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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Heather Von St James

This is the story of Heather von St James; a mother, a warrior, a survivor. This is her experience. These are her words. I am in awe.  You can read more about Heather on her blog http://www.mesothelioma.com/blog/authors/heather

Seeing the Best in Life

It is funny how events in life can really bring home the meaning of a phrase. Such is the case for me with the saying, "It takes a village." The phrase is typically followed by, "to raise a child", but it can have many meanings. For me, it means that sometimes it takes a village to care for a child when it's parents are in need.

My first and only child, Lily, was born on August 4, 2005. The pregnancy went relatively well and she was born healthy. I was seemingly healthy too. Our families and friends arrived and immediately surrounded us with their love. Things were great until Lily was a little over three months old. I was feeling run down. I was constantly tired and breathless. I knew this was something new mothers experienced, but I just had a feeling it was something different. I went to my doctor who, after a myriad of tests, told me i had malignant pleural mesothelioma and 15 months to live, if I did not get treatment.

All I could think of was Lily and my husband. My beautiful baby without a mom and my husband struggling to raise her alone. The treatment options for mesothelioma are grueling and harsh, but I knew I needed to do it. So, I decided to undergo the most drastic one that I had--surgery to remove my left lung and all of the surrounding tissue, chemotherapy and radiation. I was not going to be able to fulfill my duties as a new mother while all of this was going on. It turned out, that would not be a problem. My family, friends and their friends built up a village around Lily. That is when the phrase "It takes a village" hit home for me.

My husband and I went to Boston so I could get treatment and surgery while our darling daughter stayed with my parents in my childhood home of South Dakota. Not only were they helping Lily, and us, but others were helping them as well. It was amazing to see so many people there in our time of need. Lily was in South Dakota learning, growing and being loved. I was in Boston, getting pictures, making friends who were struggling like myself and reminding myself that all of the struggles were for Lily. She was in a good place and I was making sure I would live to see her grow up.

Now that my surgery, recovery and subsequent months of dufficult treatment are over and many years have passed since those awful times, I can really appreciate Lily's village and enjoy life. We know that our lives are fragile and we want to make sure we make the most of every precious second.

No matter what life throws at you, take it and run with it. Even clouds can have silver linings. Cancer is odd like that. We were hit with just about the worst news we could have got in that period of our lives. However,a lot of good came out of it and I am happy for that. I have made new friends, solidified relationships, really seen the best in people I love, and most of all, I have Lily.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Triumphant Chidren and their Patient Parents

My sweet Little Leo is such a little pain in the ass lately. And it's a different pain in the ass than he was a couple of months ago. He is better behaved, but he is suddenly helpless. Every single sentence that I begin with "Leo can you please..." is answered with "can you please help me?" Somehow, my proud, independent boy suddenly decided that he cannot get himself dressed, put on his shoes, brush his teeth, or find ANYTHING himself. It breaks his little heart when I ask do something all while I am doing those very things for his little brother and sister. I must not love him anymore if I don't want to do every single thing in the whole wide world for him for the rest of his life.

But we are getting past this. I am constantly reminding him that there are still millions and millions of things that I have to do, want to do, or am legally obligated to do every single day for many, many years to come, so if he could be a big boy once or twice a day, I would consider it a favor and love him even more, and maybe even give him some candy.

One of my first born's first sentences was "I can do it myself". It made me so proud. I was raising an independent child. A girl no less; a strong, self reliant little woman. Just what the world needs more of. Four kids later, and I can say with decent certainty that this is a phase most kids inevitably go through. The key is to make it stick.

And because I have four children, I take this responsibility VERY seriously. My life depends on it. It is just not humanly possible to do EVERYTHING for EVERYONE ALL THE TIME! I CANNOT even answer to EVERY "MOMMY" that they bombard me with daily...minutely...secondly. It would destroy me. I'm only hanging on by a thread as it is. I can't imagine how insane I would be if I answered the 50%-70% (probably more) that I ignore.

So, the second that I start to see them attempting to exert some independence, I run with it. If my 13 month old reaches for the baby wipe in my hand while I'm changing her, I don't logically assume that she just wants to eat it, I'm optimistically thinking that maybe she wants to wipe her own poop off her own butt, and I'm willing to let her try. And she may try, and THEN she will attempt to eat it. And it was still worth a try.

Their early attempts at emancipation almost always end in disaster. And they will absolutely ALWAYS create more work for me. It takes a very patient parent to foster and encourage the autonomy of a toddler. Before I had kids, I was the most patient person I knew. Now I just feel a little less crazy than one or two other really crazy people I know. But I still try to let them try most of the time.

I clean up a lot of spilled juice because I have heard the question "mommy can I please have some juice" one too many times, and now, sometimes I just flat out refuse out of protest. So they have no choice but to try and get it themselves. And I'm really ok with having to clean up the mess, as long as it means I didn't have to get the damn juice!

I frequently go out in public with at least one child who has his/her shoes on the wrong feet, because at least they did it by themselves and shaved a good thirty seconds of off the 45 minutes it takes me to get us all out of the house.

I have cleaned my share of potty training incidents because, as long as it meant that we were working towards the goal of me changing a few less diapers in a day, I was perfectly willing to give them some "privacy" on the training pottty, only to come back and find a successful attempt to poop on the potty, a very proud two year old, and a celebratory smearing of the poop all over the bathroom afterwards.

I am in a constant wardrobe war with my children's clothes because I insist some of them get themselves dressed in the morning, which for some reason seems to translate to "pull out every piece of clothing that you own and throw it on your floor and then pick out the same two pieces of clothes you wear every single day". So it's ok that I'll have to re-fold all those clothes that it took me four days to get to folding in the first place. It's ok that I'll have to sniff through all of them to sort out which ones are clean and which ones smell like my funky kids. It's ok that Leo goes to preschool in ripped pants. It's not the end of the world that Madeline went to school two days in a row in the exact same pants and sweatshirt,looking like she slept in those clothes. "It's fine Mommy, I changed my under ware." And it doesn't bother me at all that they both, frequently, wear two different socks, or that my otherwise intelligent and articulate 8 year old daughter, occasionally still puts her jeans on backwards and walks out the door (yes, I know, she sounds just like her mother). The point is, it is two less people that I have to dress every day.

On the occasionally rough morning, I applaud any child that climbed up onto the kitchen counter and snuck into the cookie jar to steal a cookie, because at least they took the initiative to get themselves breakfast without pestering me before I had ample amounts of coffee.

I have eaten many a shard of egg shell because Lennox wants to help me cook, and I've sacrificed many a beautiful flower or plant in my garden because Leo wants to help me "pull the weeds". They want to HELP ME. I would be a fool not to encourage that behavior.

I suppose if I only had one or two kids, it would be fun and cute and special to dote over them and wish for them to need me for the rest of their lives. But around here, there is simply no time for that. In this house, we are all learning survival skills. If we are going to thrive as a family, we are all going to have to learn to function as individuals, and leave Mommy the hell alone sometimes!

These are the milestones that I look forward to. I still get a huge kick out of first steps and first words. But the first time one of my kids wipes their own butt really brings a proud and thankful tear to my eye. My kids will always need me, not to do things for them, but perhaps to remind them that they can do it themselves; to tell them that they are capable and wonderful, and to smother them in hugs and kisses and love whenever I please. Otherwise, they're screwed.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Page 1

Dear Madeline, Leo, Lennox and Ginger,

Hello my muses. Now that you are all here, and I've gotten to know each of you inside and out, I'm sitting down to write you about why I write all of these stories about you.

Someday you may come looking for your baby book. You may want to know about your first word, sentence or step. And you may be heartbroken (and pissed) to find out that I never got around to some of your baby books (my poor third child is going to hate me). But then one day, when I think that you are old enough to handle the mild vulgarity and plain hard truths about my parenting and your upbringing, I will show you this collection of our journey together.

While it's true that we may never know the exact date and time that you first said "mama", we will know that you all abused the word "mommy" so much so that it made me consider not teaching it to your baby sister. We will know all about the first time one of you left my laptop outside in the rain, or the first (and hopefully only) time one of you was a bully and made a classmate cry and I then I made you cry in the middle of your softball game when I found out about it, or the first time that the fairies stole your secret candy stash because you wouldn't share, or the first time I let you use the Easy-bake-oven all by yourself.

You'll read all about how I was so determined to teach you to be independent,like trying to teach some of you to change your own diapers at 4 months old, and how that devastated you because you thought that I wanted you to do things for yourself because I didn't love you anymore. If I wanted you to learn to get yourself a snack or juice, it meant that I didn't care if you ate or not and I must have wanted you to starve or die of thirst. If I wanted you to learn how to put your own boots on, it meant that I didn't care if you got frost bite on your feet and they fell right off! But you will be proud to know that you learned very early how to do some great things (survival skills) like feed yourselves and buckle your own seat belt. I never underestimated you, not just because there were so many of you and I simply COULD NOT DO EVERY SINGLE THING FOR EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF THE DAY (although that is the biggest reason), but also because I wanted you to know what you were capable of if you really tried.

You'll hear about how Daddy and I never got married (or divorced) like all the other mommies and daddies, and you will certainly read about how very much we love each other.

You will know that we are all pretty funny. You're going laugh, even at yourselves, like when you hear about the time I asked Leo why he was smelling the television screen and he said "because I'm watching Strawberry Shortcake". And you'll probably think it pretty funny to read about the time I ran, psychotically screaming through our neighborhood, looking for one of you who was not answering when I called for you and hiding somewhere in the house, chuckling your little ass off.

You will surely get a chuckle reading about all of the times that I begged and pleaded with all of you to PLEASE help keep me sane, and how you would whole heartedly promise to try your best, and then seemingly forget all about it 5 minutes later. So you will hear A LOT about how insane you made me for many, many years (God willing). You will understand that those millions and millions of miles that I racked up "going for a run" probably saved your lives. It was not just an attempt to get back my 27 year old body (which you all stole from me by the way). Spending that one hour a day running away from you and hearing myself think is what kept me from strangling you some days. And it only took that hour to convince myself you really weren't so bad.

You'll find out some of my parenting secrets that I'm not so proud of, like how I potty trained some of you with threats of Santa Claus not bringing toys to little boys and girls who poop in their pants. You MAY discover that there were times when I considered selling one or two of you just for a moment of peace and quite,which hasn't happened yet but I feel like I've gotten close and can't make any promises.

You will know my darkest parenting moments, like when little Leo turned two and I missed it because my mother had died 6 days earlier. I was there, of course, I just wasn't there. I can't tell you anything about it, but that picture of you riding your new John Deere tractor with me standing right there watching you does vaguely ring a bell. I think I remember smiling through the tears knowing how happy that present made you.

You will hear how we made it through the rough times, like the terrible two's (and three's and four's...) and pregnancy #4 (you all barely got out of that one alive) and the teen years (which we are still a few years away from but have already started prepping for- see "Ungrateful Little Bitch"). Perhaps when we travel those rough waters together, you can write your own stories to illustrate the journey, and we can add them to mine. I want you to know that I will listen to you and that your perspective is important too. And hopefully, if you actually have to write down and document all the stupid things you do as a teenager, you won't do so many stupid things. You will also learn in these stories, that I too once thought that I knew everything and my mother knew nothing. And now I know better.

It will be painfully obvious that I was not nearly as flawless as you may have thought I was when you were 5, (although I do appreciate the pedestal), or that you were not nearly as smart as you thought you were when you were 15. But with any luck, you will know that I had all of the very best intentions, and made my very best efforts; to give you a magical childhood, to see us through it all, to love you unconditionally even through the teen years (again, God willing), to admit my mistakes and to help you learn from yours, and to always keep OUR sense of humor.

You will learn about my inner most thoughts and feelings about you; that you ARE my heart and soul...and every other fiber of my being; that this family makes me happier than anything else in the whole wide world, and is the one thing that can make me want to lock myself in the bathroom and cry a puddle of self loathing. And while you may be insulted from time to time, you are going to learn that I love you, and that every move that I have made since the moment you were born is for our family, even if that move is to get away from you for a moment.

So in reading our stories, I hope that you can forgive me for not having any sort of documentation of how much you weighed on you 3 month Dr. visit, and I hope that you enjoy the story about your first curse words at age 2, or about the "Christmas that almost wasn't" for one of you one year because that year you...sucked, or the many stories about the crazy fat bitch who was your pregnant mother. I really hope that we can all look back on her and laugh and that I haven't left you permanently scarred.

Those baby books are filled with "firsts". Our book will be filled with everything else. It will tell us where we have been, where I hoped and prayed we would all go, and how we got where we are now, today, as you begin to read our story. You are my muses. And this is our creation.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I survived winter break!


It all begins with childbirth. The only thing that gets you through the torturous hell of some evil demon trying to rip you in half is knowing that you will be meeting your little angel at any moment. When you're in the thick of it, you swear to God that you will NEVER DO THIS AGAIN! And when it's over, and you are face to face with the angelic little devil, you thank God for this little blessing and for getting you through it and for (hopefully) overlooking that
"never again" thing.

And then your little angel learns to say "mama" and it is the most angelic little sound you have ever heard. I swear I heard harps playing the very first time I heard my angels say "mama". But then "mama" becomes "mommy", and that doesn't have quite the same heavenly ring to it. Somewhere around the the 3 millionth "mommy" of the day I start to feel like I am standing at the threshold of hell. Suddenly it gets REALLY hot in here and my little angels are growing horns. With four little angel, there doesn't seen to be any gap at all between the "mommy, mommy, mommies"! I'm pretty sure that sometimes, they just say it out of habit, and if I answer, they have to think quick of something they can make me do for them. AND THEN THE SOUND OF THE THESE LITTLE DEVILS TORMENTING YOU WITH THIS ONE SINGLE WORD EVERYDAY ALL DAY HAS YOU THINKING ABOUT WRITING TO THE MILITARY AND SUGGESTING THAT THEY USE THIS TECHNIQUE AS A TORTURE TACTIC! Come 5 p.m. (and 45 million "mommies" later) on any given day of motherhood, I will break any allegiance I have ever had in return for an hour of babysitting.

Truth be told, almost any heavenly moment of motherhood really does come with a pinch of hell. This week, my children had the week off from school which meant it would be just me and the angels/devils, all alone, all day, all week. Hell. That sounds harsh, I know but there are four of them and one of me and...do I really need an "and"? But, I made it my mission for the week to not only survive, which is usually all I pray for, but to enjoy.

One day, I took my little angels bowling, along with a couple other little angels from next door. That makes 6 little angels, but who's counting (ME!). When I walked into the bowling alley, the two people working there looked at me with great confusion and pity.

"Just you with all these kids?"

"Yes just me."

"Are you all from a school or camp or something?"

"No. Four are mine and two are our neighbors. I'm pretty sure if we were from a school or camp, I would have been legally obligated to bring another chaperone along."

Right away, all hell broke lose. I tried to sit down to put my bowling shoes on and next thing I knew there were bowling balls bouncing of the floor or rolling down lanes we weren't even using, a two year old running down the lanes, boys fighting over bowling balls and dropping them on their toes, a baby crying, waiting impatiently for a bottle, and four little devils already whining about being hungry and thirsty.

And then there was the thousands of "IS IT MY TURN?!" "HEY THAT'S MY BALL." "HE'S TOUCHING MY BAAAAAL!" "I WAS GONNA USE THAT LANE!" "WHO'S WINNING?" "AM I WINNING?" "HOW COME I'M NOT WINNING!!!!!!" "I WANTED TO WIIIIIIIIIN!!!!!!!!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!"

And did I mention the broken glass?

After I loaded all of them into the car to go home, the little angels said "Thank you for taking us. That was so fun." And you know what? It was. Heavenly, even.

The next day, I took my two oldest angels skiing. It was the first time for both of them and it was the perfect day; warm and sunny. I had to lug multiple sets of skiis and poles all over the mountain, not to mention the occassional exhausted 4 year old angel who refused to rest because he was having so much fun. And again, I heard multiple, unsolicited "thank yous" and "this is so much fun!" from the angels. Heavenly!

And then we had to leave. I had to get home to relieve the babysitter who was home with the littlest angels. And the two little devils had simultaneous melt-downs that were so bad it was as if they were competing to see which one could be more evil. Leo was all at once, furious that we had to stop skiing, and so tired that he could not form a single excruciating sentence. And Madeline, who had had a wonderful day and spent the whole morning asking when we could come back again, had one bad run right at the end and was now swearing off skiing FOREVER!

"I'M NEVER SKIING AGAIN! I'M THE WORST SKIIER EVER! WHY DID YOU MAKE ME COME HERE! I HATE SKIIIIIIIIIIIING!!!! STOP CRYING LEO! YOU'RE SUCH A BABY!"

"YOU STOP CRYING MADDIE! YOU ARE THE WORST SKIIER EVER!!!!!!!"

Those first ten minutes with those evil little devils, on the ride home from our glorious, heavenly day together -pure hell.

And the next ten minutes, when both of my new little skiing angels fell fast asleep and I reflected on our day...heaven.

I could go on and on with this heaven and hell thing. In fact, I think all of my stories about motherhood reflect this. It is truly the hardest job you could ever love. But it's true what they say:

Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Anything worth having is worth fighting for.

No pain, no gain.

I often feel like my children have been possessed by Satan and are trying to throw me into the fiery pits of hell. But at the end of every day when I do that final check to make sure the little devils are tucked in nice and warm, I can always see a bright halo over their little sleeping heads (sleeping children are especially angelic). And as that painful little knot in my neck begins to loosen and my migraine begins to subside, I lay my head on my pillow feeling just a little bit like a warrior.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Baby Ginger is 1: A fresh start for an old soul

The Stork Story, (an excerpt)

You know the stork brings babies,
But did you also know
He comes and gets the older folks
When it's their time to go?...

Their memories are all removed
And they're shrunk down, and then
The stork flies them back down to earth
As newborn babes again.

~ Shel Silverstein


A few months ago, my brother Mark, shared with me, a conversation between he and his 4 year old daughter Ava;


Mark: "Do you remember Grandma Ginger?"

Ava: "I remember that she died, and now she is a little baby."

Even now, I can't type this story without tears. The thought that my mother's soul is behind my beautiful baby's eyes is...comforting. When I look at her, or say her name, or hear someone else say her name, it heals me. My heart is mending. It's not broken anymore. It's just forever scarred.

When I found out that baby # 4 was on the way, I was...surprised. I spent nine months telling myself that "I am going to have FOUR kids. FOUR. KIDS!" It made me chuckle really, at the thought of how in over my head I was about to be. But I have faith in God and the universe and I was not scared. And now, as we celebrate her first birthday, I can't believe I ever considered our family complete without her.

We have a habit of going right down to the wire choosing the perfect name for our children (having had four kids I can actually use the word "habit"). It's nerve wracking. A name will inevitably evoke something in others when they hear it. We also have a habit of honoring family names. Each of my children share at least one name with a loved one. So for at least one special someone, it evokes love and honor.

Ginger Jayne is a beautiful collaboration of my late mother, and Darren's mother. Once we found out that we were having another girl, we decided that we were going to use my mother's given name, Virginia, as the baby's middle name and had no idea what the first name would be. Then one day I was searching through my mother's cookbooks looking for the her buckey ball recipe, the candies she notoriously made EVERY year for Christmas, millions of them. Ok, probably not millions, but it seemed like they took over our lives for a few months. Eating one (out of obligation) was like pulling out a gray hair; suddenly seven more appeared in it's in place. We all grew to loath them but that never stopped her from painstakingly making them "for us". So it only makes sense that I have to continue this tradition in her honor. And I vow to do so until my children grow to loath them too and hope that one of them will do the same for their family someday, in my honor. What better way for a loved one to live on than through millions of nauseatingly sweet, chocolate covered peanut butter balls?

Anyway, while looking for this recipe, I found this one page of a journal entry from over 20 years ago. It was the very first page of my mother's new journaling venture (no doubt, a homework assignment from her therapist) and she was just introducing herself to...herself:

"I'll use my real name-my only name: Ginger. That would have been fine enough as an identity. Why they formalized the name, I'll never know. I guess it was the proper thing to do. Hence, Virginia. So unbefitting. I hated it. No one ever used it except school teachers and others who knew me not. Always an embarrassment to say it. To hear it. I am Ginger. GINGER! Short, cute and good enough."

That's when Darren and I both agreed that we preferred Ginger too, rather than Virginia. That is also the moment when we both knew that Ginger might possibly make a great first name. Darren would like full credit for pushing for this idea. He's right, he was the first to mention it, and after doing so, he looked at me and said, mockingly, "I know you think finding this journal entry is a sign or something". He was right. And I knew he did too, but he would never admit it because it's silly or something.

I loved the sound of it, but I was a bit worried about that little bit of momentary heartache that I was getting every time I heard someone, including myself, say it out loud. How long would that last? Could I handle it if it never went away? Could other's handle it? I decided that I thought I could (it was an oddly pleasant heartache after all), and hoped her other loved ones could too. (And not only have they handled it, but they cherish it.) I decided all of this within about two minutes of reading that journal entry, and it only took a few more weeks to convince that little aching piece of my still healing heart that it would be ok. Her name is Ginger.

I can't say for sure if baby Ginger is in fact the beautiful little baby version of Grandma Ginger, but I can tell you, for certain, that she is VERY happy to be here with us. She is ear to ear smile almost ALL the time. When she opens her eyes in the morning, she is beaming even before
she has lifted her little head. And all one has to do is glance at her, and she will smile in reply. She is happy.

I know my mother's regrets, the ones that matter anyway, and not the ones she un-deservingly riddled herself with. She just wanted to be "good enough" to everyone. And in the end, she may have regretted being so hard on herself. This fresh start for an old soul will always know that she is good enough...and then some. She is Ginger Jayne, and "that would have been fine enough as an identity", especially to all of us who loved her namesake. But she is indeed, "and then some". This soul, by any other name, may not have been quite as sweet.

And if it's true (and I prefer to think that it is), that I am now the keeper of the keeper of my mother's soul, I intend to make sure that that smile never goes away. I will give that soul the happy, peaceful, childhood she always yearned for. I will praise her and smother her in hugs and kisses and love. I will teach her that her imperfections are inevitable, her obstacles are surmountable and her mistakes are forgivable.

Little Ginger is one year old. She is "short, cute, and good enough" (perfect actually). She is carrying on my mother's name in her honor, and carrying my mother's soul in her eyes. And when her name is spoken, it evokes very special memories, and a very bright future.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Confessions of a shame-filled mother

I know that sometimes, it sounds like I'm complaining about some of this motherhood stuff. I am. And I have some nerve. And almost every single day when I am knee deep in diapers and tantrums and fights and juice requests and hair that I have pulled out of my head and "mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy....", I am reminded that I should be ashamed of myself.

The other day, I was picking up Leo from pre-k when his teacher told me that her (only) son is so jealous of Leo when he hears all of his stories about his brothers and sisters. He wants a brother or sister soooooo bad. "So what are you waiting for?" I foolishly asked. "I've been trying for four years." Needless to say, as I drove away, I learned that I can drive with one foot in my mouth.

Just the other day, I posted a rant on Facebook about not wanting to teach my almost one year old the word "mommy", at least for another year or two. This was an actual thought that I have had. I can't help wondering if my mental well being will remain in tact (or at least remain hanging on by a thread) when child number four begins to abuse the word like the others do. And just now, I referred to their precious little voices uttering my name as abuse. Shameful. I can't help wondering how some poor infertile woman hasn't responded to one of these mommy rants with a well deserved "shut up and count your blessings you ungrateful witch!"

I have an amazing friend who has a son with down syndrome. I have NEVER felt sorry for her, because I didn't even know about his diagnosis for nearly the first year of his life. All I knew was that she was a glowingly happy and proud mama with a sweet, happy, adorable child. They are a match made in heaven. So when I learned how truly special they really are, I couldn't help wondering if I could be as amazing, given the same opportunity.

I have another amazing friend who lost a child whom she had carried full term, very unexpectedly, and only hours after meeting her. It still takes my breath away just thinking about the pain she must have endured. I had no idea, in that moment, how she would pull through that sorrow. And now I admire her as I watch her thrive as a beautiful, happy, healing, positive and thankful mother of three. No bitterness, just a newfound strength.

And just recently, I followed, in awe, a story of a woman who had died just days after her daughter was born, as a community pulled together to honor her dying wish to have her baby thrive on breast milk for the first year of her life. When her doctors told her that her body was shutting down, she told them it was healing. She was going to die, and leave behind her four children, and was at such peace with the process, that she found it therapeutic.

I thank God for my "four beautiful blessings" every night when I say my prayers. And then I apologize for all of my shortcomings as a mother that day, and ask him for more patience to be a better mother tomorrow. I won't lie, it's challenging. One healthy child is challenging for a new mother. Four healthy children can be down right maddening, even for an old pro like myself. But when I am offered up any bit of perspective from any of these amazing ladies, I have to wonder how I got so lucky. What did I do to warrant four beautiful, healthy, happy babies without even trying when there are women out there who struggle to conceive even one?

With each of my pregnancies, I was offered the option of a test to conclude if my unborn child had down-syndrome. Each time, I declined. I would like to think that if left in God's hands, I would rise to any circumstance that he may choose to bestow upon me, with the same grace as my amazing friend. She goes through great lengths to ensure that her baby boy thrives, and here I am hoping my sweet, healthy little baby will have a slight delay in her speech development because I don't know if I can handle another 2 million "mommy" requests a day.

And while I know my other amazing friend who lost her baby has similar moments of feeling completely overwhelmed and yearns for the patience and strength to be a mother of three, I know that she would give anything to have her baby back, and be an overwhelmed mother of four.

My struggles as a mother of four stem from the good fortune I been truly blessed with. My children are healthy and strong-willed and capable. When they need something (and they ALWAYS need something) they can ask me, or they may try it themselves (and perhaps make a huge mess in doing so...BREATH...It's ok), or they can try it themselves and succeed. They are growing strong so they are ALWAYS hungry or thirsty and depend solely on me to feed them and quench their thirst which means I live in the kitchen, which thankfully connects to the laundry room where I also work full time because they are also active and fun and messy. They are smart so they are ALWAYS asking questions. They are capable so they want to learn how to ride a bike, tie shoes, roller skate, swim, play sports, read, etc. , which can be utterly exhausting and magnificently rewarding. They can speak and express themselves which can sometimes be REALLY INFURIATING and other times can melt my heart. And best of all, they are HERE, and I am HERE with them.

As parents, we worry about the millions of things that could happen to our children. I have been terrified by the very idea of facing any of the challenges these other mother's have faced. I am humbled by the incredibly admirable strength and grace with which they have faced these challenges. I am ashamed of all of my whining about having to answer to yet another "mommy" from yet another of my beautiful, healthy babies.

I am sorry.

I am blessed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas in hind sight.

It all began around 6:30 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving with a black friday crazed elf (35 It year old grown man) singing Christmas carols while yanking me out of bed to begin our Christmas shopping. I'm as eager as anyone to jump into the Christmas season, but at this particular hour, as he ripped the warm covers off of me and dragged me out of bed and held me up and made me dance to his holiday cheer, all while I was still asleep, I put him at the top of my naughty list.

A cup of coffee and a few rounds of "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" later, my holiday spirit kicked in.

I have always loved the Christmas season. And now, having four little ones to share the magic and excitement with, it's almost more joy than I can bare. I am overwhelmed with the honor of carrying on the tradition of my late mother, even if that means I have to spend days rolling millions of little peanut butter balls that many of the people I plan to share them with can barely stand the sight of them (myself included).

I do my best to explain the true meaning of Christmas to my children. I put out my mother's nativity scene and tell them the story of baby Jesus. I take them to Church and I pray that they pay attention. And while they seem to want to understand, I can tell they are distracted by yet another thing they just thought of for their Christmas list. Maybe next year.

And as some of my loved ones and our traditions have slipped away from me, I am devoted to creating new ones for my children to cherish and carry on. And in spite of my better judgment, I want one of those traditions to be utter amazement when they wake up on Christmas morning; I want to spoil them. Little Leo woke up to a present so awesome that he stood speechless for a moment and then stuttered in a little whisper, "it...it's just...what I wanted. It's...my favorite...thing. I can't believe it".

And for my retribution, I spend the next few weeks opening absurd packaging, some of which actually require a screwdriver just to open it, spend days trapped in an abyss of "some assembly required",spend several infuriating hours trying to transform Leo's Transformer that has 21 steps and I'm certain states somewhere in the ultra fine print "hahahaha good luck sucker", and spend the next year staring at toys that my children only played with once or twice before I start clearing them out for next Christmas. And it's still worth it.

I used to feel so bad for my mom and dad because Santa seemed to forget all about them. And now I am as shocked as anyone to learn that it actually is better to give than to receive.

Santa is awesome. But that naughty and nice list can be tricky. How does one threaten their child with the naughty list, knowing full well that Santa doesn't have the heart to disappoint a child on Christmas morning, even if, in all reality, said child should have made the "little asshole" list?

And how is a once sweet an innocent little 4 year old supposed to contain his excitement(hyperactivity) and joy (anxiety) at the thought of a jolly ol' man and his flying reindeer bringing him a sleigh full of anything he can possibly think of to put on his ever growing Christmas list? And when he cannot handle the pressure of the nice list or the angst of the naughty list and thus loses complete control of his behavior all together, how is mom supposed to look him in the eye and tell him Santa is watching, knowing that Santa is going to blow his mind no matter how demonic he acts, without losing all credibility as a parent?

So, needless to say, everyone made the nice list this year. And after Santa came with his haul, and mom and dad stood back to take it all in, we experienced our usual pangs of guilt at the sight of our overindulgence. But, in our defense, THERE IS NOTHING LIKE IT. There is nothing like creating a moment for your children that is so thrilling that it literally takes this ones breath away, and leaves that one speechless.

My amazing children have offered up some humbling perspective. As Madeline sat in awe at the pile of presents just waiting for her and her brothers and sisters, she said "I feel like we live in an orphanage with 50 orphans." Yes, our Christmas for our four children would have made 50 orphans very happy. Ouch.

And just yesterday, little Leo, who's behavior has been much improved since the pressures of Santa and naughty lists and little spying elves on shelves have eased, told me that he's still trying to stay on Santa's nice list, even though he does not want anymore presents, because he already got enough, "more than enough".

And of course, there are the babies, who were all together, unimpressed, and were their usual happy little selves, not because of the gifts, but regardless of them.

This was my greatest gift this year, my children and their grateful perspectives. They taught me a Christmas lesson. And in doing so, I have made it my New years resolution, or better yet, my mission as a parent and a fellow human being, to give back more, and to teach my children to do the same. We are blessed. I want them, and myself, to not only be thankful for our blessings, but to pay them forward.