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Thursday, April 10, 2014

We're Not Sleepy!

Ella and I met with the pediatric behavioral sleep doctor this week. I was prepared to hear some things that I didn't want to. Things I'd heard before, over and over, from doctors, friends, neighbors, strangers…things we've tried and things that have failed. But I went in with an open mind, willing to hear what this new doctor had to say about how to help my daughter sleep.

What he said made a whole lot of sense, and goes against everything Alex and I, and most other parents I know, have ever done when it comes to our kids and sleep.

The doctor taught me a lot about sleep. He said everything we're doing is fine, but isn't going to work for our kids. Every person on Earth needs a different amount of sleep in order to feel rested, and you can't say that because my child is x years old, she needs x many hours of sleep. The pediatricians mean well, but haven't studied sleep the way this doctor has, and what they have told me for 11 1/2 years is not right. 

Alex needs about 6 or 7 hours of sleep a night in order to function well and feel pretty rested. I need about 8 1/2 or 9. (The last time I got that much sleep was in college, but it doesn't change the fact that that is how much sleep my body really needs to feel rested) The doctor said his theory is that our four children are "short sleepers." They don't need as much sleep as we are expecting them to get. This is why Aidan and Ella gave up naps before age 2. This is why all four kids are terrible sleepers- they have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. There is nothing wrong with them, they just don't need as much sleep as the pediatrician told us they should need.

So. The doctor has a multi-faceted plan to help Ella have better sleep at night. I'm taking his plan and applying it to the boys too, because I think we can wean them off their sleepy medicine and just change our family's schedule and have all the kids be successful sleepers. Eventually.

The first thing we needed to do was have Ella pick out a flashlight. Whenever she comes to our bedroom during the night, she needs to have this with her. If she forgets it in her room, she has to go back and get it. There are some other things we have to do too, to make coming to see us at nighttime a little more not-so-fun. But Ella is always welcome to come to us if she needs us. This alleviates her anxiety. 

The doctor also said to talk with each of our kids and see if there is anything in their rooms that freaks them out at night, and then get rid of that thing. I've already done this, so I knew there wouldn't be any big surprises in this department. But what completely cracked me up was when I asked Aidan if anything in his room freaked him out at night that we should take out, he replied "Ella." Silly boy.

The other big thing we have to do is, at least temporarily, forget about bedtime. We have to find out how much sleep each child needs. They all have to get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Moving back bedtime does not mean that they will sleep later. Moving back bedtime means they will have a sort of "power sleep"- their time in bed will be shorter and their quality of sleep will be more intense and better. Their bodies will adjust and, hopefully, stop waking during the night. 

So we took away the tiny dose of Melatonin that helps Ella fall asleep by around 7:30. We just let her stay up as long as she wanted to. We wanted to see what time her body naturally wants to go to sleep. The doctor talked with Ella about the plan too, and boy did she listen. So last night when all four kids were up during the time Alex and I usually get to have grown up time and finally do what we want to do, and Mama wasn't too happy because I also had a migraine, I muttered several times "I'm not so sure about this 'fantastic' new plan." With her hands on her sassy little hips, Ella piped up "HE said I can stay up as LATE as I want!" 

yep. he sure did. thanks a lot mr. "doctor." 

This week I cut the boys' sleepy meds in half. I explained to the family what we're going to be doing. We agreed it would be a little weird for a while. And there have to be rules so that Daddy and I can still watch grownup shows and hang out by ourselves. But there won't be pressure to go to bed for a while, until we figure out how much sleep each body really needs. Everyone whooped and hurrayed and thought this was a super idea. (Everyone except Tired Mama.)

Aidan has been falling asleep around 8:30 instead of 7. Ben is groggy by 8:30 but feels he should make full use of his new freedom and stay up as late as he can. By 9, he is tired and grumpy. He said he didn't like the new way of going to bed 'whenever'. I laughed and said he can go to sleep earlier, he just chose not to! Jonah usually goes into his room at 9, and relaxes by himself--awesome. He also told me he didn't like this new way of doing things. Getting used to change takes a little time.

Little Miss Ella just keeps puttering around, every night, while her brothers fall, one by one, to sleep. She's been going to sleep anytime between 8:45 and 9:45. Waking once during the night, and then waking around 5:30 or 6am. Not too bad. We're tracking her sleep so we have data to bring to the doctor in a couple weeks. Then we'll move on to more steps in the plan.

When I'm presented with something that someone I trust says will help my kids, I jump right on board. As long as I trust that person. Sometimes I have trusted doctors and they have been wrong. But I'm choosing to wholeheartedly trust this sleep doctor, do what he says, and see what happens. We've done a lot of 'interesting' and 'unique' things on our Special Needs Path, but this sleep thing is probably one of the more uncomfortable ones for me. On the one hand, it gives our family freedom. Freedom to relax, be together without the pressure of getting everything done and everyone to bed by a certain time. I like that. 

But on the other hand, Alex and I have spent 11 years doing bedtime a certain way, so it's hard to do something so totally new. When you start your parenthood journey by having multiples, you quickly learn if you are a Schedule Mama or not. For many things, I'm an easy-peasy-flowy Mama. We go with the flow, no structure. But for other things, like bedtime, I'm a Schedule Mama. And I hate letting the control of the schedule go.

But I will do my best because this doctor, who I am deciding to trust, tells me this will work to make my kiddos happier and healthier and less anxious and better sleepers. So I leapt on board. We'll see how the Sleep Journey goes. Hopefully this doctor will be right.

Monday, March 31, 2014

From Poop To Cameras...

Sometimes this life of ours just makes me laugh. And want to punch myself in the face out of frustration. How can nothing go smoothly? How can nothing be easy?

Here's an example. A couple weeks ago, I was getting ready to take Ella in for her overnight sleep study. I was packing our bag, getting her ready, all the while staying calm and not letting my nerves show so that Ella would see it was nothing to worry about and Ben would see it would be ok that I was gone for the night. At one point he said he didn't want me to go because what if something happened to me overnight or I died? I laughed and said "Ben! I will be at the hospital!! I'll be safer than any of you!!" That made him smile.

So I'm getting ready. Things are crazy. The kids are crazy and there's just chaos everywhere. Then I let the dog in from being outside and see that he has poop stuck in his long hair. Poop everywhere. Some still in his tushy, and most just all over his fur everywhere. 

Seriously? Right now, you need to pull this, Ollie?

So I held Ollie butt-first in the sink while Alex worked to free the dog from his poop explosion. We were basicly successful. But I was all wet and poopy, so in the little time we had left at home, I had to add a shower and change of clothes to my To Do List. Thanks Ollie. Really needed that.

Last week Ella had an eye exam as part of her preparation for entering Kindergarten in the Fall. The doctor dilated her eyes and we putzed around for a very long time in the waiting room. When the doctor looked into Ella's eyes, she sat there looking for a really long time. I started to worry. 

The doctor said that the nerves in Ella's eyes are asymmetrical and some are thicker than others. She asked about our family's eye history. She asked about glaucoma. I started to worry more. Something in the back of my memory jingled, and I told the doctor I've heard her say this before, but I can't remember which kid it was that she said it about. She said she'd look at the boys' charts and see if any of them have this problem too.

The doctor called me later and told me none of the boys have the same issue that Ella does. While we were on the phone, I said I think I remember her saying this about Ella's eyes a couple years ago. She said she hadn't had Ella's full chart at the exam, so she looked at it. Sure enough, it was Ella who had this same issue two years ago at her last eye exam. The doctor said this made her feel better, but that Ella should still come back in two years for another exam. We may need to take baseline measurements, she said. 

I asked my normal Mommy Triage Question: What should I watch for that would indicate there is some kind of problem with Ella's eyes? The doctor disappointed me by saying there is nothing I will notice that would tell me there is a problem. I hate that. I hate heart and eye and brain problems because I can't see the changes with my eyes and I don't know when something is wrong. I can't control it and I don't like it. 

The doctor also said Ella's eye issues could be from her prematurity. All three boys escaped any long-term effects on their eyes from being born so early. I guess we had to have one that would have eye issues.

So now there's that to add to my Kid Bible of symptoms, diagnoses, exam results, etc. Plus the fact that we found out after Ella's sleep study that she's allergic to latex. 

At what point does a Mama's brain become just plain overcrowded and refuse to remember any more information about her kids?

Ben has an old camera that my dad picked up at a garage sale for me a couple years ago. Ben loves this camera. He takes it outside all the time and takes pictures of nature. Birds. Fences. Whatever. He wanted to bring the camera, in its big bulky case, with us to Florida on our Spring Break trip last week. For weeks before the trip he talked about it. For weeks I strongly discouraged it. The day of the trip, he dug in his heels and said he MUST TAKE THE CAMERA. So we talked about how he would be responsible for it the entire trip. No one else was going to carry it in airports. No one else was going to do anything with it. It would be Ben's responsibility, and Ben's alone. He agreed to all my terms. So into the luggage pile the camera went.

He didn't use it once on our trip. 

But he did responsibly cart it through airports and into taxis and out of taxis and on elevators, without complaining. So all went well. 

Until the plane ride home. 

I don't know who put that stupid camera in the overhead bin, but one of us did. And then one of us forgot to get it back out at the end of the flight. I didn't realize it was missing until we had all our luggage from baggage claim, and I felt something was missing. I realized with total DREAD that it was Ben's camera that was missing. This kind of thing can completely obliterate any sense of normal functioning Ben might be feeling. He can melt down in the blink of an eye if there is something like this to spark his devastation. 

I told Ben we had forgotten his camera. Long story short, the camera was located on the plane, brought to Lost and Found, Grandpa drove back to the airport the next day to get it, and brought it to Ben the day after that. Problem solved. But Ben was still completely devastated. The camera wasn't in his possession NOW. It was out of sight, which means the problem was not solved. It didn't matter that Ben would have his camera back in two days, thanks to Grandpa and a flight attendant. So boy oh boy did we have a tough ride home from the airport after that. 

Sometimes Mommy just can't fix things. Sometimes Life trumps Mommy. I hate that. 

There are so many times when I just have to laugh about this crazy life. It's definitely interesting, and makes for a good story. Someday. A long time after the wave of rages and disappointments and stress has receded. 

Sleep Study

Ella recently had a sleep study. It was our first experience with a sleep study, despite the fact that all our kids have sleep problems. I think I should have gotten the boys sleep studies, but at the time we didn't look at that as an option. The medication they take allows them to all get a restful night's sleep, so we felt the problem was, at least temporarily, solved. 

I finally convinced the pediatrician that there is something wrong with the way Ella sleeps, or doesn't sleep. Something abnormal and weird. She has pretty crazy twitches while she sleeps. She can't get to sleep. She can't stay asleep. Sometimes she is up at 3 am-- for the DAY! It's not that she's trying to be pesky. She tries so hard to fall back to sleep but she just can't sometimes. She's chronically fatigued. She is frequently irritable and tearful and clingy and anxious- things that weren't part of her personality before. Her sensory issues are magnified and troublesome to her. We need some help. Everything I've tried isn't working.

There have been amazing things we've tried along the way. Ella hasn't slept well for several years, so we've tried a LOT of things. Our OT has given us such incredible things to try. We've done energy work with Ella. I've tried using essential oils. She still gets brushed, which helps her overall mood a lot. We do baths in Himalayan pink bath salts, which are supposed to help clear negative energy. We do tapping, or EFT. Of course we have a bedtime routine. And we've used a weighted blanket. We've tried so many things. Nothing helps.

I'm always honest with my kids about doctor's appointments. They know that if they ask if something will hurt, I will tell them the truth. Sometimes I want to just lie and say "Nope! Nothing will hurt!" as I'm trying to wrangle eight little arms into coats and herd eight little legs out the door and four little butts into carseats. I know if I lie things would go smoother, at least until we get to the doctor's office. I know if I lie, I won't have to stuff a hysterical child, or four, into the car and make them promise they will not unbuckle themselves while en route to the dreaded appointment. But I made myself and my kids a promise- that I will be honest with them about appointments and pain. They all have so many appointments of so many kinds, I feel like it's only fair to them to give them honesty so they know what will happen at any given appointment.

So Ella asked if anything would hurt at this sleep study appointment. I looked her in the eyes, and I told her nothing will hurt. They will stick silly wires all over you, and then the two of us get to have a Girl's Sleepover at a special hotel room. It'll be weird, but nothing will hurt. 

Even though Ella is young, she knows I tell her the truth. So she believed me. As the technicians were putting sticky stuff and wires all over little Ella, I could see the struggle in her eyes. She was scared, but she believed me that nothing would hurt her. She didn't cry even once! I was so amazed and proud of her.

Sticking all those wires to her was quite an ordeal, and by the time they were done it was almost 10pm. Ella was tired. She laid down and the techs talked to us from behind their magic wall. We had a tech who was training and her supervisor. The tech who was training told Ella she was going to give her some directions to follow. The tech said "Look to the left without moving your head." Uh, she's four. Maybe some 4-year-olds could easily do what the tech said, but at 10 pm when you're freaked out and tired, and the stranger behind the wall is talking really fast and you're in a weird hotel room, that's too much to process. So I translated for Ella. "Don't move your head, and move just your eyeballs to look at the door" I said. The training tech said she had never had a patient this young, and that was a little bit obvious. The crazy thing was she never got the hang of talking to a little one. I think that tech needs a little more training. 

After the techs left us alone, we read a couple books and Ella fell asleep in no time. She did everything normally, which I was glad of. She jerked her limbs. She twitched like crazy. She woke up during the night. She fell back to sleep.

At 5am, the training tech came in and said loudly "Good morning! Can I turn on this light?" And she flipped the switch to turn on the fluorescent overhead lights. I covered Ella's eyes so she wouldn't be blinded. The supervisor came in and exclaimed "What are you doing? Are you trying to kill them??" He flipped off the horrible lights and turned on a lamp. Sheesh. A little more training is definitely needed. They took all the wires off Ella and we were on our way. We stopped for a donut on the way home. We deserved it. Ella was tired but I was EXHAUSTED. I didn't sleep much, worrying about Ella all night.

The day after the sleep study, Ella's skin started erupting. Everywhere she had had a wire stuck to her with adhesive, she broke out in an angry, ferocious red rash. All over her sweet little face. Her chin, neck, back, behind her ears. It was horrible. I tried all my Mommy Tricks to make her feel better but nothing worked. After a couple days of that misery, I took her to the pediatrician who said she has contact dermatitis. I said yeah, I know. I Googled it. We got stronger meds. I called the sleep clinic to see if they have latex in their adhesives, to find out whether Ella is allergic to that. Sure enough, there is latex in the adhesives. Ella is allergic to the adhesive on bandaids, but I hadn't even thought she would be allergic to all adhesives. I felt so badly for her. I'll have to remember this so it doesn't happen again. One kid with a latex allergy- check. One more thing for Mama to remember.

We met with the doctor last week to get the results of the study. The doctor said Ella had a good sleep study, and that her sleep is normal. What?!? I was so shocked, I didn't even argue with her. How can it possibly be normal? So our next step is to meet with the pediatric behavioral sleep doctor to figure out what else we can do to help Ella sleep. I know some of her problems at night have to do with her separation anxiety, but really, all that twitching cannot be normal. 

The adventure continues...

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Glitter Poop and Gluey Lips

I just banished my children to the basement to play. They have been loud and exuberant and hyper for hours now. Away they go to where Mommy can't hear them quite as clearly.

You wouldn't believe the crazy things that have happened in this house lately. One night I was making dinner. Aidan and Ella were taking turns wrapping each other's heads in toilet paper, including their eyes, and leading each other around the house declaring they were mummies. It was all fantastic fun until Aidan accidentally led Ella The Mummy into the corner of the wall, nose first. That ended the mummy game.

One evening as I was doing dishes, I noticed Ella was being very quiet in the other room where she was doing an art project. I went in to check on her, and she was applying a nice, thick coat of purple glue stick to her lips. That girl is addicted to lipstick, and apparently couldn't contain her enthusiasm for all things lipsticky when she was alone with her glue stick. She said through her stuck-together lips "Mi'm sommy mommy." 

While I was cleaning Ella's gluey lips off, Ollie the dog decided to eat a bunch of the glittery stickers Ella had been using to do her art project. I'm on the lookout for glitter-speckled poop in the back yard. Today he also decided it was a good idea to eat Ella's Chef Boyardee ABC's and Meatballs. His beard is now orange. He is getting a bath tomorrow.

One afternoon this week as I was upstairs putting laundry away, I hear Jonah shriek and yell my name. Great, I thought, what now. Jonah had stapled right through his finger. He had pulled the staple out, but was bleeding. Luckily Dr. Mom was on duty. Why don't my dear children think before they do something like staple their fingers?

Today Jonah stabbed the roof of his mouth with his curly straw. I don't know how this even is possible, but leave it to my son. Blood everywhere. Again.

I was going to put up some pictures on the wall next to my side of the bed this week. Until I noticed that one of my little artists had already decorated it for me. With swirls of thick chapstick. And glow-in-the-dark stickers. And boogers. I'm not kidding. All over my wall. What child thinks that combination is a good one??

Then there's always Ben's Knot Socks. One of his compulsions is to tie the ends of his socks into knots. Then bite them until they are tight and impossible to untie. These are not clean socks, by the way, they're the ones he's worn all day. I find Knot Socks all over the house. I have tried everything I can think of to deter him from making Knot Socks. I bought tighter socks but then he can hardly get his feet into them and fusses about that and then I have to help him put his socks on even more frequently than I already normally do and that annoys me and I can't get his feet in the tighter socks either, so I gave up that idea and gave the tight socks to Aidan who has thin little fish feet. I have to throw away the Knot Socks. You just can't get them undone. When I have convinced my darling to not make Knot Socks, he chews his shirts to shreds. Or cuts them with scissors. What is wrong with this child? I got Ben and Aidan all kinds of really cool chewy things, but they would rather chew on their shirts, dirty socks, and nails. 

Speaking of nails, Aidan has a compulsion to cut things too. Especially his own hair and nails. We keep scissors out of the way because of this, but nail clippers seem harmless and I'm happy that I only have to trim Ella's nails now because the boys all do their own. Or bite them until there is nothing left to trim. Aidan clips his nails in order to relax. The other night he was screaming bloody murder because he had accidentally clipped his big toenail too low and it was bleeding. That was a lesson in what happens when you cut too much off of your finger and toenails! 

Meanwhile, Ella continues her nightly Mama-wake-up calls. She has the sniffles, which makes her nights worse. I usually sleep with her for a couple hours in the middle of every night, then sneak back to my room, then she sneaks into our bed and keeps me up the rest of the night. One night this week Ella came into our bed to sleep. I use the term "sleep" loosely. She laid in our bed and begged to watch Sponge Bob for 2 1/2 hours. And sneezed all over me the entire time. I can't figure out why I'm exhausted and have a cold…

Sometimes this life is really a circus. And you really just have to laugh. Because when you think of all the little crazy things that happen in a week, it's pretty hilarious. I think the common theme is that Mama should never turn her back for a single second. When I turn my back, fingers get stapled, glue is applied as lipstick, boogers are applied as art, and the dog ends up with glittery poop.

Mama Love

Our Valentine's week has been one full of heart break for the boys. One day, Jonah was home from school because he was sick. At one point, he was very upset because he felt so sick he was afraid he was going to miss school on Valentine's Day. And he was upset because the school doesn't do any parties or celebrations of Valentine's Day. (So I'm not sure why he was distraught, because he really wasn't going to miss anything anyway, but I just played along.) I assured him if he was sick, we were going to have our own family Valentine's party at dinnertime anyway, so the day would not go unnoticed. That made him feel better.

That same day, Aidan walked in the door from school and before he could even undo his 7 layers of winter clothing and backpack items, he dissolved into tears in my arms. He was weeping against my heart, just weeping as only Aidan can do. When he cries sometimes he is so deeply sad, you can feel it radiating from his every pore. I thought wow, this is going to be a doozy. I finally convinced him to tell me what was wrong. He said he has NEVER won a raffle at school. And that makes him so so sad. Poor boy. We talked about how sometimes you don't win. And you have to find a way to be ok with that. And then I had to modify my lecture to include "sometimes you NEVER win" so he would feel I was really hearing him about his distress in NEVER winning.

That same day, Ben walked in the door from school. And before HE could undo his considerably fewer layers of winter clothing and binder (he's in middle school now- apparently warm clothes and backpacks are just. not. cool. It's better to freeze to death and cart around all your school stuff in a big, busting-open binder.), he literally dissolved into a pool of angry tears on the entry-way rug. I hugged him and asked him what was wrong with HIM. He said the activity at school that he had been very excited about was terrible. The 6th grade class had participated in an Iditarod race similar to the dog sled race in Alaska, only our kids got to take turns riding in a sled and pulling the sled around a marked course. Ben had been over the moon about doing this, so I was surprised that he was so upset about it.

Ben said that he had been so slow. His team had yelled at him the whole time to go faster, or they would loose because of him. He went as fast as his little legs would take him, helping to pull the sled over snow, but it wasn't fast enough. He was completely exhausted physically and mentally and emotionally. Totally spent. It had been a devastating experience for him and I was so sad for him. His body hadn't let him do what he wanted to do, and he was so disappointed. 

Some things Mama can't fix. So all I could do was snuggle up with Ben and Ella in our "Red Chair" and try to undo Ben's angst with Mama Love that poured into him as we hugged. All I could do was to hug Aidan through his tears and give him Mama Love too. And hold Jonah as he worried about Valentine's Day and give him Mama Love too. Sometimes all a Mama can do is be there.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I've always wanted to be a mom. Always. And I always wanted to be the kind of mom who talks to her kids about anything. Any questions they have, I would tell them the truth. I would teach them the correct names for body parts- no "woowies" and "flub dubs" at our house. Only the right names. Knowledge is power.

I expected to talk to my kids about the dangers of drugs and drinking. Peer pressure. Drinking and driving. Sex. Puberty. Religion. Their diagnoses. IEP's. Death. Anything they have questions about, I was prepared to discuss. Parents help shape their children's view of right and wrong, the world, themselves. I know it's important for me to tell my kids what my views and opinions are so they have that knowledge, and as they grow can make their own decisions about things.

With my kids, I always walk on the side of caution when giving them information. I want them to have correct information, but not too much info that they're overwhelmed and developmentally not ready for the overload. I want to make sure they're mature enough to handle the information. I try to answer just their questions, without launching into a monologue of facts that they aren't really wondering about. When one of my boys asked about armpit stink, he wasn't asking for the whole Birds and the Bees talk, he was just asking why bodies change. I listen carefully to the question the kids are asking before I answer.

When one of the boys mentioned condoms while talking with his grandparents, I had to explain that condoms were not just used as water balloons on You Tube, and that it's not socially appropriate to talk about birth control with grandparents in the way he did. When my 7-year-old asked "What is ejaculation?" and his older brothers snickered with embarrassment and Daddy said "Ummmmmm..." and looked at me, I took a deep breath and launched into the explanation. Even this, I expected. Is it uncomfortable at times? Yes. But I just deal with it and talk about everything like it's no big deal (which really makes Daddy squirm, much to my amusement), just a fact of life that the kids are wondering about. My hope is that they feel they can come to me anytime, about anything, always.

Then there are things that I never in a million years thought I'd have to talk to my kids about in order to prepare them for life.

We've talked about how if the kids see a real gun at a friend's house, they are supposed to come right home. Don't touch the gun, don't play anymore, just come home and tell me. 

We've had to talk about why my 2nd grader's school had to have a lockdown. It was terrifying for him. Everything turned out safely, but the kids don't know why they need to huddle and be silent while the lockdown is happening. I used to pass schools and have a sense of warmth in my heart. All good things happen in schools. You learn there, you make friends there, you grow there. Sure, there are hard assignments and trouble with peers, but overall, it's a place that helps you grow and nurtures you. Now I pass schools and get a sense of the ominous, troubled people who might be inside, or outside, that might cause pain or death. I worry when my kids go to school about what will happen to them that day- will they do ok on a test, will they be teased because they have tics, will they remember to bring their book home, will they eat at least a little bit for lunch, will someone go crazy and try to shoot them? What is happening to this world when that is what you think of when you put your kids on the school bus in the morning?

Last week we heard about an 11-year-old boy who attempted suicide because of how much he was being bullied at school for liking a toy that is considered by many a "girl" toy. Ben and Jonah had heard about this boy and we were talking about it. I told them if they are ever bullied or teased for anything, they have to tell me or Dad. Nothing is worth dying over. The boys were sort of giggling because I was so serious about all of this. I finally said to them, with tears in my eyes, that I can imagine what it must be like for this little boy's mom and dad. I can imagine what it must be like to have a little boy who wants to die instead of deal with the hell that is his life every day. I told them this is serious. Don't you EVER commit suicide. TELL me what is happening and we will do every single thing in our power to help you and make you whole again. There is nothing you can't tell me. I will always be here for you, I will always walk to the ends of the Earth to help you. If you ever hear a friend say they want to kill themselves, it's your responsibility to tell a grownup, because you may save your friend's life. If you ever feel like hurting yourself, please please please just tell me. I will help you. 

The boys became serious and promised they would tell me if they ever needed help. 

This is not something I planned to have to ever talk to my children about.

But some families do have to talk about this kind of thing. The boys have a mood disorder. Tourettes. ADHD. Anxiety. Depression. One of them can be very angry. When he is raging, he is not thinking. What if he tries to hurt himself during a rage? One of them is very depressed. What if he just feels he has fallen so deep into his hole of darkness that nothing is worth living for? 

There are things that I don't want to talk to my kids about because I feel like if I utter certain words, then those dark, haunting, horrible things become a reality. If I talk to my 11-year-olds about suicide, then it's real that a boy their age tried to kill himself. If I talk to my 8-year-old about his lockdown at school, then it becomes a reality that there are crazy people out there who try to hurt innocent babies while they're at the one place they should be the safest. 

It would be easy for me to let my own anxiety control my life. I always say to Alex I want to move to somewhere where there is no one else around. No danger of people shooting you while you learn your ABC's. No danger of being bullied because you like a "girl" toy. I don't think there actually is a place like this, but I wish there was. I wish I could keep my kids all in my house, safe, until...I don't know when. Until the world is safer, I guess.

I realize that will never happen. There is danger everywhere, there are accidents that just happen, there is sadness. My exuberance for life will not let my anxiety for my children win. Even though there are crazy people and crazy things in the world, there are so many more incredible, amazing things. Just the fact that we're all alive and here and can make a difference- big or small- in someone else's life, that's a gift. 

So I just try to deal with the Kid Questions as they come. As we experience life together, I answer their wonderings as best I can, knowing my answers, like me, aren't perfect. But I just try my best. I let them know that in Real Life, bad things do happen. But good things happen too. 

When you think about all the things I've had to talk to the kid about, suddenly talking to them about sex doesn't seem so bad.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grandma's Magic Lamp

My brother got Grandma and Grandpa's Magic Lamp after they passed away. This is huge. And I'm a little jealous, I have to admit. My brother offered me joint custody of said lamp, but I decided it would be silly to cart a little old lamp on a two hour drive once a month. Right? Grandma had two of these Magic Lamps, so I think a cousin got the other one. Cousins, you've been warned: I may need joint custody of your lamp also.

So here's the deal. When you're a missionary kid, a "Third Culture Kid" (TCK) you live a different kind of reality than many other people. From the time you are a child, you see the world in a different way. Your eyes, your soul, have been opened by suffering you have seen. You know that it's a little insane to have 372 brands of shampoo in one aisle in one store, when many people who live in your village in Africa would be lucky to choose from 2 brands. Or even have a store in their village. Or even a shower. You understand the world on a bigger scale than people who have been lucky to live in the same place for a long time. It's not good or bad to be a TCK, or someone who has spent their whole life in one place. It's just the way it is. Wherever and however you grow up shapes you to be who you are today. My brother and I are missionary kids. That shaped us to be who we are. And to marvel at the crazy, amazing things America has. And to never take the magic of this life for granted. Especially the Magic Lamps.

Our family came back from Africa about every two years for a furlough in the States. We would see our extended family. We'd stock up on clothes and other items you couldn't get in Africa for the next two years that would be shipped out in barrels. We would see snow during those America Months. We would go to American schools (Not so fun, by the way). We would get to have ice cream that didn't taste like cockroaches! We got to watch TV whenever Mom and Dad let us! We actually had a TV! And electricity! Crazy and amazing. 

But I don't know if anything was as crazy and magical as Grandma's lamps.

Grandma's lamps turned on if you just TOUCHED the lamp stand!!! You didn't have to flip a switch. You didn't have to turn a knob. You just touched the lamp and POOF on it went. You could touch it with one finger, a couple fingers, your whole hand, or even your foot. And it would come on. So first, my brother and I had to come to terms with the fact that Americans have electricity ALL day EVERY day, and they can have lamps on whenever they want! Crazy and amazing. Add to that the magic of the lamps in Grandma's guest bedroom, and it was lucky we didn't have a stroke from amazement. 

I remember we would fly to Grandma and Grandpa's house from Africa. It was a long, long trip with a lot of airplanes. When we would get there, they would pick us up at the airport and drive us to their house. I remember just being completely flabbergasted because of how many lights there were in the middle of the night- car lights, street lights, stop lights, restaurant lights, gas station lights...crazy. And amazing. And overwhelming. 

I remember laying in one of Grandma and Grandpa's guest bedrooms, trying to get to sleep, and hearing cars zoom by on  the street outside. That is not a sound I heard in Africa. First, there was only one dirt road in our little village- you took it into or out of town. There were about three cars in the whole place too. So there was no zooming of cars outside your window while you slept, and if there was they wouldn't make the same sound because the roads weren't paved. I loved the sound of Grandma's guest rooms. I loved the sound of outside the house. The cars going by. I loved watching the light bounce from the cars' headlights, cutting my dark room in half with brightness through the curtains. 

I have two favorite sounds, besides the obvious ones like my children's laughter, silence when the house is asleep, etc. My first favorite sound is rain. I know, I know, everyone says "Oh, rain is my most favorite sound." It's so cliche. But I'm talking about a different kind of rain sound. In Africa we had a metal roof, so you could hear every little leaf that dropped on it. An African thunderstorm in the middle of rainy season was quite an event to hear! You could also hear all the lizards running across the roof while you were trying to sleep, that was always fun and relaxing. Not. But I love the sound of rain. I'm always mad when it rains here because the sound is so muffled on our nice, insulated roofs. Give me a metal roof and I'd be a happy girl.

My second favorite sound is when I'm in my cozy, warm house and I hear a snow plow go by. Again, not many of those where we lived in Africa-- two blocks from the Equator. I don't know what it is, but I love that sound of plows. It makes my heart swell with happiness and joy. 

There are so many interesting and magical things about everyone's childhood, and mine is no exception. But the thing that always epitomized America, Grandma and Grandpa, coming "home," were Grandma's lamps. My brother and I would argue over who got to sleep in the Magic Lamp Room. We would sit for a long, long time, turning those lamps on and off. 

One thing about being a TCK that's a really big bummer is that sometimes you can't go back to the home you grew up in. I grew up in Central African Republic and Cameroon, places that are tormented today by violence and civil unrest. I can never return to my childhood home. That is a hard thing to know, that you can't take your husband to your old home, you can't show your kids where you grew up. It makes me long for Africa when I think about how I can't go back, it'll never be the same. That time and that place are gone and the only people who really know what my life was like are the people who shared it with me. Telling someone what it was like when I grew up in Africa doesn't do it justice.

Which is why I'm so glad that my brother got Grandma's Magic Lamp. I'm glad I get to visit my brother and sister-in-law, and sit in their guest bedroom and touch that Magic Lamp and remember the magical moments of my childhood. There are very few things that I can hold onto and say "This is from when I grew up." But that Magic Lamp is one of them. So, my brother, when I disappear into your guest bedroom for a while, know that I'm loving the memories that come back with one touch of Grandma's Magic Lamp.