Monday, December 5, 2011

The Party is Here

Today my Bean is 23 months old. This is the last month I can name her age by months without someone thinking I'm a bit silly, but I may just do it to keep her my baby a little longer. Of course, she is blasting through this baby business lately and I am seeing a determined, confident little girl starting to appear. At mother's day out, they always say "the party is here" as she runs down the hallway to her class waving and saying hi to everyone along the way. A friend of mine says "This is Bean's world. We are just visiting."

And they are right. Bean is a beautiful child. (I have no qualms in saying this since we don't share DNA.) I see how strangers turn to look at her and how she lights up any room she walks into with a happy energy. She rarely meets a stranger and while she loves all the attention, she is also ready to "He'p" someone who is hurt or to ask if someone is "Okay." And each time I see her in action I think "don't mess this up, Julie." I have never felt so terrified as I do thinking about her future. I know all too well some of the things that can really hurt a girl's spirit. I am still putting pieces of myself back together years later. I so want to protect her from the bumps and heartaches of growing up, all the while knowing that is just part of it. But is it too much to hope for a few bumper pads to cushion the blow?

Raising a girl in this "modern world" is tricky business. I believe whether a girl is deemed beautiful or plain, girls are expected to be a long list of juxtapositions: soft but strong, kind but tough, smart but relatable, trusting but cautious, friendly but not inviting, safe but daring, mainstream but creative, etc. And don't get me started on how horrible girls can be to each other (at age 9 or at 40!)

And while i know I cannot control the future, I pray that somehow my life experience will prevent her from having to learn too much the hard way. I pray that her happy energy is not squelched by hard knocks along the way. I pray she can hang on to the self-confidence and loudly proclaim "Hello world! It's my party, glad you came, now get out of my way so I can lead!"

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Messy Confessions

I have been so irritated with our home lately -- less storage, smaller rooms, etc. It was just barely enough house when Jeff and I moved here three years ago. We downsized and still ended up having to rent a storage room for some family antiques. Then we added Bean and her collection of toys and tutus has us bursting at the seams. For decades, families had a lot more people in a lot less space and one bathroom behind the house, but they had a lot less STUFF.
So lately, I have been convinced that if I had more storage and larger rooms (not to mention a maid) that I would be a much better housekeeper. Seriously, how is that as a stay-at-home-mom with less house to maintain that I do a worse job of it than when I worked and had more house?

But then I made this list:

True confessions:

  • I am the child of two "stackers". (My father's home office was a mound of paper and my mom's trick for getting ready for company is to dump it all in baskets or make neat piles.)
  • I had few chores as a child. (My father had so many chores on the farm when he was a kid that he was way too easy on what my brother and I were required to do around the house.)
  • I hate to pick up. (When I was about 11, my mom went back to work and we had a maid once a week and I recall having to do a mass pick up to get ready for the maid. That seemed so weird -- cleaning up for the maid.)
  • I was a very messy kid. (I still have a book my mom bought me called The Big Clean-Up to encourage me to keep my room clean. It didn't work.)
  • I have been known to step over something 10 times before I will bend over and pick it up.
  • At home, I am lucky if I can find my keys much less my favorite book or that watch I am still missing.
  • My creative brain can be highly tolerant of chaos and rejects routine.
  • I have trouble putting something back in the same place twice, but in jobs I am able to be very organized unless things get really stressful at which point my desk disappears.
  • I sleep in a nest of 3-4 pillows.
  • I appreciate my family heirlooms.
  • I love to see photos of my friends and family on my table.
  • I enjoy my art and collectibles.
  • I tend to keep quirky things that bring back memories.
  • I save pieces of ribbons, buttons, and cool paper to use in art projects.
  • I find it difficult to throw away good cardboard, an old spiral, or the piece that I am not sure what it is but I may need it later.
  • I always end up needing the one thing I finally sold, gave away, or threw out.
  • I have boxes of clothes from when I was a baby that Jilly has gotten to wear and I love that.
  • I have my mom's prom dress.
  • I have my prom shoes.
  • Trust me, my husband has just as much stuff!
Oops. There it is. The problem isn't the house. In college, my freshman roommate told me during a fight over decorating our room that I lived in a lot of space. Funny how that stuck with me, but as you can tell from the list above, it is true.

I found this entry in an old journal blog which reminds me why we bought the size home we have and what our goal was for living here. It is good to remember this when I have spent the last few days lamenting the wisdom our choice:

July, 2008: Jeff and I came to an agreement tonight that we wanted to make some changes in our life that buying a larger, more expensive home wouldn’t help us do. Sure, we can afford a house on the lake, but do we want to be slaves to a house payment and then never home to enjoy it? We’d like a little slower pace of life and time to enjoy it. If we buy a little away from the lake, but close enough to get there, we may actually be able to afford for me to stay home and start our family. At age 40, that dream is getting a little more time-sensitive, so if we are going to make this type of life change, the time is now.

And it was the right choice. We adopted Jillian in 2010. I am home with her. I am grateful for both of those things. My mantra needs to be "We have enough." Because we do. In fact, we have more than we need. I need to accept what I have as a gift and figure out a way to be happy with where I am planted.

Which leaves me addressing the stuff. How do we make a life for ourselves in the present if we are bogged down by the stuff of our past and overwhelmed by the stuff gathering as part of our future? I have friends that tell me just to get rid it. Take a photo of what you love and then the item is not taking up space. I have been giving away and selling stuff, but it is hard to let go (see above confessions) when I don't just want to see the item but I want to feel the wood smoothed by many hands touching it, study the scratches and tooth marks on it, and be reminded of how I tripped and scratched the back of that prom shoe. But I am working on letting go of all that so I can make room for what is to come.

I don't really have a nice bow to wrap up this package of thoughts; in reality if I was making a bow I would have misplaced the ribbon, lost the scissors, and stepped on a Duplo block while looking, so I am ending here:

Depression is caused by living in the past.
Anxiety is caused by living in the future.
Happiness is caused by living in the present.

Guess it is time to clean house.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Gift just as I begin to fall... October 2008

My brain was flittering all morning. I couldn't concentrate and having to re-do work because I wasn't focused. Then it came... the news that my subconscious was anxiously awaiting and keeping me off my game: the pathology report.

Let me back up, with as little detail as necessary: I had a D&C last week to "vacuum" my girly parts due to a biopsy that showed some pre-cancerous cells. We were hoping that the report would show that the biopsy was not anything to worry about right now; we were hoping that we'd get to be the couple who could get prepared for one more round of Invitro in a few months -- something that we've heard often has more success after a D&C; we were hoping that the news would be more positive than not.

So, I'm trying to work with little success when I hear my cell phone ring. I'm on the phone with a co-worker, so I didn't try to catch it, but then it happens: a voicemail from my DOCTOR. Not the nurse; the doctor. Now when has your doctor ever called with GOOD news?? Perhaps they need to get into the practice of that just so you don't know what it means when they call you before you speak with them.

But I digress. The doctor reminded me that after surgery he had noted that the what he took out was too fluffy. Evidently, "too fluffy" to a doctor is what a pathologist says is "as bad as it can be without being called cancerous," but they can't totally rule out that I'm not developing endometrial cancer. The C word is scary enough, but when you are about to turn 41, been through tons of fertility treatments and procedures, and holding out hope for one more year to try for a bio-child, there is a scarier H word: hysterectomy. Soon.
I process this all while sitting in my cubicle facing the rest of the office and realize I'm about to totally lose it. Escape. Gotta go. Boss out, I email his Blackberry, call my husband to come pick me up NOW, and I nearly ran out of the building for fresh air and sunshine: my cure-all. I won't dwell on the tears that flowed when I saw my husband or the painful conversation that followed. What I want to tell you about next is the gift I got once I got home.

I NEED to be outside every day or I get nutso. And when I'm sad, I REALLY need to be outside. Luckily, today was cold but sunny and my back deck was the perfect spot to escape and soak up some of my personal medicine. I decided to grab my camera when little birds were jumping around the tree, but they flew off before I returned. Disappointed, but not without hope, I sat still in my chair enjoying the sunshine and colors of fall hoping to get a great shot of the birds when he came: the cardinal.

The cardinal is one of the regular visitors to my bird feeder but I never seem to have a camera when he comes by and he skitters off once I show up with one. But today was different. He landed on a tree not too far away and just looked at me. And he sat. And sat. And sat. I clicked. And clicked. And clicked. Then he jumped down a few branches closer. And sat. I clicked. My heart warmed. The photo was perfect!Watching me closely, he jumped to the tree by the bird feeder, peeked around a post at me and then quickly flew off, done with his modeling job for the day.

Next, I hear stomping in the leaves down by the creek and get to the edge of the deck in time to see a family of deer run up the opposite hill behind my home. I was so excited to catch a quick photo of one of them, although not too great (Can you see the deer in the bottom left corner?), and realized I was actually smiling and feeling better.

The gift.
The reminder:
The birds are cared for.
The animals are cared for.
God is still caring for me even when I feel defeated.

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?....And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?...But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6: 26, 27, 30 NAS

Faith. I need to hold on to the faith that God's plan will become clear to us as Jeff and I walk down this unexpected path. Not easy.

For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

FOOTNOTE: I had my hysterectomy December 2008 and although my pre-cancerous girl parts were horrible looking, it had not progressed to cancer. Some would think that was terrible -- that I could have had another chance at a child of my own. However, the chance of this turning to cancer were far, far greater than the chance of my getting pregnant
and the fact that Hubby lost his mother way too young to cancer made the choice very clear.

The Childless Mother

WARNING: You may need kleenex for this one. (added per my friends' request)

In starting this blog, I have been sifting thru an older and neglected blog I started for my art & memoir writings pre-Jillian. I came across this piece I wrote in August 2007 in a fabulous writing course I took when I was a teacher in Texas. I have been thinking alot lately of how amazing it is that Hubby and I even got to "here" and know that it was a long, winding road. Rediscovering this memoir brought it all back and reminds me of an old saying (and more recently a Brad Paisley song) that God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we expect...

The Childless Mother
A Memoir By Julie Grau
written August 2007

The couple ahead walks into the sanctuary. I capture a glimpse of the woman’s smile as she looks up at the man soothing the baby cradled in his strong arms. Pick, pick, pick. The scab splits wide open and I find myself unexpectedly nursing the injury as it oozes fresh juices. My mother always told me not to pick scabs. “It is best for wounds to heal correctly inside or you end up with a nasty mess brewing beneath the top layer,” she’d lecture as she applied band-aids to the latest dent on my shin. I’ve been trying to let this particular scab heal for a while now, but it continues to fester. What will it take to heal the wound of being a childless mother?

At least once a week I am forced to face the pain. There’s the curiosity of my students whose parents are mostly still in their twenties: “Why don’t you have kids?”; “Don’t you want kids?”; “Aren’t you too old to have kids?” My favorite came from a student who always tells it like it is: “If you have kids now they’ll be teased when they are in school because you’ll be old like a grandmother!” Then there’s the fact that in fast-growing McKinney, I meet new people all the time who invariably ask the question, “Do you have kids?” Hmm… how should I answer today? There’s the simple leave-this-topic-alone answer, “No.” But then again, there’s my usual funny answer, “Yes, if you count my husband and my dog.” Of course, there’s the serious answer, “No, we’ve been working on it for awhile now.” Or, the one I’d love to say, “It is none of your #@$* business!”

The responses to my childlessness often tell me a great deal about each person’s character:
· The well-meaning – “I have a cousin who got pregnant right after they adopted.”
· The optimist – “My sister had beautiful twins at 43.
· The faithful – “God has a plan for you.”
· The irksome – “My friend adopted the cutest little China doll. She’s fun to dress up.”
· The realist – “You are so lucky. You can travel a lot and sleep late!”
· The clueless – “Well, trying is the fun part!”

Most of these people have valid points: I don’t have dirty diapers to change, soccer games to attend, or nannies to pay; not to mention that I am about to turn 40 which would make me a 50 year old PTO member. My time is my own – shared only with a husband who loves me dearly and a dog that is happy with a tummy rub. Jeff and I can rent rated R movies without the concern of “little ears,” sleep until noon on Saturdays, and travel at the drop of a hat. I have the advantage of caring for children in the role of auntie, godmother, teacher, and playmate - reading happy books, playing with fun toys, seeing cute movies, and giving cranky kids back to their mother. I suspect this is why grandparents enjoy grandkids…all the fun and little of the work. And Lord, I do understand the work required from my years as a babysitter, a nanny, and even a day care director.

Yesterday, I played mom to the seven boy "Bryn Mawr Street Gang". Why did they knock on my door? Maybe because I didn’t just tell their parents when they caused trouble, but I also learned their names, let them play in the sprinklers, talked about skateboarding, and let them pet Ginger. So in the bloodied-knee scooter incident, I was called on for band-aids and a phone to call home. Funny, since most of the kids were just as close to their doors as to mine. Perhaps I am more mothering than their mothers? Is it not better to be a universal mother than to just raise one or two? Even my old friend Kimberly’s three kids benefited from my mothering; Kimberly called after I left to tell me her kids wished I lived in San Antonio. Her oldest even came home from a trip I helped her pack for and insisted on doing her own laundry “the way Miss Julie taught me.” Hmm, that makes ten kids mothered in just two weeks.

As a teacher, I find that my classroom becomes a safe home for students. Tears? Anger? Frustration? Go see Mrs. Grau. Some students I barely know have begged for refuge in my room from their daily anxiety. So why seek me out when in need of mothering? Certainly not because I am easy on students: I demand hard work and expect personal responsibility for behavior - even behavior slightly beyond their control. I suspect mine is the only mothering some students ever really know since their young mothers struggle with revolving boyfriends, low-wage jobs, drug addictions, and various other woes of the low-socioeconomic population of McKinney.

Still, with all this mothering, I long to give my soul to a child of my own. I want a child as smart as my husband and as creative as me. A child who laughs easily, sings happily, and plays with abandon. We have tried it all to find this child, but God has not readied one for us yet. I keep playing an old movie in my head where a little angel is waiting while God is readying him for the right time on earth and the best family to meet his needs. Are we not right for someone yet? What else do we need to do? We’ve certainly done all we can to help God along: charts, temperatures, pills, shots, in-vitro, and everything in between. We’ve even been to various seminars on foreign adoption, domestic adoption, and fostering–to-adopt. Mom made a powerful statement as we discussed the possibility of becoming foster parents: “I think you’d be great at fostering, but I want to see you bring joy into your lives, not more heartache and pain.” I know she’s right. I recognize the signs that I’m not thoroughly healed from our lack of fertility to cope with bringing a child into our home only to have to return it to the parent that neglected or abused it. Forget picking a scab – that would be ripping it off and taking new skin! Besides, Jeff’s not ready to let go of the dream of having our own children. Am I? I can’t quit picturing the photo of our DNA matched up: those three perfect circles in a petri dish; those three blastocysts that I had hoped would grow into three beautiful souls; those three little angels that just weren’t ready for the world.

So I remain a childless mother. Can I find peace in this existence? Can I give this pained heart back to God and move on? The truth is that I love to mother kids and give them back. Sometimes I even prefer it that way. I delight in being the willing listener, the wisdom giver, and even the mischief maker to my friends’ children. Can I relish in helping them grow without having to pay the bills? I take pleasure in getting a new group of students and helping them discover their potential. Can I savor the time spent helping them blossom during the time that I have them? Could it be that God wants me to heal and prepare for my own child by accepting my current assignment as universal mother? Am I willing to be the stitcher of wounds, the healer of hearts, and the grower of knowledge for the children of other mothers? I’m not sure I’ve healed enough to have the answers. The scab remains tender – only recently formed. But here’s what I do know: I love having kids in my life. To that end, my heart responds, “Let the mothering begin.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Poop or get off the pot

WARNING: This post contains potty humor.

I rarely ease in to anything. I either do nothing or I jump in with both feet. Evidently, my daughter has this same trait as she decided Tuesday afternoon that she was ready to poop in the potty -- catching me quite off-guard when she actually DID!! (She is 22 3/4 months old so not a potty genius like her friend M.D. at 18 months.) There I was without a camera, stickers, M&Ms or anything but a high five to commemorate the moment.

So she spent a few hours Tuesday and all day Wednesday running back and forth to the bathroom because heaven-forbid she just use a little potty chair like other kids... we had to go on the BIG potty which meant Mommy (me) would have to bend over (remember, folks, I am over 40 here) and lift her wiggly 27 lbs. onto the potty and then help steady her little booty from falling in since I didn't have a seat insert. I finally got smart enough to put a step stool in front of the potty, but I bought a seat insert with so much cushie for her tushie that I am back to helping her get on the toilet.

We ended Wednesday with only one turd on the floor and a few minor wet spots all without a single tangible reward besides a high five. I was pretty proud of both of us!! For those keeping score:

Potty: 3 poops and 3 pees
Carpet: 1 poop and 1 pee
Mommy's lap: 1 pee
Couch: 1 pee

And then came today. She willingly went potty right when she woke up so I didn't put a diaper back on her. To jump start the day, we watched a video about girls going potty and she started to show some interest in the smaller potty chair (which is kind of gross, but would at least give us a fast option and much easier on my back). We had a few accidents, but by noon the score was:

Potty: 1 1/2 poops and 3 pees
Footstool: 1 pee
Carpet: 1 1/2 poops (I have to add here that when she makes these perfectly formed poops on the floor she freaks out and starts screaming "Icky! Icky!" and runs to me like it is a snake that is going to bite her. I have had to hold in my laughter every time.)

...and it all went down hill from there. Evidently the novelty wears off about 36 hours in. I put her in pull ups for nap and when I tried to take them back off I was met with kicks and screaming "Mine!" She pulled them down for an after nap potty and eventually took them off herself, but refused to sit on the potty for the next two hours so I finally put them back on her and called it a day. Final score - Bad Attitude: 2

And for the record, I am willing to bet that "Shit or get off the pot" was first said by someone toilet training a toddler at the time. I am seriously considering installing a chaise lounge and hiring a personal masseuse if we have to keep this up for much longer.

(P.S. I promised to show you the disaster I created in my kitchen cooking, but that has now turned into a complete house disaster that might lead to some sort of inspector showing up at my house so instead I am including a photo of the disaster she made of me in just 24's look is probably worse, but I refuse to look!)
Yup, this would have been easier in my 20s. But then again, it wouldn't have been with Bean and THAT wouldn't be okay.