Saturday, December 24, 2011

Our Own Christmas Miracle

Exactly ten years ago, we were preparing for the worst as we brought Tommy (who was then 3.5 years old) home from Children's Hospital Oakland. He had been having localized seizures in his left arm, and we had gotten approval from our insurance provider to take him to a neurologist, to do an EEG. As a precaution, they did a CT scan to make sure there wasn't anything on his brain that shouldn't be. While we waited for the results, we were told that as long as the seizures were under control by the time we got the results (they had him hooked up to an IV with meds) that he could go home, but if he was still having episodes, they wanted to keep him over-night.

The doctor came into the room we were waiting in and said "Weeell, something showed up", and he was admitted to CHO then and there. At this point, it was after dinner, and Catie (who was 5) had been at my parents' house all day. Thank God that both Mike and I had been there, because we were not about to leave either of our kids without us that night. We decided that Mike would stay with Tommy in Oakland, since I was nearly six months pregnant with Monica and would need a little more preparation for an overnight stay away from home.

So I drove the 45-50 minutes home, by myself, after having had a sob-fest in the parking garage. This was right around the time we had gotten our first mobile phones, so I was able to call my mom and tell her I was on my way to get Catie, and I was coming alone. I can't tell you anything about that drive; I remember none of it. I do remember arriving at my parents' house (which was thankfully only 1/4 mile or so from ours at that point) and grabbing Catie into my arms and just holding her, trying to hold myself together. I did pretty well until we actually got home and were heading in the door when one of my neighbors, who I really wasn't very close to and am no longer in contact with, was at her door and asked me how we were. I told her, and she patiently listened to me while I cried.

It was difficult for Catie and I to sleep that night. We were still in our little 2 bedroom condo then, and both of our roommates were gone. I took her with me to Oakland the next morning, so she could see her brother, who she already missed. Because of Tommy's age and need to to be hooked up to an IV, he was in one the crib "cages" they have, rather than a regular bed. These bed have clear sides that go up and down like those of a crib, but they, and the ends, are probably three feet high. Catie wanted to be in there with Tommy, and the nurses said that it was fine. Soon, the two of them were bouncing up and down like they were on a trampoline. I remember looking at the nurse thinking "Are you *sure* this is ok?" and she reassured me that it was. They were laughing and jumping, and having a grand time as they ignored the tubes in Tommy's arm. I turned my attention to the wall behind me, where the doctor and the radiologist were hanging up MRI pictures they had taken earlier that morning. Mike and I stood close to each other as they pointed out the mass on Tommy's brain, which they had said was either a tumor or possibly a cluster of blood vessels. It was then that the radiologist turned to us and said, "I have to be honest. I am 99.99% certain that it is a tumor." They talked about the possibility and likelihood of chemo and radiation therapy. they talked a lot, but right now I could not tell you any more of what was said.

I remember my breath catching, and being introduced to one of the hospital social workers, who was very attentive to me, making sure I was ok. I remember walking down the hallway with her in order to get a little air and then I was breaking down in her arms. I stayed the night at the hospital that night and Mike went home with Catie. The hospital was pretty full, so Tommy had been placed on the floor with long-term care patients, and most of them were a little older than he was, and/or suffering from physical ailments that kept them from being as exuberant as my lively, didn't-realize-there-was-anything-wrong-with-him little sweetheart. All these things combined, plus his adorable puppy dog eyes and ready smile, made him a favorite with the nurses. Between him and the baby in my belly, they were constantly asking if we needed anything, and chatting and playing with Tommy. Since his vitals needed to be monitored around the clock, there were times when they would linger in our room when the rest of the floor was quiet, and it was very comforting.

If there ever is a "good" time of year to be in a hospital, the Christmas season is it. Tommy was visited by Marines, firemen, police, carolers, church groups, Santa and more. Everyone came bearing gifts, and Tommy just thought it was the best thing ever. (We came home with so much stuff!!!) He was there for a handful of days when they said he was stable enough to be home for Christmas. The head neurosurgeon at the hospital was on vacation at that time, but was due to be back right after the new year. They said Tommy's situation was urgent enough to need attention sooner that later, but that we could afford to wait until the new year in order to be attended by the best they had. We brought him home and finished preparing for Christmas, wondering if it was going to be his last.

Those were some of the darkest days I can remember, and even now, the memory of them is very painful. It is extremely difficult to concentrate on your life when one of your children is seriously ill. My life at that time is such a blur; so much of my focus was spent on making sure Tommy got his anti-seizure meds, making sure he wasn't having any break through seizures, making sure everything was ready for his next session of staying in the hospital, etc etc etc. Through all this, he was cheerful and was still my sweet little buddy. His biggest concern was that his "arm wasn't working right" (it was basically paralyzed from the 30-50 seizures it was having every day) and he had to use his right hand to pick up the left in order to get his thumb in his mouth.

I have very little recollection of how Catie did during all this time, but her sweetness struck me even back then. We had decided to shave Tommy's head since all they would have done for the surgery is shave a rectangle out of his hair. The night we took care of it, Catie said she wanted to cut her hair off, too, so that Tommy wouldn't be the only one. We did *not* shave her head, but I did giver her a bob, cutting off a good six inches of the length of her hair. We have a picture of the two of them with their new haircuts and the biggest grins on their faces. It is simultaneously one of the most heart-warming and heart-wrenching photos I have ever seen.

His surgery was scheduled for January 3rd, and we had one more MRI the day before, so that they could glue little markers to his head so that they could get an exact measurement of where the mass was in relation to the markers. Those little discs managed to not fall off during the night and were still intact, exactly where they had been placed, when we checked in the next day. He was not allowed to eat or drink before the surgery, and this would have been ok if not for the other kid in the pre-op waiting room who was eating candy. This child was there with his father and he himself was not the patient; it had become obvious that they were there for someone else. I swear I wanted to scream at the man and make him read the sign out loud: NO FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED IN THIS ROOM. My inner Mama Bear was raging because his kid was eating candy and when mine said he was so hungry and asked if he could have some, I had to say no. I am still a little pissed about this.

It finally got to the time where we could take him into the pre-op room, where they gave him a Kool-Aid like drink that had some medicine to nearly knock him out before they started sticking things into him. My parents were there by then, to stay with us during the surgery. I am eternally grateful for their presence; their support during all that time was absolutely life-saving. Without family and our close friends being there for us, I just can't imagine how we would have gotten through. While we waited for the "Kool-Aid" to kick in (which was only a minute or two) the surgeon came out to talk to us about the MRI that had been taken the previous morning.

"While it still needs to come out, I am back to thinking it is just a cluster of blood vessels."

The words didn't sink in, at first. The shock had me numbed from head to foot. It wasn't until they put Tommy on the gurney and wheeled him away and we headed for the door that I nearly collapsed as the news sunk in. Maybe not cancer. Maybe not cancer. Maybe NOT CANCER! I cried so hard, I remember the four of us just clustered there at the doorway and I am sure I wasn't the only one sobbing.

Then came the waiting. We headed to the cafeteria area, toting the pager they gave us so we wouldn't have to wait right outside the OR. We played a lot of cards; I really don't remember what else. They would page us every now and then in order to give us updates on how things were going. At one point, they had taken a piece of the mass (which was the size of a ping-pong ball) and did what they called a "freeze test", to get an idea of what it was while they were still working on him. This test was negative. More hope! We would still not know for certain until they could biopsy the whole mass, but there was now a HUGE amount of hope, where once there was only a small amount that was attached to faithful acceptance.

When they were done and we were allowed to see him, he was hardly recognizable because his head was so swollen, yet I had never seen anything so beautiful. He spent that first night in the ER so they could make sure he remained stable, and Mike stayed with him. It was even harder for me to leave him that night than it had been on the nights he was there before. Mike saw enough in that ER that night that made us even more grateful for our new prognosis, yet heart sick for all the other occupants and their families. I was there the next day, and Tommy was awake yet very frustrated. they wouldn't let him eat or drink because of the anesthesia, and he was greatly irritated by the catheter. He had already been potty-trained, and it was very confusing for him when he was told to "just go".

We were moved to a regular room that next day. Since the cluster of blood vessels (as it was now officially known as) had been right on the motor sensory strip of his right lobe, his entire left side was partially paralyzed from the surgery. We knew there were going to be problems with his arm since it had already been so severely affected, but no one could have said how responsive his trunk and leg would be until he could try to walk. Which he did, only a couple of days later. He improved so rapidly that what had been estimated as a possible 10-14 day stay turned into a four or five day stay. Everyone was amazed at how quickly he was recovering, and soon it was time for us to go home. ALL of us.


There are so many other things that went on during that time that gave us the strength we needed to go on. Mike had ended up taking nearly a month off of work, yet his co-workers made sure that we weren't forgotten. They had taken up a collection to help us with the expenses of driving to Oakland from Napa every day, eating out of vending machines and the hospital cafeteria, and got Tommy a GINORMOUS stuffed dog that was as tall as he was. There was even a McDonald's gift certificate, because they had heard how he loved Happy Meals. After he came home, we took a picture of Tommy giving the bear a hug and attached it to a letter that Mike hung up at work, thanking everyone for all they had done.

We also received letter and emails and phone calls from loved ones far and near, and also from complete strangers who had heard about us "from a friend of a friend of a friend". It truly amazed us how much people who had never even met us cared about us.

The Sunday that was between Christmas and New Year's that year, we were asked to bring the gifts to the altar at Mass. Even then, before the surgery, I felt like it was God's way of reminding me that there was no way we were going to be forgotten. I remember praying in front of the manger scene after Mass and placing all of my troubles in front of the Holy Family. As bad as things were, I thought, Mary had it worse, what with having to watch her Son be tortured and crucified for no legitimate reason. Ever since then, I have felt a very special bond with the Blessed Mother.

The next couple of years were spent largely at the physical therapist's office, and the staff there became like another family, too. We started going there before Monica was born (we missed an appointment that day...) and I remember her learning to walk on one of their big therapy tables as we waited for Tommy. Just like with the nurses at the hospital, he had charmed everyone at the PT office. This was especially true of the seniors group who was always there for water aerobics; they just loved it on the days when Tommy got to work on his gross-motor skills in the water.

Ten years later, my boy is a healthy young man of thirteen. He is an active Boy Scout who dreams of reaching the rank of "Eagle Scout", an altar boy who always volunteers when they are short-handed at Mass, and my resident go-to-guy for muscles when Mike is unavailable. Someone who didn't know his history and what to look for would never even know that he had to go through so much at such a young age.

I hope that my sharing this will bring you a little Christmas warmth, and that it will act as a reminder that there most certainly ARE still miracles happening in our world.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Long time, no blog

It has been quite a while since I last posted, but I have a good excuse; it is such a good excuse that it may be classified as a REASON. That reason is: instant menopause. Oh wait, that is just a result of the reason. OK, here it is. I had a hysterectomy. At 34. (Ok, ok, *almost* 35...but that is another subject entirely.)

I had been having issues with my "reproductivity" pretty much since I got back into the swing of things after my youngest child was born. After "waiting to see" how things went and trying this or that for a couple of years, it was decided that it was time for that final action. Being from a large Catholic family, I admit it was very strange to think that I would *only* have four children. EVER. Part of me had known this for a while, but to actually be able to say it, with absolute certainty, was a little frightening. Why it should be so scary, I don't really know. My husband and I had been using Natural Family Planning for various reasons since after our second child was born. Owing to these reasons, I sort of knew that there wouldn't be any more kids for us, but now I KNEW, and it made me a little sad. I guess I just liked knowing that I could be a vessel for bringing new life to the world if God had so chosen to bless me. Now I will never be pregnant again.

Now for the upside...I never have to deal with the monthly issues again. EVER! (Well, except for with my two daughters...)

I never have to be pregnant again. (Yes, I know that this is counter to what I said above, but let's be honest. Pregnancy is not always sunshine and roses. My last one certainly wasn't!)

I never have to change diapers again. I know I probably will, but I no longer feel responsible for the diapering of a child. (Our youngest is nearly 5 years old.)

I am done with potty-training FOREVER!!! (WOOHOO!!!)

I have been able to purge a lot of equipment from my house. I am no longer holding onto the baby crib, baby clothes, baby toys, baby bathtub, baby bath ring, stroller, newborn car get the idea. I have, however, kept the Boppy. The Boppy has been taken over by our new kitten, pictured below.

I got a new kitten!!! this was my consolation for not having any more human babies.

I could probably go on, but I think I have illustrated my point well enough. I may need to check this list now and then to remind myself of the beneifts of this business, and I am sure it will always help get me past the dark side effects; such as hot flashes and mood sWiNgS.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For All Of The Mothers

I received the following in an email from a very dear friend. I don't know who wrote it originally, but it is truly something that all mothers (and even fathers) should read.


a message many moms need to hear:

It all began to make sense -- the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids would walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'

Obviously not; no one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible. The invisible Mom.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more! Can you fix this? Can you tie

this? Can you open this??

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a taxi for order, 'Right around 5:30, please.' Some days I'm a crystal ball; 'Where's my other sock? Where's my phone? What's for dinner?'

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history, music and literature -but now, they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She's going, she's going, she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . She had just returned from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.

It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe . I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devoured - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.

2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.

3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw


A story of legend in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it.’ And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.

‘No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, no Cub Scout meeting, no last minute errand is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.’

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for 3 hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, he'd say, 'You're gonna love it there...'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Letting Go and Letting God

The chances of Mike and I ever having another baby are very, very slim. We have accepted and are totally at peace with this. Lately, I have been making an effort to simplify my life, including getting rid of clutter. Part of the purging of "stuff" included getting rid of a lot of our "baby things". We no longer have a crib, a high chair or a stroller. Well ok, the stroller is just in the back yard, but it has officially been given "toy" status. Just now, a big, white, donation truck came and picked up two big, black, bags. One of them was full of all of my "gender neutral" and "boy" baby clothes. (The baby girl items are currently with a sister-in-law who is about to have another girl.) All week I have been dreading the arrival of this truck, because it would mean saying goodbye to so many items that I have had since our 14 year old was born. That, and a fear of Murphy's Law; for as soon as another of my sisters-in-law did the same purging, she got pregnant.

While finances are tight, it isn't so much the thought of having to buy all new things that had me worried, though there are any number of things I would rather spend money on right now. The big worry was the thought of upheaval. Where would we even *put* another child in our tiny house? With my health issues, it is important to me to have as much of a flexible day as possible; a baby would throw much of that flexibility out the window. could I even handle having another little one to look after? The way I feel most days, that answer would be "no". All of this reminds me of my favorite quote from Mother Theresa: I know God won't give me more than I can handle, but sometimes I wish He didn't trust me so much".

All this said and done, I must admit that the anticipation of letting go was much more painful than the actuality of it. When I saw the truck pull up out front I didn't feel a pang of regret, but rather of a weight being lifted from me; as if God was saying to me: Don't worry, I have this in hand, my love.

Have a blessed Easter, everyone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

See You On The Other Side

I feel like I have buried far too many friends for someone my age. In December of 2003, my best friend died very unexpectedly, leaving behind a nine year old daughter. We actually had only know each other for about six years, but we were instant soul-mates. We were Anne and Diana, though had we ever thought to discuss those two, we probably would have both claimed to be Anne. We were as close as sisters but better, because neither of us really got along with our biological sisters while growing up. I still have a gaping hole in my heart that sometimes hurts so much it is hard to breathe.

Eleven months later, my friend Adrianne and her roommate were brutally murdered. Adrianne and I had only known each other for about 6 months, but we, too, had gotten along like we had always known each other. We were even plotting a blind date with one of Mike's old buddies. They were both engineers, and both just flat out good people, I would have loved for them to be joined together. That plan had been put on hold when she met someone whom she ended up dating for a while, but the last time I saw her, which was a week or two before she died, she asked me if my friend was still single, because she was thinking she wanted to meet him. I never got a chance to set it up.

Then today, my friend Roberta was laid to rest. I met Roberta through a mutual acquaintance who was hosting a Mary Kay party. She was a living large, living loud, having fun, and loving life kind of gal; someone who always knew how to have a good time and brighten anyone's day. Between the Mary Kay parties I put on, the Pampered Chef parties she put on, the Stamping Up parties I hostessed, or the Party Lite getogethers she hostessed, we were always together in fun atmospheres. Then again, even when we would just sit and have coffee we had a good time. She gave us our kitty, who in all honesty, is a member of the family. She and her husband David had six children between them; they were the "Brady Bunch" family. She had been mother to David's children since the oldest was 9 and the youngest was 3; she loved them as her own flesh and blood, and they loved her the same. Her 15 year old daughter referred to her mother as her twin, that they were best friends. That's just the kind of person she was. Roberta and I hadn't actually spoken in quite a while, which happened from time to time, but we always clicked right back together when we did see each other.

Today is not a day to be feeling down about the friends I have lost, but to celebrate their lives and the lives of those still living around me; like my daughter Monica who turned 9 today. I am struggling with this, but I also have the feeling that the cupcakes sitting on the counter in the kitchen will certainly help. They are chocolate, after all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Ten Year Old Philosopher (an old Facebook note)

Here is one from a little over 2 years ago.

My Ten Year Old Philosopher

by Gretchen Hall on Monday, February 9, 2009 at 12:51am
Sometimes my ten year old son amazes me. All of my children are awesome (of course), but Tommy just seems to have this amazing insight into life at times. Yesterday he served at the Saturday evening Mass at our parish. We left a little early so we had time to go to confession beforehand, and as we were pulling in to the parking lot the kids asked me how long had it been since they last went. I told them I couldn't remember for certain, but that I think it was 2 or 3 weeks. Catie (the 12 year old) said, "Why do we need to go again? It hasn't been that long." I then talked about how each time we go, we get more Grace to help us be good, etc. Tommy follows that up with, "Besides, you never know when you are going to die. You might as well always try to have your soul clean." WOW.

Then this morning I got up to the lovely tones of Tommy and Monica (almost 7 yrs) arguing. The topic of "discussion" had been Tommy trying to get Monica to cheer up about something, I don't even know what. He gave her some advice, and she didn't want him to talk to her. At all. I asked what he said and he replied: " All I said was that life is kind of like a sandwich. Sometimes when you are making it, you get jam on the counter; but all you need to do is clean it up and then it is ok." This, and the above, from a ten year old boy! I guess this is what happens when you can't pick a favorite St. Thomas, and mentally name him after both Aquinas and More. Our parish is also St. Thomas Aquinas, for those who didn't know...

The Day After (an old Facebook note)

Here is another, written the day after President Obama was elected. I did do some editing that really should have been done the first time around. :P

The Day After...

by Gretchen Hall on Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 10:55pm
When I called Mike at work to tell him that McCain had conceded, his response was "Well, don't drink too much tonight". He said nothing about eating too much Halloween candy; we have a big bowl of it, I may go swimming in there.

I am not apologetic for supporting John McCain; though I admit it was more to vote against Barrack HUSSEIN Obama than for fully agreeing with McCain on everything. I am sorry if any of my friends and acquaintances are disappointed in me socially; but only on the grounds that it means we have less in common than I would like. One of my major downfalls has always been that I worry too much about other people liking me, particularly when I was still in school. Logically I knew that I could never have *everyone* liking me; but emotionally I always wanted to know *why* doesn't that person like me? What did I do to them? The answer was usually, if not most or all of the time, nothing. Sometimes people just don't like you, and you know what? It is ok. It has taken me a long time to be able to say that, and deep down it may still nettle me a bit, but it is okay. One step beyond that, is not softening my viewpoints around those who I know have different opinions out of fear that they will think less of me. You know, the funny thing about that is: when I stand firm, *I* think more of me, so even if their opinion of me is diminished, it all balances out.

One of the beauties of recognizing our God-given FREE WILL is remembering that even if we feel someone has a magnet stuck up under their own moral and ethical compass, *we* are not responsible for that person's eternity and that God will be the final judge. Don't get me wrong; I am not saying we can sit idly by and do nothing. I think we are still obligated to set a good example in all aspects of our lives. That includes educating ourselves on important issues, making moral decisions rather than emotional (though for me they are often one and the same), and not being afraid to speak up when we hear someone saying something that we feel is fallible; even if it means they may think less of us afterward.

I am not the type to be overly vocal about politics; I believe in the sanctity of human life but I will never chain myself to an abortion clinic. I do not seek out debates, but I rise to the challenge when presented with one. Then there is the whole debate about the gay community. I may not like a lot of what some will do to gain attention (anyone ever been in San Francisco during Gay Pride day? It can get pretty raunchy.) but I recognize them as people and deserving of love. To be honest, some of the gay people I have known have been some of the NICEST people I have ever know. For the most part I avoid talking about politics because my stomach knots up and quite frankly, I could do without the stress. There are those whose lives are destined to be in the spotlight, destined to lead, destined to make history; I don't want to be one of them. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I think I do well to provide love and a stable atmosphere for my family. My children are young, and it is my job the shelter them from the evils of the world; at the same time preparing them for what they will face when they are no longer so young. My faith, my family, and my job (being a mom, a wife, and homeschooling my kids) are my top priorities. As long as I live my life according to that list I can sleep with a clear conscience, and worrying about politics only keeps me awake.

These have been my rambling thoughts as I sit here feeling tired, but at peace with my efforts. May God shed His grace upon our country, and guide our newly elected leaders, so that their souls will also feel at peace.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Growing Up Girl (an old Facebook note)

Here is the first of my old Facebook notes that I wanted to share on here. This one is from a little over two years ago.

Growing Up Girl (Guys, you don't want to read this, be warned)

by Gretchen Hall on Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 4:54am
Seriously, if you are male and reading this, there is going to be too much detail for you. You have been warned...twice. Turn back now.

For those of you still reading, be also warned that I am writing, yet again, during one of my insomniac episodes. I take no responsibility for spelling, grammar, punctuation, or content.

As many of my family and friends already know, I have been going through what is apparently early peri-menopause. (I will be going to the doctor soon, to make sure it isn't just thyroid or something else.) Ultimately, this does not bother me; a couple weeks ago when it was so cold (I know, I know, wimpy Californians) I was grateful for the hot flashes that kept me warm as I went about my grocery shopping. We will likely also save money on heat this winter; my kids look good with blue extremities, not to mention it is a good excuse to stay in one's pajamas all day.

What I am finding less than pleasant is the similarity to the last major hormonal change I went through...AKA, puberty. I have not had acne issues like this in nearly 20 years. Keeping track of my monthly cycle (thank goodness for the NFP training so I can keep a close eye on things) is reminiscent of learning what it was all about and getting used to it in the first place, nearly 22 years ago. It makes me feel like the rubber ball on the end of the string attached to a paddle; you get smacked and sent flying and once you reach the extent of your length of rope you are yanked right back and smack into the board. From what I have read, this rebounding can go on for 5-15 YEARS before the string finally breaks and I can stop banging my head on the paddle. (Maybe that is what is causing the pimples on my forehead...)

I am grateful, however, for a few key differences between puberty and it's reversal of fortune. My boyish figure disappeared around the age of nine, nine-and-a-half. This led to an extreme level of embarrassment, even around my female friends. A couple years later when I officially became a young woman it heightened even more. For a few years I was off and on uncomfortable spending the night at some of my friends houses; whether because I was "on the spot" right then, or because that friend might not have started yet, or I just plain moooooody. Of course I couldn't explain this to them, let alone to myself half the time, so I often disguised it by coded messages to my mom when I would call home to see if I could stay. I would whisper near-silently into the phone "Say no, say no!" so that I could in turn tell my friends that my mom said "no". I admit, there was a part of me that felt guilty about this deceit, but it was usually quashed by that other part of me that needed to go sit in my room and sort out the mess in my head. Angst. I *don't* miss it.

Something else that is helpful at this end of the stick, is the general difference in my own knowledge. There are so many things about being a girl that you just can't truly understand unless you yourself are a girl. While I may not have experienced the complete phasing out of this chapter of my life, I have certainly experienced the phasing in (obviously) and can draw on my own experience of how to deal with myself, and hopefully those around me. For example: eating extra chocolate is better that screaming at the kids, screw the carbs; letting the husband know how you are feeling without hurting him is also a good thing, as it will often result in the delivery of more chocolate, and even the occasional chick-flick. Naps are your best friend. Naps are your friends' best friend too, because naps help you to be less cranky. So does my anti-depressant. Comfort foods are essential, just not too soon before you lay down; I have discovered that I can no longer eat like I did as a teenager without heartburn and indigestion.

Prayer is, of course, a must. I kid you not that I pray every day for more patience, especially towards my children. It is a good thing that I do, I would hate to think how I would be without that extra help. I also thank God every day for my wonderful husband...and the fact that he works in the grocery business. Besides the whole 21 years in and the economic job security, it is awfully convenient when I am in need of chocolate.

But one of the most surprising things that seems to help me right now, is Facebook. I have been so grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with long-distance friends and family, surrounding myself with loved ones, whether geographically far or near, is really the most effective cure-all for the emotional roller coaster that comes with erratic hormones. It also gives me a place to sit and write my rambling 4AM thoughts when there is no one to talk to that is not covered in fur. While my cat Whiskers can be a good listener, she tends to get mad at me when I have to push her off of my lap because I can't stand the combination of the flashes and her extra heat.

I think it is finally time for me to try to go back to bed. I hope I have made you chuckle, or at least smile with this note; whether it is with me or at me I don't think matters, as long as I didn't make you fall asleep or cry, I think it is all good.

Good night, my family and friends!

Warning...possible inundation

For those of you who are subscribed, I am going to be moving some of my FB notes over here, since they were written before I started this blog, and really do belong here instead. I apologize if I overwhelm your in-boxes.

Long time, No See

As an avid Facebook user, I have said before how much I love reconnecting with old friends via the social network. I cannot remember exactly when I first discovered Facebook, but it has been a few years and I have had the fun of finding friends over and over. A couple in particular stand out as especially exciting for me.

A couple of years ago, I reconnected with Lisa F, who had been a frequent companion growing up. We were "mall rats of the 80's" together, Barbie aficionados, and movie lovers. Upon occasion, we even did homework. We first met when I was 3 and she was 4, which, I am almost frightened to be able to say, was a little more than three decades ago. As with many of my friends, we had somewhat lagged in the communication department after my family moved to California in 1992. We had a few letters and Christmas cards here and there, but we had lost touch with each others' day to day life; we didn't really know each other as well any more. Enter Facebook, and things amazingly enough felt like they picked up almost right where they had left off. I was able to go out for a visit about a year and a half ago, and it was the greatest feeling to be back in with my other family. I swear I spent nearly as much time with her parents as I did my own. We laughed, we cried, it was better than a chick flick.

More recently, as in just last week, I was able to reconnect with yet another friend I have known for over thirty years. Christy S lived across and up the street from my family, and we were often to be seen playing around the neighborhood. I cannot possibly count how many games of  Hide and Seek, Ghost in the Graveyard, and Red Light Green Light we played. We didn't go outside the neighborhood together very often, but we were each always there to talk to or hang out with. When we did go out, though, we always had a great time. (Chinese fire drill, anyone?)

As it turns out, Christy and I had each been looking for the other on Facebook for a long time. I was, and am, embarrassed to admit that I had been spelling her last name wrong whenever I did a search, and she had no idea what my married name was, so it took me seeing that "Lisa F is now friends with Christy S" to find her. It was literally like Christmas morning, I was so excited! While Christy and I have much more of each others' history to catch up on, I know that we will, and I can also say that the reconnecting that has happened so far has felt just like not a day has gone by. There really is nothing to properly describe that feeling. The closest I could come up with would be going to a great party with a great friend, and waking up the next day only being able to remember half the night. The best part is, no hangover!

To add a cherry to the top of the ice cream sundae that was finding Christy, she let me know that another neighborhood friend, Michelle P, was also on Facebook. Michelle moved to the neighborhood about a year before we left it, but she lived right across the street from us, and we connected so quickly that it was like we had known each other for years. We enjoyed a lot of the same music, same cartoons (Batman the animated series... LOVE!) and just enjoyed hanging out.

These three are just a small sampling of the people I have found or been found by on Facebook. I have enjoyed getting to know many of my cousins as adults, getting to know my nieces and nephews who are halfway across the country, and even keeping in touch with my own siblings has been easier. So, thank you, Facebook, for all the love.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Load Off

I just wanted to say what a relief it is when you lay your worries at the feet of Our Lord and He picks them up and carries them for you. That feeling of weight being lifted off your shoulders is truly heavenly. Decisions that had previously seemed impossible to make are suddenly easy, and the stress that has been removed from your life as a result of those decisions being made and paths being made clear, leaves you feeling like a new person. Well, not completely new, but definitely a more peaceful version of yourself. No chocolate required...for now. ;-)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Perhaps it s time to come clean...

In all honesty, I am terrified. Living with a degenerative, neuro-muscular illness has me frightened that the day may come when I cannot take care of my children and eventually not even myself. This winter has been particularly harsh for me, and I pray that once summer comes my symptoms will relax a little. These last couple of weeks in particular have been some of the worst, if not the worst I have ever had with my Fibromyalgia. My flare-ups and attacks have been occurring with more frequency, severity, and duration, and seem to be triggered by less than they used to be. The worst of it all, though, is self-inflicted mental misery.

Being the middle of seven children, one lesson I learned in my youth was to not let myself compare my accomplishments to those of my siblings. To this day, when I look sideways instead of inwards I hear a little voice in my head telling me not to...the voice sounds oddly like my father, though it should probably sound as much like my mother as it does him. When learning this lesson, though, it involved not thinking others had done better things or were in a better position. Now, it is more the opposite viewing that is plaguing me. I have a hard time not looking at those worse off and berating myself for feeling poorly or for wanting help with simple things when so-and-so *clearly* has more need than I do. For example, my sister also has Fibromyalgia, and she literally has three times the number of children that I have, with another on the way. How dare I feel bad when she has so much more to deal with than I do? There is that other voice in my head saying I need to just offer it up for the poor souls in Purgatory (the more polite, Catholic version of "suck it up") and this voice definitely sounds like my mom!

Remember Christ saying not to worry about the sins of others when we ourselves have sin? This also ties in, in that I *know* I should not be comparing myself to others, good or bad. Then there is the story of the man who asked Christ to take away his cross, for he felt he could not handle it any more. Christ did, but told the man he would have to choose a new cross to bear to replace the old. Christ led the man to a room where there were countless crosses to choose from, but they all seemed so enormous! Finally, after searching the room, the man spies a small cross hidden in the corner. He gladly picks it up and told the Lord that that was the one he wanted. Christ smiled and told the man that he had chosen to take back the cross he only moments before had wanted to shed. "For we know not the burdens that others must bear." Each of us has unique gifts and graces that help us to carry our crosses, and none of us could bear another's burdens.

I have always been a "glass is half full" type of person, but sometimes that, too, can be burdensome. Those of you who also fall into that category know that part of why we are like that is to counter-balance all the negativity out there, even when we are feeling a little negative ourselves, sometimes we put on a good face for the sake of the world. I think we also do this because we don't want to hear all the "half empty" types saying "I told you so!". That, and no one wants to listen to a whiner. I don't like hearing my kids whine and complain, and I am pretty sure no one else needs or wants to hear me feeling down about my illness. So what happens? It gets bottled up, and eventually that bottle bursts.

My bottle burst last night, after developing a small leak. I was so tired of not voicing my fears and concerns because I felt guilty in doing so. What about me??? Am I not allowed to worry about myself? Am I not allowed to be afraid? Mike was working last night, but thanks to modern technology, I sent him a nice, long, text; finally revealing to him some of what I was feeling. The tears started flowing, and wouldn't stop. I thought about calling my mommy, but decided against it since her local time was only 4am at that point. A friend popped into my head, and I wrote her a message via Facebook. A virtual, long-distance cry on the should of a friend can be nearly as good as doing it in person. While this made me feel better because I know she is a prayer warrior and will fight for the good of my soul, I still felt that something was incomplete in my purging of negativity. I sat there sobbing, in my bed, and begged Jesus and His Blessed Mother to help me deal with this, because I just felt like I couldn't handle it any more. Seriously, within moments of laying it all at Jesus' feet, I felt a calm come over me. I decided to say a Rosary, focusing on the Glorious Mysteries. How appropriate it felt, to think about rebirth after horrible pain and torture; about Christ heading to Heaven to wait for us there; about God granting us the aid of the Holy Spirit in all our endeavors; about being welcomed home to Heaven after  life-time of work; and finally, upon arrival, being rewarded with our own crown in Heaven.

Through all of this, I decided that I needed to share this with others; if for nothing else so as not to poison my own thoughts by keeping it all bottled up. Besides the risk of having the bottle break, when you keep everything in there and don't let it air out, it becomes toxic. I wasn't sure I would actually go through with it, though, because there have been so many times when I thought something was a good idea when I was contemplating it at night and by morning it did *not* sound like a good idea any more, but I decided it would be therapeutic for me. I do not intend to administer my own therapy too often; like I said, no one wants to listen to a whiner, but I figure that every once in a while, I may need to pour a little out of the bottle so it doesn't explode again.