enough that I could calmly say, "She doesn't swim."  I had to point at her and say it again with more urgency before he understood I needed him to save my child.  Then he acted very quickly.  Ellie wasn't phased at all. She and I had a little chat about waiting for me before jumping in the water.  Hopefully it sank in.  Maya was quite a bit more timid.  She went from sitting on the side to sitting on a step to leaping off the side into my waiting arms.  She thought that was pretty good.  Quintin was highly upset to be surrounded by water (weird; he LOVES baths) until he realized the potential for splashing.  Then he was a happy camper.
Waiting for fireworks last year. I hate this picture of me.
Waiting for fireworks this year.  Boom!  That's what 35 lbs of weight loss looks like.  So many reasons to smile.
 Before heading out to enjoy the Pleasant Grove fireworks show with Eric's family we scarfed down some dinner with my extended family at a pavilion.  It was there that we heard a distressed scream from Maya right before she let her bladder loose.  Dang it.  We put her swimsuit back on and called it good.  Ellie would also have an accident that later that evening.  She also got to wear her swimsuit again.  Not a good night for keeping dry...or for grandma's blanket.

While we waited for fireworks to start Eric, Amber, and their mom took the girls to see Eric's grandpa's grave.  I stayed behind with Quintin and Mike, where I was able to complain about how hard the Freedom Run was to a new set of ears.  The kids enjoyed playing cards, eating grapes and popcorn, running around, and flying a kite to keep entertained before the show started.
Looking disheveled but happy after swimming
A minute or two before the fireworks show began Maya said she needed to go potty.  Crap.  There was no bathroom nearby and nowhere close would be open at 10 pm on a holiday.  Rather than take her to a bush I hustled her to the van to see if we could find something to catch it inside.  I found a styrofoam cup.  I tried to use the van for some measure of privacy.  You know what happens when you get in our van?  The lights turn on and stay on for several minutes.  So we were in a brightly lit van and facing a crowd waiting for a show as I tried to hold a cup between her little legs.  Basically it was a reverse drive-in movie.  The situation deteriorated further when Maya told me she wouldn't go in the cup and I tried to figure out how to let her sit without risking getting the mess on my white shorts.  I ended up wedged in Quintin's car seat and perching Maya on my knee.  The overhead lights were still on, further exposing our actions to the crowd.  Then the boom of the fireworks started.  Our van was centered under them.  Nice.  It ended up being a fruitless effort and I walked back to our blanket, defeated and more than a little embarrassed.  About two seconds after I got back it occurred to me that I could have simply put one of Quintin's diapers on Maya and told her to have at it.  Too little, too late award goes to me.  She ended up holding it for another hour.
Fuzzy but fun.  The younger two kids were pretty much done taking pictures.
It was a fun, long day.  Next year we're praying for less humidity...and bringing a potty.