Thursday, December 12, 2013

Happy Sounds

Sorry for the posting delay.  I haven't had much to say. Our lives have been turned upside down by my husband's brain tumor diagnosis and there are only so many ways to put a positive spin on the devastating situation we find ourselves in. In my quest to find something to say I realized it's sometimes best to say nothing at all and just listen instead.

I've been listening to the sounds of my kids' laughter more than ever now. Normally, their silliness and excessive giggles are annoying. I'm talking annoyingly excessive giggles. Parents, you know what I mean.  Like, the cackles and hilarity that make it difficult to drive when we're in the car.  Or the howling and shrieking that make dinner less than enjoyable.

But, lately, I've been listening to the sheer delight emanating from their belly laughs. I see the I-can't-breathe-I'm-laughing-so-hard look of bliss on their faces. The other day in the car when the cackles started I didn't bother to tell them to take it down a notch. I didn't bother to ask them to be quiet.  It's useless anyway. Even if they try to be quiet, the giggling under stifled breath almost always escalates into a fit of laughing frenzy. 

I wondered why the hell we are always asking kids to be quiet when they're happy?  Why do we ask them to lower their decibel levels when they're laughing?  It's crazy isn't it?

So, I just started laughing, too. In the car that day I realized we've had so much sadness lately that it's hard to find the happiness. It's hard to find the laughter. I have to search for it, but my kids know it instinctively. They know how to be genuinely happy because life hasn't beaten the hopefulness and joy out them.  Well, I can choose not to let life beat the joy out of me either. I can choose to laugh instead.

Now, when I listen to my kids' laughter (I mean, really listen) and join in, I feel the joy. I feel elated and happy, but most of all I hear potential. I hear the potential of them (and me) finding a way to deal with the hard times. Th potential to find a way to heal.

Laughter really is the best medicine.

Monday, September 2, 2013

No More Back-To-School Blues

I am officially ready for school to start.  I don't have any of the back-to-school blues like I've had in previous years.  As much as I love spending time with my children, it is imperative for all of us to get back to a routine.  A schedule keeps us all in check and school is the only way to get back on any sort of schedule.

We thrive on routine.  The only way we can accomplish our tasks is to know what is expected of us.  Tuesday is piano practice.  Wednesday is math tutor.  Saturday is football practice, etc. Living with a schedule makes it infinitely easier get our jobs done.

I realize that during the summer it's OK for the kids to have downtime and to play and to be free.  And, we've done that. We took lots of trips this summer, spent good, quality time together and enjoyed ourselves.  We crossed things off our summer to-do list and feel confident starting September that we don't have any lingering "should haves" to drag down the end of summer.

But now it's back to business.When the bell rings and the children burst into the halls ready to start the new school year, I will join other parents breathing a collective sigh of relief.  For the first time ever I won't have any back-to-school blues. I will send my kids off to school with a kiss and a smile.

My first order of business is to take a nap. A very long nap. I think I deserve it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Addicted To Electronics


the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma

I took my boys' Kindles away for an entire week and threw in a ban from the Wii and TV for added measure. I've had it up to my eyeballs with the tug-of-war between using their Kindles and doing "something else."

I've kept a pretty tight lid on electronics in our house for a very long time.  The boys never had a Nintendo DS.  We didn't jump on the iPod Touch bandwagon even though it seemed like every one of their friends had one.  It took awhile before we even agreed to get a Wii, but we relented because we were interested in the family games we could play together.  The boys even had to earn enough money to buy their own Kindles.  But once the "electronics bug" hit our house it's been a battle ever since.

In the past I've had a camp mom summer schedule mapped out that keeps us pretty busy, but the evil brain tumor has interrupted our regularly scheduled programing. I'm working now and even though Mark has an opportunity to spend more time with the boys this summer, their activities depend on his energy level.  Plus we still have doctors appointments and chemo schedules to adhere to.  Our summer is just different this year.

As a result, the boys have been playing more Minecraft on their Kindles.  While the game itself isn't inherently bad, it has become an addiction that needs to be stopped.  Like now.  They roll out bed and grab their Kindles because it's the first thing they think of when they wake up.  Like I used to do when I smoked.  The first thing I did after I woke up was grab a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  I remember the cigarette addiction.  It's powerful.  It's all-encompassing.  I'm not sure the pull of playing with their electronics is any different.  When you're addicted to something you want to do it all the time

I don't mind their occasional Kindle use.  I don' mind that the games they play encourage critical thinking and using their imaginations to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.  What I don't like is the panic that sets in when I tell them it's time to turn the electronics off.  There has to be a balance between growing up in an electronics generation and doing things that require critical thinking outside of a hand held game

We decide to take an electronics break and go for a bike ride Saturday because the weather finally cooled down a bit and it was a beautiful day.  However, the complaining and whining from my ungrateful children ruined what could have been a fun day outside.  The bike trail was too long.  They were too hot.  Their legs were tired.  The sun was too bright.  And on and on and on.  So, we packed up our bikes and came home. 

After we got back I asked the boys to give me their Kindles which started their week-long electronics ban.  I don't reward bad behavior and their actions have consequences.  So, their whining and complaining cost them their Kindles.  Hit 'em where it hurts.  

Luckily, the boys do like to play outside.  Given the opportunity to start a game of wiffle ball in the backyard and playing on the Kindle, they would choose the wiffle ball game every time.  But we haven't seen a lot of kids in our backyard lately.  When no one is playing outside, the boys instinctively turn to their Kindles as something to do to pass the time.  Now that their Kindles are off limits they managed to figure out a way to play wiffle ball with two people.  They took bike rides around the neighborhood and played basketball in the driveway.

A lot of fighting ensued (they are brothers after all) so they also had to figure out how to get along or end up alone in their bedroom. Because each boy would rather eat nails than admit to being at fault, their alone time led to reading more books. Which led to trips to the library to get more books.  Which led to talking about the books they were reading and naming characters and describing the  main conflict is in the story.  No electronics required.  Even though they can technically read books on their Kindle I encourage reading real books with real pages from a real library.

Nicholas said to me after a few days on his Kindle ban, "you know, Mom, I don't really need to play games on the Kindle when I have books to read."  Bingo, kiddo.  You don't need the Kindle.  It's a nice thing to do once in awhile, but it's not a necessity every minute of every day. Plenty of other opportunities for fun exist when encouraged to use our imaginations.

One of their more creative and humorous ideas for fun was using construction paper and markers to make picket signs that said, "No More Rules!" and "We Want Our Electronics Back!" They taped their signs to yardsticks and marched through the living room protesting their electronics ban.  While I gave them kudos for creativity, the ban is still in place :)  After their protest, they went off to play tag in the backyard.

We are still trying to find the right balance.  It's hard to raise unplugged kids in a plugged-in world.  Hard, but not impossible.  Looks like an occasional electronics ban might be a step in the right direction.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Feel Your Pain

I cringe when I see the dates of my last posts because I'm reminded of how much has been going on in the past few months and how little time I've had to tend to things like a simple blog post.  I think about writing a lot but rarely have the time to just sit down and do it.

I don't wish what we're going through on anyone and I won't lie and say it hasn't been hard. This cancer business is damn hard.  I don't know how my husband does it when he's strapped to a table getting gamma rays beamed into his skull or how he forces himself to swallow a chemo pill he knows is meant to kill his cancer cells but brings with it a host of unpleasant side effects.  I don't know how he gets up every day ready to do battle with a monstrous adversary that threatens to engulf his brain.

People say to me, "I don't know how you keep it all together." Well, that makes two of us.  I don't know how I keep it all together either.  Seriously.  No idea.

But just because you can't imagine being in our shoes and you sympathize with our struggles it doesn't mean we want to stop hearing about yours.  More than once I've had friends start to tell me about a really bad day or a troublesome event but stopped short saying, "well, this is nothing compared to what you're going through..."

It doesn't matter if you're upset that your kid failed his math test or if you're mad at your husband because he didn't take the trash out.  I still want to hear about it.  We all have problems that require solutions or at the very least a sympathetic ear.  There is no need to try to compare your situation with mine because battles are battles regardless of the level of discomfort.  

I know it's easy to think, well she has it much worse than me so I shouldn't complain.  But, I want to know what's going on in your lives.  I want to hear about the math tests and the trash still sitting in your garage on trash day.  I know how those seemingly little things can transform into really big things when you don't talk about it or get it off your chest.

We all have struggles of one kind or another.  Please don't think that because my struggles seem so much larger than yours that your struggles don't matter.  They matter.  You matter.  I feel your pain.  As a matter of fact, I would rather feel your pain than my pain.

So please don't say, "well this is nothing compared to what you're going through..." and stop telling me your stories. I want to hear your stories.  I need to hear your stories.

When you tell me your kid failed another math test or your husband went out with the guys and the mice got into your trash in the garage, believe it or not  I'm probably thinking I don't know how she does it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Making Sense of the Senseless

Where did March go?

I was hoping the past several weeks were just a dream, but no luck.  My husband's brain tumor still nibbles away at our family's foundation.  We started out trying to avoid the obnoxious bastard like little kids who believe something doesn't exist if they can't see it.  But no matter how tightly we shut our eyes and wish it away, the tumor pervades our daily activities like an itch we just can't scratch.  It's hard to make sense of the senseless.

There really is no way to justify what's happening so you just begin to make jokes. Laughter truly is the best medicine and only someone going through a life-threatening illness and his or her significant other can appreciate the absurdity of the whole process.

We laugh about a lot of things, most especially those folks who think we are suddenly experts on all things medical.  I'm OK with questions like,"Where is the tumor located?" or  "About how big is it?"  Those questions are fine.  But getting into detail such as is it in the left front or rear quadrant, proximity to the neurological nerve centers or molecular genetics of the tumor is a little too much to bear.  Nonessential information for a layperson.  There's a tumor.  In the brain.  End of story.

We laugh about playing the "brain tumor" card.  Annoying telemarketers who call selling anything from the newest gadget to swampland in Florida are met with, "I'm not interested.  My husband has a brain tumor."  The silence is deafening.  My husband used to pay the cable bill and when I called the cable company to request a lower rate a bit of hemming and hawing ensued until I said, "my husband used to pay this bill but I've taken over since his brain tumor diagnosis."  I got a significantly reduced rate with even more channels than I started with.  When I forgot to send an invoice to an out-of-state customer I blamed it on the brain tumor.

We laugh about all the potential "cures" for cancer.  Take a Turmeric supplement and your disease is will all but vanish!  Mix maple syrup with baking soda and watch the cancer disappear! Shark cartilage can slow or stop cancer growth!  Listen, I'm a big proponent of a healthy lifestyle equipped with proper nutrition and occasional supplements when necessary.  But, if shark innards really cured cancer we wouldn't be having this conversation.

We can't change the course of events over the past few months.  We can't even control the outcome.  But we can try to get through each day with some dignity and amusement.  In between radiation appointments, too many prescriptions to count and a general feeling of doom, my husband and I laugh. 

When it's no use trying to make sense of the senseless we set out to crack ourselves up instead.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

When Life Hands You a Brain Tumor

You know the old saying, "when life hands you lemons you make lemonade?" Sounds simple enough.  But what are you supposed to make when life hands your husband a brain tumor diagnosis?  Can someone please tell me what I'm supposed to make now?

Our world was turned upside down two weeks ago when my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma brain tumor.  I took him to the doctor with what we thought was a headache and some flu-like symptoms and came out with a devastating diagnosis. Hmmnnn...funny how life can change so drastically in the course of one lousy afternoon.

So, I'm no longer a volunteer addict.  In fact, I've wiped my calendar clean of any commitments other than taking care of my husband.  Yesterday I had a problem saying no to folks who needed help on various committees or projects but the universe decided to step in and has forced me to say no today.  No more waffling, no more hemming and hawing -  a simple no.

Our outlook on life has become crystal clear.  Pre-diagnosis we were just plain busy - with the applicable frustration that comes from trying to do too many things at once.  Post-diagnosis we welcome our unscheduled days and the joy that comes from running a simple errand.  It's not so much the errand we enjoy, but the quality time we get to spend together noticing everything we never noticed before.  I know it sounds so cliche but we really are stopping to smell the roses.

The boys are going about their business enjoying their semi-rock star status.  The teachers at school have been packing their lunches (with the essential added "surprise" they look forward to finding) neighbors and friends are popping over with fruit baskets and cooked dinners.  Practicing piano, while still important, has lessened in its intensity while computer time and cartoons have, unfortunately, gone up.  When I look at my boys' beautiful little faces all I can think is you don't deserve this and here, have another slice of pie.

I am a planner and I do like to control things even though I've been reminded on too many occasions that I don't control the universe.  Everything about our current situation is out of my control and it just plain stinks.  Um, thanks for the reminder.  Damn you, universe.

“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” - Chuck Palahnuik

So, what do you do when life hands you a brain tumor?  You don't make lemonade or melancholy soup or why-me casserole.  You put up your dukes, step into the ring and fight for your husband's life. I may not be able to plan or control, but I can battle with the best of 'em.  And he can and will fight, too. Instead of volunteer addicts, workaholics or over-planners we've become fighters.

And smellers-of-roses.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I Am A Volunteer Addict

Hello, my name is Kim and I'm a volunteer addict.

Every year I swear it's the year I will start saying, "no" more often.  As in , "no I can't help with your fundraiser" or "no, I'm sorry, I'm not available to work on the (insert name here) committee." I plan to say no, I practice saying no and when someone asks me to do pretty much anything I end up saying yes.  Why?  I don't know. Psychology majors feel free to pipe in here.

Last year I said yes to designing the yearbook for our elementary school. That job, by itself, would be enough to satisfy a normal person's volunteer capacity between taking and organizing pictures and planning pages. I don't keep track of how much time I spend each month on the yearbook because I'm afraid to see the numbers.  I start planning the yearbook in September and submit it in March.  Other than the classroom portrait pages that come from the school photo company, the rest of the yearbook is done by me, myself and I.

As a founding member of our school garden group, it's our mission to educate our kids about nutrition and healthy food choices. We planted a garden at the school to show the students where real food comes from, and tie gardening into the curriculum. Gardening by itself = long hours and lots of work. Add to that the countless hours spent on proposals, garden project documentation, website maintenance and general PR and I've got another monumental task on my hands. But, hey, it's about the future of our kids' health!  Of course I will help!

I decided to head our PTA Reflections contest this year because I think it's important for kids to express themselves artistically and this National PTA program offers positive recognition for students' artistic efforts.  We have a lot of talented kids at our school and some don't even know they can WIN PRIZES for their talents.  I set off on a mission this year to get more kids involved in the contest. Classroom visits, creating posters, securing judges, online submission forms, answering format questions, submitting winners to state PTA office, creating display boards for district ceremony, oh my! But, hey, it's for the Arts!  Of course I will help!

This year, I offered to work with struggling readers as a literacy tutor. I only planned to work in one classroom, once a week but another teacher who didn't get a volunteer for her class asked if I would consider helping her, too.  Of course I said yes.   A child's ability to read is directly related to his or her academic performance. If kids can't read well they can't take tests well (or do anything well for that matter) and it's a spiraling descent into a lifetime of hardship. For some kids the only time they spend reading is at school. Hey, reading is fundamental! Of course I'll help!

I've helped with the annual Teacher Appreciation Week luncheon for the past three years. A friend and I plan the menu, shop for and prepare the food and serve it in addition to other appreciation week tasks like securing donations or making baked goods for the coffee cart. Hey, it's for the teachers! Of course I'll help!

I also volunteer in my kids' classrooms twice a week. Hey, it's for my OWN kids!  Of course I'll help!

This is just school volunteering and the list above is not complete. Too many times I've said yes to things that require less time but still require time. Sometimes covering for someone who has a sick kid at home or just helping a friend/teacher in need. Add to that the rest of my responsibilities in maintaining our household and I have no time left for me. Zero. Zip. Zilch. I can't find time do the things that I want to do.  I'm overwhelmed and becoming resentful. Psychology majors feel free to pipe in here.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step in overcoming the problem. I'm admitting I'm a volunteer addict and I know I have to stop. I need to reprioritize my time. 

So, goodbye Teacher Appreciation Week - someone else can step up this year.  Sorry, PTA I can't be on the board.  Party planning is not my cup of tea all you party planners out there looking for help. 

Hello, my name is Kim and I'm a recovering volunteer addict.  I am learning to say no.  For real.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Letters To My Boys

I write letters to the boys at the end of each month to let them know about everything going on in their lives.  I've done this every month since they were born so I have exactly 117 letters for Nicholas and 93 for Christopher so far.  I print them out and put them in a page protector in a 3-ring binder.  It's an OK storage solution, but not ideal. 

When a friend of mine introduced me to Blurb I thought it would be nice to take those letters and turn them into an actual hardcover-bound book for each of the boys.  I decided to break the job into chunks so I've only done years 1-5 for Nicholas so far and I'm working on Christopher's first five years.  The letters are already written, but I have to cut and paste them from MS Word into Blurb.  Also, as is my nature, I make projects as difficult for myself as humanly possible, so I decided to add pictures to the left page in the book to correspond to the letter printed on the right side of the page.  Because my picture organizer has18,356 pictures in a ridiculous number of folders it's very time-consuming to choose which pictures to include.  I didn't keep track of how long it took for me to do Nicholas's first five years, but it was a very long time.  I finally finished and ordered his book.

Now I don't want to give it to him!  It's beautiful.  It's so fun to flip through various months and years and see what we were up to. And, this book only includes Nicholas's first five years!  Imagine what it will be like for Nicholas and Christopher both to see a three or four volume set of the history of their lives.  It's amazing. 

I'm working on Christopher's "first-five-years" book and I'm hoping to give them their books by the time their birthdays roll around in April. After I get Christopher's book done it's back to the drawing board for Nicholas's second-five-years book.  Christopher isn't old enough for volume two yet :)

I also have a secret hope for the books.  I'm hoping that after one of our many arguments about why I'm the meanest mother in the world and how my kids thinks it's my life's mission to make their lives miserable, they will storm off to their rooms and flop down on their beds.  They will open their books and start reading about all of our picnics in the park and trips to the zoo.  I hope they smile as they reminisce about all the times we went roller-skating or swimming or to the library.  I hope they laugh when they read about the first time they learned to ride a bike or jump off the swing. 

I'm sure they will cringe when they are reminded of our Magic Kingdom lunch at Cinderella's castle where I insisted they have photo-ops with the prince and princesses before they got too old to refuse.

After reading a few letters I hope their anger fades as they remember how much fun we really do have together.  I hope they stop muttering under their breath and realize I'm not so mean after all.  Every single letter is filled with wonderful memories and every single letter reminds them how much I love them and love being their mom.

My letters started as a way to fill in the gaps in their memories.  But, hopefully, the letters will serve a bigger purpose and fill in the gaps when saying "I love you" starts falling on deaf, angry ears but reading about how much I love them will live in their hearts forever.


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