Saturday, July 19, 2014

for nurses everywhere (but especially you)

Three years ago today you held my hand.

I imagine you brushed your teeth that morning, not knowing that in just a few hours you would be front and center in someone else's drama.

My daughter turns three today. I hear her in the dining room playing with her new Play-Doh set.

I drink coffee with exactly one Tablespoon of International Delight.

How we take for granted those daily movements: the flip of a switch, the mother's finger lingering on a child's curl during hurried morning routine.

That day, with doctors shrugging at each other and other nurses scurrying around after the "Code Blue" had been issued, the levity of the situation began to hang over me like a hard, dark curtain.

You pulled up a chair and held my hand.

Your smile was so reassuring and I remember you saying over and over again, "Look at me. Just look at me."

You never told me I wasn't going to die.

I didn't want to ask.

For a long while after that day,  I thought you must have been an angel. You were married a few months later, so by the time I looked you up I could find no one with the last name you had given me.

You were an angel after all. An angel with eyes that crinkled when you smile and warm hands and blue scrubs.

An angel who held my hand as the pain in my side grew worse and I watched my mother look at me with fear in her eyes.

An angel who kept saying, in a human voice, "Look at me, look at me," as I watched my daughter's newborn hands, clenching and unclenching unfamiliar space in her bassinet.

You held my hand as I heard a nurse say, "We need to get the baby out of here."

You held my hand while I heard the pins that held together my carefully constructed life slowly dropping, one by one, onto cold hospital floor.


You held my hand as I wondered who else had died in this room.

Earlier that day as you prepared me for the c-section you asked me which names we were considering.


You told me we could always use your name.

Don't think I didn't consider it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

That's why I do foster care

Today I saw the foster daughters I hadn't seen for more than a year.

One, the one who sat on my curb and sobbed her little heart out 14 months ago, took the stairs two at a time, practically falling into my arms.

She's the one who wrote to me a few weeks back after I had given her a self-addressed stamped envelope before she left our home.

People often ask why we foster or how we can.

Our current foster daughter had court today and it was awful and hard and messy and that was only how I felt, the onlooker into another family's personal tragedy.

I spoke to the judge in court, telling him I wanted permanency for our sweet girl as soon as possible.

"That's my goal, too," he said, and it just felt good to know someone else wants that for her.

She is joy, and stubbornness, and sandy blond hair escaping her ponytail because she has done so many somersaults her hair just decided to give up.

I love that little girl. It's also very hard to navigate with her the waters of neglect, and longing, and jealousy over what my kids have and she doesn't: two parents who love each other.

Only a foster parent knows the ache and joy that comes with that sort of scenario. The frustrations of dealing with behavior in children who have been neglected and abused for so long that they have a hard time trusting. When that trust Is finally established, they move on.

Still, I see glimmery ribbons of hope.

Like my girl who was with us for only 3 weeks before Scott and I waved the white flag.

I told her my charge to her, my songover her life, was Fun's "Carry On". She says she brags to all of her friends about that.

"When you're lost and alone/
And sinking like a stone/
Carry on/
When the only sound/
Is your boots upon the ground/
Carry on

Our current little girl has had 11 months of constancy, the first long term experience like that in her short life.

That hug today from our previous foster daughter, that hug like she was HOME because I had carved out a little corner for her in my heart.

She will always remember, you know?

They all will.

That's why I do foster care.

That's why I do it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

what to do when you're locked out of your house and you have to pee

Today I dropped the three older kids off at camp at 10 AM. I was about to have SIX AND A HALF GLORIOUS HOURS by myself.

A friend who was dropping her kids off at the same camp went with me to kidnap another friend, who was turning 37 today. 

I have friends who are 37.

Isn't my mom 37?

Phoebe sneezed on everybody's cutlery and I ate an entire day's calories in one sitting. 

We came home, I held out my hand to open the door. 


Awesome! I have to go to the bathroom! Look, there's a bucket!

(Some things should just not be on a blog, KWIM?)

Phoebe cried about her bucket being used in such a profane way. Suck it up, kid. The closest beach is 2,382 miles away. You'll never use the thing for sand castles.

Death of a dream, baby. Death of a dream.

We were stuck in my garage. What's a girl supposed to do?

The loser owners before us never gave us a key with which to open the door going into the house. When I asked that they leave the window treatments the guy said, "What do these people want next? Our firstborn?"

Uh, no, not if she's as stingy as you are, dude.

an example of a very generous baby

So...we're sitting there, and I decide I will pick the lock. I start googling things on Youtube and am slightly disconcerted by the number of Youtube videos made by 13 year old boys dedicated to the objective of teaching someone how to pick a lock:

I think this is actually Justin Bieber before he was famous.

So, I'm sitting here in a garage that is the equivalent of MacGuyver's wet dream, and I can't for the life of me figure out how to get this door open.

"Take a crowbar to it and ask questions later," my husband advises me via email.


I do, and the door is surprisingly easy to open. For you criminals out there, rest assured that we took a trip to Home Depot this afternoon and now have a door like Fort Knox. There'll be no stealing of picture tube tvs from 1999 up in here, thanks.

The whole time I was so annoyed because I wasn't getting a nap and my time without four kids was being "wasted".

I then look down at Phoebe next to me, who is squealing and yelling, "Mommy! I'm having so much fun!" as she sticks a paint scraper into any crevice she can find, mimicking my crow bar antics.

Don't tell me I'm not a fun mother, and also don't tell me I need Pinterest projects for my kids to do. They're all overrated, especially when your kid is wired to have low expectations, like the time you told the oldest the tooth fairy was coming and she SAW YOU PUT THE MONEY UNDER HER PILLOW WHILE SHE WAS WIDE AWAKE.

Also, I'm teaching them life skills.

baby's first crowbar

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Anxiety Beast

The past few months have had me feeling The Anxiety Beast a little bit more than before. 

The Beast isn't rational, it doesn't like the meditation station on Pandora or my constant requests for him to go away as I motion toward the restraining order on my dirty refrigerator. The Beast is like that annoying Lifetime Movie Boyfriend who beats me up and then I come crawling back for more.

Every chore seems insurmountable, when the beast is talking. Requests for milk, picking up turds that didn't make it into the potty, the telephone ringing,

All of these just make the anxiety spike.

The Beast has been with me all of my life. I believe my father passed him onto me; my grandmother suffered from Him as well.

As a child, instead of playing Candyland with the babysitter, I'd sit crying by the front door, sniffing the remnants of my mother's perfume on the sleeve of my strawberry shortcake dress, just absolutely sure that my parents had been killed in a horrible car accident.

He followed me all throughout grade school but really flared when I entered young adulthood. "Maybe he will settle once the baby is born, brand new and bleating. Ok, not then? Maybe when the risk for SIDS is over? What about the first day of kindergarten and 3 o'clock arrived and there wasn't an active shooter in the building?

Some mornings I just wake up with the Beast lying over my chest. I have to take care in uncurling his iron claws from around my tender heart. I beat back the lies that I tell myself, that my children are suffering because of this.

REAL mothers do crafts with their children and Facebook the cute pictures. They don't sit in their anxiety and guilt themselves into a state of petty inertia.

I have to remind myself on those days that sometimes, the best thing is to just put one size 11 foot in front of the other, even if I'm anxious and scared and I don't feel like it. I can smile and get a new hair cut and pretend that I am not nervous or anxious. 

I can remember that, at one time in my life, as a friend said, having an orgasm wasn't as freaking complicated as solving a Rubix cube.

The hair cut I requested, which my hair dresser said would make me look like a mushroom

The Beast hates my resolve.

He can suck it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dear Grandma

Dear grandma,

I write you a letter every week and I started one this week and realized that you will not be in your little room to read it.

One of your nurses said that every time you received a letter from me you would just hold it in both hands and gaze at it, a pleased look on your face.

When I think of you, and my memories of you, it's an awful lot like that. I hold my package full of memories, and gaze at them through my tears, and thank my lucky stars that God picked you to be my grandmother.

You and I are opposites in personality. You were the queen of the kitchen and whenever you would come to visit us at our house in Cedar Rapids, you'd wonder where I went. There you and mom would be, slaving away over lefse or your famous rubbers or delicious homemade donuts, and I'd be upstairs, my nose in a good book.

My husband Scott's favorite memory of you is when he came downstairs, sleepy from the night, and you said, "Well! Where is Rachel? Hasn't she made you breakfast yet?" You were quite appalled that this young man's new wife was sleeping snugly in bed while her hungry husband was foraging for Cheerios.

About fifteen minutes later there he sat, a plate full of bacon, eggs, toast, oatmeal, and sausage in front of him.

Let me tell you: he's reminded me of that moment ever since, with a huge grin on his face.

"How did you miss the cooking gene, Rachel?" He'll say.

I've always been emotive and worn my heart on my sleeve. Like my Aunt Mary said, I don't know if it's losing your sister at such a young age and your  parents as well that caused you to be more reserved, or maybe it was just genes. If the world were full of crying people we wouldn't have the strong, stoic types like you and my mom, who leap into action and cook all of the criers a huge pot of soup that they can sob into while they lament their woes.

Your garden loved you, and so did the sun. Everything you touched bloomed into beauty. You saved a scrappy little farm kitten for me every summer when I was young, sending me a birth announcement and a message from the kitten that said, "Please name me when you come here this summer!"

You were faithful, even when old age crept into your bones and made you hurt. I can't ever remember a time in which you complained. 

You were a prayer warrior. I believe you had a direct line to God. When our daughter was diagnosed with difficult birth defects before she was born, you wrote every week to tell me you were praying for her,  and that God had big plans for that girl.

He did, Grandma. Even when I couldn't believe it, you did. Boy, did you believe it.i don't doubt that you spoke to our Heavenly Father every day on her behalf, and while I was busy researching possible outcomes on the internet and googling away, you took my daughter to the throne of heaven.

We call Lucy, 9 years old now and in wonderful health, "Lulu", which was your beloved mother's name. 

You took Aunt Mary to the throne of heaven, as well. She was given a cancer diagnosis and you prayed and prayed and prayed. She has proven the doctors wrong and you sat quietly, praying over and over again for her healing.

I'm 35 now, but the older I get, the more I realize that doing the mundane chores of daily life with a grateful and patient heart, not complaining but looking up to the father for guidance, is the only way to live.

You taught me that.

You also taught me how to crochet when I was seven, and the fine art of nodding and smiling when I don't agree with what my husband is telling me. It wasn't worth an argument.

You loved me.

I loved you.

I guess that's the price we pay for loving so deeply, isn't it? 

The pain we feel in the letting go. The pain I am feeling right now.

About five years ago I sent you a letter asking you if you were afraid to die.

"I'm not afraid to die," you wrote. "Why should I be, when I know exactly where I'm going?"

Another lesson learned from my grandmother, maybe the best lesson of all.

I believe, when it get to heaven, there you'll be, looking young and beautiful and wiping your hands on a well-worn apron just as you were when we were young and drove those long, mirage-filled roads to the Art and Mabel Ekstrom farm while all of us kids piled out of the car.

The sun will shine on your back, placing you in beautiful profile against the backdrop of heaven.

You will welcome me into your arms, and then you might ask,

"so, Rachel, did you ever learn to cook?"

I'm so happy for you, grandma. You are hearing "well done, good and faithful servant!" 

Like I said at the beginning, the pain of loving someone so deeply is the hurt in the letting go.

Thank you for being such a wonderful mom, grandmother and person.

I love you.

Your granddaughter forever,


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The summer of low expectations

It's the first official day of summer and I woke up feeling stressed. There's so much to get done within the next few weeks, including, but not limited to: surgery and the correlating pre-surgery appointments for one member of the family, a long-awaited trip, a basement am in the process of turning into a play area for the kids, bills to pay, thank yous to send, baby gifts to send for babies who are three plus months old, etc., etc.

And then I look around at my messy house and my messy kitchen and my messy life and I think, "this is where I want to be.

I had all of these grand ideas of a beautiful and Pinterest inspired summer to-do list, and then I decided to screw it and let the kids draw their own list. It's not as pretty but it sure is cute.
That says, "mom to get. Life jacket on so you don't drown in the pool and if you do it will be your fault."

See? I'm just totally nailing it. I almost drowned when I was four except that my 12 year old brother saved me, so now whenever my kids are remotely near a body of water I demand life jackets for all. Even scott. 

I don't want to get in the pool this year because my belly weathered. My thighs aren't so toned but you know what? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow or already have a brain tumor so SCREW IT! I am breathing and alive, gloriously alive, and I will have FUN!

My sister is coming over to help me organize the basement. She said yesterday for me not to get all freaked out when she suggests I buy a cabinet or an organizer. I was laughing so hard because I am er- frugal and, yes, she is right, I might have a panic attack.

*scott, frightened to be home and looking dead inside. It's his weekend look.*

Last week he got home and I had had a glass of wine so I told the kids, "Hey, kids! Mom and dad need to have a conversation in our bedroom!" (Yuk, yuk)

They totally bought it, and when we came back downstairs Lucy said, "Gee, mom! That was the shortest conversation EVER!"

Here's to a summer full of fighting children, sunburns, short conversations, and jiggly thighs.

This summer is going to absolutely rock because I have absolutely zero expectations.

Join me! (You'll have to come up with your own conversations, though.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Friends change

I posted something about vaccination a friend didn't like on Facebook, and she defriended me. Apparently my posts always annoy her, and I am sure she is not the only one being annoyed.

People are people are people, and of course at first I was hurt and wanted to hurt her back, but then I could see her point. The truth is this: as people, we are never going to agree with each other 100% of the time, and if posting things about gluten insensitivity being bull sh*t isn't a sure way to piss people off, I don't know what is. 

My bad.

It's so bizarre to be living in a time where you can offend someone without looking at them, sending them a letter, or having a face to face interaction with them. I hadn't actually picked up the phone to call this friend for quite some time, nor she me...we are both busy with our own worlds and lives, thousands of miles away from each other.

It makes me sad, and of course it's a loss, but I also have to be mature enough to realize that people come and go from our lives, or gradually fade into the sunset, and it's no one's fault. 

It just happens.

This summer, and the last few weeks, I've been trying to be more purposeful and intentional about actually calling my friends instead of just emailing them. Inviting them over, or, at the very least, welcoming them in with happy arms when they knock at my door after morning kid drop off.

I realize that in this phase of life we all have very limited resources because we are working on raising good little people, and having a house that doesn't smell of anything bad, and jobs, and just trying to grab hold of the little moments with our kids before they slip away.

Sometimes I feel like Beth in Little Women when she says, "Why does everyone have to leave me? Why can't everything just stay the same?"

Of course it can't, and we can't.

I am not at the same level of closeness with friends I had 10 years ago. Some of them have kids now and are more honed in on their own lives, others are just in a different life phase, others are clear across the country and the strands of connection have just lessened gradually, without my notice.

It makes me sad.

It's been one of the biggest joys of my life, however, to reconnect with an old college friend after losing touch for seven or eight years. Sometimes life surprises us with rose blooms like these amidst the thorns of disconnect that all of us suffer at one point or another.

This friend happened to be in town when we got our first foster placements and we all went out to eat and the older boy put barbecued meat in her pocket, "for later". I was trying not to vomit because I was ten weeks pregnant with the nearly three-year old snoozing beside me, and I think of that happy memory and the memory of this same friend being in town for her birth. I remember Scott telling her I was losing blood, and could she please wait in the waiting room?

The stars knew I needed that friend to reappear in my life right when she did...and she's been a constant source of hilarity and comraderie. I call her when I want her to recreate a scene from college days or when I'm about to have a panic attack.

She's good for either one. 

I have a friend now who fosters as well, and three years ago I didn't know her from Adam. Three years ago, I thought I was blessed with friendships, but my friendship with her is so unique and special that I can't help but be totally grateful for it. She has a cookie business and bakes me cookies and let's me come and lie on her couch and stuff my face with them and then moan about things.

I also have a friend who let's me come and crash at her house when I lock myself out of mine, and them she reads Phœbe Skippyjon Jones in a Spanish accent while I óle myself over to the bed and lie there like a dead whale.

(My hottest friend, except when he comes home and is annoyed I didn't clean more, then he's not as hot)

Another friend is my dear and sweet sister in law who lives nine blocks away and speaks my language. I've known her since I was 14 and she's the kind of friend good for that time after your first child was born with a bunch of things wrong, and you're bleeding on the floor of the hospital bathroom, crouched down onto the floor and you're at your most desperate and ugly and saying, "I just want to see my fucking baby!" And she helps you get up off the floor and start eating some spaghetti.

See, I started this post all sad about changing friendships and I ended up with my heart bursting and full because you never know what kind of a friend there is, just around the corner. 

My life is bursting with them.