Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I spoke to my friend and managing editor, Peg, this morning. She is such a dear friend, both to me and to my mom. She asked me how I was holding up, and I said, "So much has happened over the past few months--I'm trying to get used to this new kind of normal." She said that in this issue of the magazine there was actually going to be an article entitled "A New Kind of Normal," but she is going to change the title to "When Your World Is Upside Down."

Today my mom is leaving the hospital. Her blood sugar is elevated. She is not violently ill ten or twelve times a day any more. She can eat a little food. So, it's time for her to move out. I am mostly glad about this. I want her back home where she can be more comfortable, in her beautiful garden bedroom, where she can hear the birds singing outside her window. I'm glad to stop riding the elevator to the 7th floor where I'm greeted each time by the large placard on the wall "Cancer Care." ("Just like Solzenhitsyn," Mom said dryly. Only my mother!)

Fortunately, she had a private room at the hospital, but that's about the nicest thing I can say about it. I brought in my own cleaning supplies and cleaned it myself. I put spring flowers in vases, set up family pictures, brought pictures and letters from the girls, and brought a room freshener that helped cover up all the horrible hospital smells with the scent of lilacs.

I hated having her in that hospital, incidents I can't share on this blog so I can protect her privacy, but seeing her cry in pain and humiliation--all her dignity taken from her, watching my dad stand by the window at the end of the hall, shaking with silent sobbing--so much of it was unspeakable. I don't rail at God through any of this, but I have had many choice words for cancer as I have fought it out in the privacy of my car.

Sometimes people joke about that shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus wept," but that verse is so beautiful to me--in the original language, it's a fairly rare term, meaning Jesus burst into tears as He stood at the grave of Lazarus, his dear friend. He was outraged at the toll illness and death take on families--the dreadful rendering apart of loved ones, the ache and the sorrow, the heartbreaking goodbyes. How He hates it right along with us. It was never supposed to be this way. And I know we have the assurance of His words, "This sickness will not end in death."

My mom spent time as she lay in the hospital, doing a little human worrying. She talked to me about it. She is afraid the doctor will try to make her have chemo soon. She can't bear that. She is worried, not about death, but about the journey there--how it will play out. I'm reminded of the Isaac Asimov quote, "Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome." Mom said, "I'd just like to go with as little trauma as possible." Then she said, "Honey, have I done anything ever that you may be feeling bad about still?" And that just broke me, thinking that she was lying there worrying about any slight offense she might have caused in this life. "Oh, Mom," I said. "You've never done anything."

I keep thinking about the book by Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place. If you're not familiar with it, it is about a Dutch woman, her sister, and her father, who hid Jews in their home until they were captured and put into a concentration camp. There is one portion where Corrie is alone in her prison cell. There was a time each day when the guards would leave the hallway. Then all the inmates would call up and down the hall to each other--names of family members--to see if anyone had any news of them, since new prisoners were brought in each day. If anyone was released from prison, there was great rejoicing, and Corrie would scratch the name on the prison wall and write "Released" next to it. Every day she would always call out, "Betsie Ten Boom! Casper Ten Boom!" waiting to hear news of her sister or her father. One day when she called out Casper's name, the news was passed down to her that her father was dead. Then, through her tears, she scratched "Casper Ten Boom: Released" on the wall.

I think of my mom--every few moments, a new spasm of pain passes over her--her internal organs have been seared by the radiation, and she feels burning, fiery pain now in addition to her other pain. I long and pray and plead with God for the day when she will be released from that.

While I hated much of my mom's time in the hospital, we spent many precious moments together. I went each evening and sat with her. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, as we talked and cried and read the Bible together. On Sunday night, the verses I read to her were 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

"Praise Him," my mom whispered. "Glory!"

Then I put a CD in the little player I had put in her room and between the CD, her voice, and my voice, we raised the roof of that city hospital, singing together this song. (I know I'm always linking to songs, but please listen to this one!) I am learning afresh through this experience that all of this is out of my hands, and even Mom's hands, and in much more capable and loving ones. So I continue to stand, shoes off, like the words in the last verse of the song, "watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love"--longing for the day when I can lift my arms to heaven and cry:

"This sickness did not end in death. Mom: RELEASED!"

He is just as good as ever.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Martha and Me

Friday morning I was getting ready to go visit my mom. I had talked to my dad the day before, and he told me she had been very sick this week but he would never tell me not to come. I figured he needed some company, and I would just peek in at her. But Friday morning he called and said that she was almost comatose, and he was taking her to the ER. They would admit her into the hospital from there.

Now, if I were like my mom, the first thing I would do is head to my praying place, kneel down, and pray it all out. But I am a Martha, so I needed to hurry around and do things. After I brought Lucy home from school, I headed to the store. I wanted to get my mom a nightgown, and some lotion, and most importantly, some lipstick.

There is so much music I derive comfort from, but for some reason the only thing that would do for me right then was Phil Collins' No Jacket Required (still one of my top 5 favorite albums after almost 25 years). I think because that was the album of 1985-86, and whenever I hear it, I'm taken back to that time. So I drove listening to "Inside Out" and sort of pretending that my mom was in her kitchen in the house on Blanchard Street, and I was going to meet Kirsten or Julie at the mall.

At the same time, in lieu of a prayer that my lips just couldn't form, my heart cried out, over and over again, what the poor, lost blind man did when he sensed Jesus was near, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!" And after awhile I felt like Lucy, not my Lucy, but C.S. Lewis's Lucy in The Last Battle: "Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, 'Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.' The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little--a very little--better."

I saw Mom that evening and brought her the things, but she was utterly exhausted. She did perk up a bit when she saw the lipstick--my brother and his wife had been there earlier--and she said, "I was so embarrassed for Chuck and Rome to see me without lipstick. How tacky!" I turned out her light, and put her water and her Bible on her nightstand. "And my lipstick," she whispered, and I kissed her goodnight.

I worked through my day on Saturday and went back to her in the evening. She looked so ill and weak. She had had a terrible night before and day. Now if I told my mother's private business to the whole Internet, she would rise right out of her hospital bed and murder me. Suffice it to say, the strong radiation she had to take, as far as I can tell, has weakened her body and almost melted her insides. She has control over her mind, but the control over her body for now is gone.

She had had an awful episode shortly before I came, but when I entered the room, she was lying in the dark...guess what? Praying. She said, and her voice is so weak now, "God is so merciful to me. I was feeling sorry for myself about what just happened. It's so embarrassing. So I just decided to praise Him. I sang until my voice gave out, and now I'm praying for all these dear little nurses who come in to help me. Oh, honey, He gives us so much mercy."

She went on, "I have such peace. I used to be afraid to die; to go to a dark place. But now I see Jesus there, waiting. And when I go, I'll just be even closer to Him than I ever was during my life down here. I'm ready to go. There's a part in the book of John, I'm not sure of the exact words, but Jesus is talking. He's talking about Abraham and Moses and then He says that none of His are dead. Jesus doesn't have any dead ones; we're all alive to Him, even if our bodies are dead. I love Him so! "

Throughout the evening, she drifted in and out of speech. She told me of her two pearl necklaces, one that was my grandma's that I wore on my wedding day. She told me that the setting had disintegrated, and she had had it restrung. Then she said, "And then there's my set. Your dad surprised me with it on the night of our rehearsal dinner. I had no idea where he got money to buy me a string of pearls. I thought the wedding itself was our present to each other. But I was so happy!" Then she added, "Those sets are for your girls--at your discretion of who gets which one."

I had taken a call from my friend Katie, her pastor's wife, earlier that day, and I told her about it. She said "Bruce and Katie want to visit me, but I just can't. I don't want anyone to see me like this," and I told her "Mom, Bruce wants to see you because he wants to know..." and for the first time in front of her, I started to cry.

"Oh, honey," she said and reached out her hand to me. She understood what I couldn't bring myself to say, just as she always has. "Bruce wants to know about my service, I understand."She told me about her arrangements and what she wants for her service. "I want to be buried privately, before there's any memorial service for me, just with my family around--you know, in the cemetery in Wisconsin where your dad and I both will be, waiting for the Resurrection together. I want my two younger brothers to bury me there, and I want all of you around to sing 'Up From the Grave He Arose.' My little ones love that," and I'm not sure if she meant her little ones or now my little ones...but it doesn't matter because we all love to sing it.

She told me about other songs for her service and added with a little smile, "But NOT a long sermon. You know how pastors are...they sometimes go on too long." Then she said, "I have this idea, and I don't know if it's crazy or not, so I'll run it by you. I think at my service, on a table, I want free books for people who want them. Maybe a copy of Stepping Heavenward, and maybe one of the Patricia St. John books. What do you think?"

"I think it's a great idea, Mom," I said and laughed, "It's like something I would do!"

She told me about her life insurance and, with ever the heart of a missionary, how she wants it to go to a young couple she knows who is starting a school for children in Zambia; she wants a part of that mission to go on from her.

Then she seemed too tired to go on any more, so I held her hand and told her what has been weighing on my mind and is so important for me to have her know. "I'm not hanging onto you, Mommy. I'm not holding you back. But I'm going to miss you every day for the rest of my life."

"I couldn't talk with you like this if you were holding on to me," she whispered. "I couldn't go if I felt you couldn't let go of me. You've given me such freedom. You are my treasure. God is so good to us."

"Such mercy..." she finished.

I opened her Bible then to John 11 and read her my favorite story, when Lazarus dies and Martha goes out to meet Jesus two miles before He gets to her house and demands answers from Him. And instead of telling her what she wanted to hear, Jesus told her the greatest statement in all the Bible: "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."

When I finished reading, Mom said, "Isn't that like the Lord? Even when He told Martha to stop worrying about the dinner, He wasn't angry with her. How He elevated women--it's just as important for us to learn and serve as anyone else. And Martha! She was truly a remarkable woman."

I kissed her goodnight, turned out the light, and we each walked our own paths, together yet separate, separate and together, both with our shoes off and both under the umbrella of His infinite mercy.

He is just as good as ever.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Powerful Words

On Tuesday when I was driving Lucy home from school, she asked from the backseat, apropos of nothing, "What are stitches, Mom?"

"Stitches are when you cut yourself badly enough that a doctor has to sew it together again."

"Does it hurt?"

"YES, it definitely does. I mean, they give you a shot to numb the area and that part is what hurts terribly. Then when they stitch it, it doesn't hurt anymore."

"Have you ever had stitches, Mom?"

"Yes, I had them once, and I hope I never have to again. It wasn't fun at all. I was at work, and I was slicing a bagel in half to put in the toaster for breakfast, and I sliced my finger instead. Then I had to go to the emergency room and get stitches."

[A sidenote: I was mortified. What kind of moron gets an injury needing stitches like that? When they asked me in the emergency room how I'd cut myself, I mumbled softly, "Cuttingabagelwithabigknife." After I said that, the two nurses and the ER doc held up their hands and showed me their bagel-cutting scars. The doctor said, "We probably get about four bagel cutters in here a week!"]

Back to the car.

"Lucy, don't worry about getting stitches. You probably won't ever have to." Because only rough and rowdy, athletic, sports-loving kids and inept bagel cutters get stitches, right? Not my dainty little flower who loves to read and watches "Pride & Prejudice."

Cue the music from "Jaws" right here.

On Wednesday morning, exactly ONE DAY after we had the stitches-are-scary discussion, we were rushing out the door to school, and Lucy couldn't find her coat. She ran into the living room, tripped over her own feet on the rug, fell, and crashed into the coffee table.

Instant screams.

At first she wouldn't even let us look at it, but I got her upstairs to the bathroom to wipe it off and apply a band-aid. Darren followed me.

Mr. Better-Safe-Than-Sorry whispered to me, "That looks like it needs stitches."

Ms. Fly-By-The-Seat-Of-My-Pants-Because-Everything-Will-Be-Fine glared at him. "It does NOT. It's just a surface cut."

"Just how many cuts needing stitches have you seen?" he asked.

"I've been babysitting since I was 10 years old. I've seen all sorts of cuts. And you forget--I've had stitches myself. She'll be fine."

So I put on ointment and a band-aid, gave her a chocolate Easter egg for the trauma, and took her to school.

That evening before church, I was helping her take her shower. I peeled off the band-aid from that morning. Ohhhhhh. It was still bleeding. And looked like it needed stitches.

Darren called Lucho and asked if he minded looking at it at church that evening. I had to stay home and work on a huge freelance job. I felt terrible about this part because Lucy was crying in fear and wailing that she wished I was going with her.

Lucho looked at the cut and said, "Yes, she needs stitches. I wish you had called me earlier today; I could have done it for her."

Everybody join with Darren now: I TOLD YOU SO, ALICE.

So Darren and Lucy had to head out to Urgent Care at 8:30 at night while I stayed home with (now sleeping) Elaine and continued work on the freelance project. They got back around 10:30. Lucy came in and told me in a quavery voice, "I have stitches, Mama." She also had a bandage over the area, a hospital-issue spray bottle, a page of instructions for wound care, five Disney princess stickers, and a cherry pie from McDonalds (that last one was from her daddy).

Apparently it took one doctor and three nurses to get the stitching job done. I guess she screamed the clinic down with, "Nooooooooo! No stitches! My mommy says stitches hurt, and I don't want them!"

But she was a little trooper. She got stitches and survived. I let her sleep in my bed and watch "101 Dalmatians." I was going to let her stay home from school today, but she bounced out of bed this morning and was ready to go.

We rushed around and got her uniform on; then of course I remembered that the class had gotten all their Paw Points for these two weeks and get a jeans day today, so we had to very gingerly get undressed and dressed again.

Really though, all is well.

Lucy has several stitches around her right eyebrow.

And I was going to type, "But at least she doesn't have lice." However, as soon as I do that, she will. Such is the force of my very words, apparently.

So for now, I'm not saying anything.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Power of Words

It probably won't surprise anyone to learn that I love words. I love they way they sound.

Words such as:







It probably also will not surprise that there are certain words I hate the very sound of.





Head Lice.

The last two words where what Lucy's kindergarten teacher said to me when she leaned into the car during pick-up time yesterday. Now before we all freak out, Lucy does NOT have head lice. Yet. But apparently the kindergarten has an outbreak of them. Mrs. Blevins sent home five children yesterday with lice. She handed me Lucy's nap towel wrapped in a garbage bag.

I asked Lucy in the car, "Who had to go home with lice?"

"With what?" she asked.

"Lice! Grody, disgusting lice!"

"What are lice?" she said.

"They're tiny little bugs who get in your hair and don't get out and lay eggs in there too. They're wretched! Awful! I'm going to be sick!"

"Ohhhhhh," she said, realization dawning in her voice. "So that's why the nurse looked through my hair. She said I'm OK though."

When we got home, I made her strip in the back hall and hit the shower. We washed her hair twice with two different shampoos. I took her uniform, her backpack, her raincoat, and put them on the superwash cycle with hot water and extra detergent. Then I stripped their beds (which I had just freshly made a day ago) including the comforters and Rabbie and Catty and gave them the same treatment.

I also cleaned the house and wiped everything down with Lysol wipes. I have no idea if that's effective in any way, but it made me feel better.

Then Darren's parents arrived because they were going to take care of the girls for us and spend the night while Darren and I went to Chicago. My parents had tickets to the opera, but my mom is just too sick to go right now so they gave them to us.

We got ready to go and headed out. We went to dinner downtown at one of our favorite restaurants, which we hadn't been to in years. We had plenty of time to get to the opera before 7:30. We parked nearby and discovered that the meters don't turn off until 9--we had thought they turned off at 6. Of course we didn't have change. Darren had to run back and forth, getting change, which necessitated trying several places because some people don't give change, and feeding the meter.

We ran over the bridge and burst into the doors at 7:28.


They were no longer seating people in the theater.

We were too late.

The very polite man at the door told us that we would have to sit in the lobby and watch the opera on a small TV screen.

Unbelievable. However, we sat down to watch.

But then...the polite man came over and whispered two words I really never hear in connection with me:

Box Seats.

Someone had called in to say they wouldn't be using their box seats. And since box seats are the only ones in which people can be seated after the opera starts, he could show us to them.

To the BOX SEATS. Have we covered that? We were actually rewarded for being late.

We settled right in to watch Cavilleria rusticana and Pagliacci, two shorter operas that they normally perform together in the Spring. And the soprano in Cavilleria looked just like Wynona.

So, in less than 12 hours, I went from scouring my house from top to bottom to prevent head lice, to sitting in box seats at the Lyric hearing people shout "Bravo!"

It was, in a word...


Friday, March 20, 2009

John and Me

Fridays are now the day I look forward to the most because as soon as I pick Lucy up from school, I head over to spend the rest of the day with my mom. Usually we don't do much other than talk and laugh and drink tea. However, she has asked me to go through her things with her to decide what to do with them, and today I will be packing up my grandma's 1920s crystal wine goblets and juice glasses to take home.

I'd love these Fridays no matter what, but now I have the full realization that in just a matter of time, I would give everything I have just to spend one more Friday, even five more minutes, with my mom so I am cherishing them.

I have a lot of different thoughts about this whole situation--thoughts that pull me this way and that way. It's been very difficult to sleep, so each night I take half a sleeping pill (sorry, Mom!--she thinks they're addictive--it's not permanent...) and usually settle down to watch a BBC mini-series called "State of Play." I've watched it at least four times in a row now. I watch this one, well, because it's a great thriller and the best mini-series I've seen, but mostly because it's something my mom hasn't seen and probably wouldn't appeal to her much. Basically all the other things I watched I've shared with her. I described it to my friend Kirsten as kind of like a giant analgesic for me. [And a side note: there's an American movie version coming out within a couple weeks with Ben Affleck in it, for crying in a bucket. If you are my friend and you go see the ridiculous movie without watching the original series, I personally will not speak to you for six hours--the length of time it would take you to watch the mini. Consider yourself warned.]

There are so many things my mom and I experience together--books, music, movies, really just life in general--and a lot of that is painful to me now. I have to box it up and just put it away for awhile. There will be time later to bring it back out and look it over.

But more than all of those parts of daily life, what I will miss most about my mom is her impact and effect on my spiritual life. From the time I was born, she rocked me and sang hymns and read Bible stories to me. I was telling Alysa how she would wake us up early on Easter morning, and we would watch the sun rise together and sing "Up from the grave, He arose!" Growing up, she lived that verse about teaching your children the faith when you lie down and get up, when you're at home and when you walk down the road.

I've said before, my mom is a pray-er. Countless times she has prayed with and for me. Sometimes I'll be talking to her on the phone or in person and will tell her a situation that one of my friends has found herself in. Mom will say, "Let's stop everything and pray for her, right now."

The other day my dad stopped by our house. He said he had stood outside the closed door of the bedroom before he left to say goodbye to my mom. However, something compelled him to go inside instead. He found her, lying on the floor in pain, unable to get up. She'd been down on her knees, praying like always. I fully expect when I get to heaven that God will say, "You were completely covered the whole time you were down there," because that little lady can PRAY.

And so I've been thinking every day, how will I go on without her? I don't think I can do it alone. Though she is tiny, from before the time I was born I have had that mighty warrior on my side, guiding and interceding for me at every turn.

The time is coming when I will stand by her grave to say goodbye, and I'll have to turn and walk down the road by myself, without her clarity of vision, her godly advice, her fervent prayer. Who can pray for you like your mom does?

I often like to do Bible studies with other people--not in big groups--but maybe with just one or two friends. I've done some great studies with my mom, of course. However, starting in January, I've been doing a study alone, Beth's Moore's "John: 90 Days with the Beloved Disciple." While I love John's books, I've always been a bigger fan of Peter. [Side note: Lucy's Sunday School teacher stopped me not too long ago to tell me what happened during one of their lessons. It was about Jesus and the disciples. Apparently Lucy had gone off on a long monologue about Peter and all his doings, his death, his love for the Lord, and that "Peter is my mom's FAVORITE." Huh. Apparently she actually is listening when I ramble on. I guess the other kids just stared at her, though.]

Back to John. Through this whole experience I have discovered that when I am feeling at my lowest, God brings just the right word, the right e-mail from a friend, the right song, or whatever it at just the right time This is what He gave me yesterday, via Beth Moore. The lesson was from Acts, right after John's brother James was executed by Herod, and then his best friend Peter was seized:

I pity the person who came to John with the news. More than any of the other ten disciples, John must have replayed the events a thousand times in his mind. Did he think of their parents? Was he next? Did he think, "Lord, how will I go on through all of this without James and Peter? What are You doing?"...Solitude is not so much the place we find answers. It's the place we find our own square foot of earth from which to grapple with heaven and decide if we're going on--possibly alone--without our answers. And many of us will. Why? Because the privilege of wrestling with such a holy and mysterious God still beats the numbness--the pitiful mediocrity--of an otherwise life. Will you loosen your hold on anything and anyone else as prerequisites of following Him? Are you willing to be faithful, even when it means being faithful alone? How dependent are you on others for your allegiance to Christ?

She then closed the lesson with this prayer:

Lord, in those times when I fight to reconcile the facts of life with the words of faith, I depend on the fact that You give strength to the weary and strengthen the powerless. We will soar on wings like eagles. We will run and not grow weary. We will walk and not faint--not just when things are going well but when everything inside me feels like giving up and shutting down.

I am struck afresh with how God has exactly what I need at the exact moment I need it.

I will not lie. The thought of saying goodbye--I have no words. But the thought of going on alone terrifies and grieves me like nothing else.

Still I will stand...with my shoes off.

He is just as good as ever.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

If you looked up "chutzpah" in the dictionary, this picture would be next to it

In case you don't know, this is Elaine. She's wearing her famous "Catty" shirt, which I bought at the sale last fall, natch. Every morning when she wakes up, she demands, "I want to get dressed now. I want my Catty shirt and jeans." Catty shirt gets washed a lot just because I don't want the hassle of breaking it to her that she can't wear it today. However, Catty is getting too small (because of the three breakfasts a day she eats, more on that later), so if anyone sees any shirts out there with a cat on them (particularly a cute, fancy cat) let me know asap.

The other day when we were riding in the car, I looked back at Elaine's smiling, dimpled face and said, "I just love her. It's like God put a little sunshine in a bottle and gave it to us."

"Yeah," said Darren, "with some lightning bolts thrown in there too."

She has a love-hate relationship with the many ladybugs in our house. The other morning she walked into the bathroom in her pajamas. "My pants fell down," she announced. They looked fine to me so I asked, "Why did your pants fall down?"

"Well, there was a ladybug on them, so that was dangerous for me," she replied.

I'm trying--with little success--to get the girls to hang up their coats as soon as they come in the house. When Elaine comes in, she takes off her pink strawberry raincoat, hands it to me and says, "It's your turn, Mom. I did it last time."

Excuse me?

As I mentioned, she still eats her three breakfasts a day. She eats a breakfast bar with Lucy before we drop Lucy at school. Then she comes home and has a bowl of cereal. Then a little later, she has some yogurt or fruit. Once we were eating breakfast with our friends, Sarah and Lucho. Lucho is a family doctor not to mention they have three children of their own, so he sees a lot of kids.

"She's a good eater, isn't she?" he asked, as Elaine sat across from him, eating her cereal.

"Yes, and that's her third bowl," I answered. His eyes popped. "She ate three bowls of cereal? And she's still so small?"

We told him she needs extra energy for the planning and execution of all her evil deeds.

With her love for cereal, you can imagine she was in heaven the day the naughty leprechaun left Lucky Charms. We buy only the healthy kind of cereal, so sweetened cereal with marshmallows to boot was unheard of. She enjoyed every mouthful

That afternoon, after a lunch of cheese, wheat crackers, carrots, and sliced cucumbers, we three girls went for a walk/bike ride around the block. Elaine pedalled alongside me on her tricycle.

"I want some of that marshmallow cereal when we get home," she said.

"No, that was only a special treat. Besides, you just ate lunch," I told her.

She immediately began to cry. Then to wail. "But I'm starving!" she moaned piteously. We live fairly near a hospital, and the sound of an ambulance passing by is pretty usual. But she had one of those sirens beat. A man walking the opposite way passed us.

"I can't tell, is she happy or sad?" he asked.

"Oh, she's mad!" I said airily and kept moving.

We finally reached our own driveway with her still wailing that I was starving her, her shoulders heaving with sobs. As we turned toward our patio, I happened to look near the little picnic table where the girls had eaten their lunch. In the shrubbery next to it, I saw something orange. Since everything around here is still just brown, I moved in for a closer look.

The orange stuff was squares of cheese. And scattered around it were more remnants of that child's lunch. So...let me get this straight. She threw her lunch in the bushes and then tried to scam Lucky Charms from me.

At least this time, after much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth about not getting marshmallow cereal, she eventually apologized. "I'm sorry I frew my lunch in the bushes, Mom." Usually when she gets in trouble, she bounces right up to our face and says, "Dat is so naughty dat you're shouting at me."

Each day with that little girl you sort of feel like you haven't quite gotten to fasten your seatbelt yet, but the roller coaster has already started. I get the fact that kids are an up-and-down enterprise; it's not easy. And then there's that old saying, "Into each life, a little rain must fall." I understand that.

Nobody said anything about lightning though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bargains, we got bargains! Or, Wherein I lose any men readers I might have had...

I mentioned earlier that I went to the semi-annual (bi-annual? Must look that up), anyway, twice a year, used children's clothing sale with Alysa this weekend. I'd love to say that I buy used clothes for my children because I'm going green and trendy and everything that goes along with this new economic state we all find ourselves in, but I have been about the used clothes forever. I think it's because my mom was a missionary. I've spent countless hours with her in what she calls "my little shops" aka resale stores. I just can't comprehend paying all retail all the time.

Besides, it's FUN. It's a blast to find beautiful clothes, sometimes with the tags still on, for a fraction of the original price. I don't know about you, but I don't even like going in to Gymboree. They make the absolute cutest kids' clothes, but they're ridiculously priced (in my opinion). Yet after you see them, nothing else compares.

Anyway, up at the crack of dawn, armed with our laundry baskets and our dollar admission fee, we hit the sale. If you want to see pictures of the madhouse, Alysa documented it here. After about two hours (apx. 30 minutes of which was spent standing in the long line to check out), we emerged with our bargains. Alysa had already given Lucy a ton of summer playclothes from her little girl, Maddie. What I was really looking for were a Spring casual coat for Lucy, dress coats for both girls, a few playclothes for Elaine, and some dresses for both. Here are just a few of the things I found...

A Gymboree dress for Elaine...

This capri outfit Alysa and I just died over for Elaine...

The next two Gymboree outfits with tags still on for Elaine...

Another play outfit...

Something to dress up in...

Here is a Gymboree play outfit for Lucy...

A Laura Ashley dress for Lucy...

One of the big finds of the sale: a Bonnie Belle dress and coat for Lucy... Another woman was holding this and contemplating it for her daughter. I heard her say, "I think this is just too small for her." I said, "If you decide not to buy that, please don't hang it back up, just hand it over!"

I also found Lucy a like-new lined raincoat to wear to school (not pictured here because she's actually wearing it at school today) and...drum roll please....almost-matching Spring dress coats.

While we were standing in line to check out, we spotted another dress I just had to have for Lucy. It was a pink top with a black skirt and a pink ribbon around the waist with black polka dots. She looks just like a little flapper in it. I don't have a picture of it because we went over to see my mom on Sunday afternoon and to show her all the bargains. The girls put on a fashion show for her, and we forgot the black and pink dress there. Mom's missionary heart was completely satisfied at all our finds.

The grand total for all this? (Keep in mind there are more dresses and playclothes not even pictured here!)--$107.00.

And that was the Spring sale! Alysa had never been before, but I believe I have a convert. One of the best rules of the sale is "No kids allowed unless you can wear them." All of ours are certainly beyond the Snugli/Baby Bjorn stage, so we are forced to attend without them. It breaks our hearts, but it must be done. And if the two hours for the sale happens to extend into an entire day, that's just a sacrifice we'll have to make. We're already planning for the September one!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Uh-oh. What Happened Here?

When we came downstairs for breakfast this morning, this is the sight that greeted us.

Who could have done this?

Upon close examination, it looks suspiciously like the work of a naughty leprechaun. The patio door seems to be where he got in.

He hopped onto the island, scattering things as he ran.

He ran down, throwing papers and CDs and our precious birdhouse on the floor...

...and then ran out the back door.

However, he did leave a nice St. Patrick's Day breakfast.

So, he's not all bad.

Lucy left for school with elaborate plans of how to catch the naughty leprechaun next year. She said, "Did he came late at night? I think I might have heard the chairs being knocked over. Are leprechauns really real? Are you sure you didn't do all that, Mom?"

"Would I mess up my own kitchen that I just spent so much time cleaning yesterday?" I responded.

Elaine got in on the action too. "I think I heard him come upstairs to my room. He said, 'You are naughty, Elaine!'" (No, that was just Daddy and me.)

That's just the beginning of St. Patrick's Day here. It's supposed to be sunny and 70, which is unheard of. Most St. P's Days are bitterly cold and sleeting. Maybe the naughty leprechaun brought us this nice weather too. We will not be having corned beef and cabbage for supper because that is gimmicky (unlike Lucky Charms and gold chocolate coins, also because I hate cabbage). I usually make Irish chicken and dumplings, but I'm going to wait until later in the week so I can bring some to my mom and dad too. So, we'll be having corned beef sandwiches and potato chips tonight instead. As well, I need to make Darren's favorite green cake.

I will leave you all with one of my favorite Irish songs, the kind that makes you smile and cry and want to go climb a beautiful green Irish hill all at the same time.

Slainte mhath!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Have We Been Over This?

So the other day, I walked into my kitchen and slid halfway across the floor in my clogs and almost took a header into the dishwasher. Elaine came after me and completely wiped out, like someone sliding into homeplate.

"What on earth?" I asked. Elaine was lying there, crying. "What is on this floor? I just washed it," I said.

I picked her up and noticed something odd about her hair. Then I saw a telltale red can with the top off on the counter.

"I sprayed this," Elaine said.

Yes, she sprayed Pam all over the ceramic tile floor and in her hair. Let's see, we've tried Vaseline, Desitin, and now corn oil spray in the hair. I'm becoming an expert at removing foreign matter from human hair.

Here she is (and my open dishwasher as you can see)...

This weekend was fantastic. On Saturday I got up at the crack of dawn and drove to Wheaton to the semi-annual used children's clothing sale. I met Alysa there, and then we spent ALL DAY TOGETHER SANS KIDS. It was fabulous. I'll show pictures of all the stuff I got at the sale later this week. Alysa and I hit downtown Wheaton and then downtown Geneva. For some reason we were obsessed with saying, "ba-kok!" like a chicken randomly and laughing hysterically. Yeah, we haven't changed much since college. At one point we found ourselves sipping drinks leisurely on a bench at a park. "How sad is it that we still find ourselves at a park even though we don't have kids with us?" we asked ourselves.

It was so wonderful to get together with one of my best friends to laugh, cry, eat french fries, shop, and talk together.

The whole weekend also brought with it beautiful Spring weather. Yesterday the girls sang in church with the other children (two hymns). We had been practicing at home for the last couple of weeks, and Lucy did a beautiful job. Elaine...not so much. I dressed them in matching dark green dresses, black tights, and their Mary Janes. Apparently that, coupled with the inordinate amount of time both girls have spent watching clips on youtube of it, left her with the impression that she is one of the Riverdance troupe, so she spent much of the time on the platform tap tap tapping her feet in a little dance. At one point she began to pull her dress up, but I think she caught me mouthing "Noooooooooooooooooooooo!" in her peripheral vision and stopped.

The fantastic weather has carried over to today. Here are the signs of Spring I've seen so far this morning:

So, on this St. Patrick's Day Eve, as it is known at our house, I will leave you with this blessing:

May your Monday be sunny,
may the robins be singing in your backyard,
may your Eileen Ivers music be turned up loud,
may your children be playing outside,
and until we meet again,
may your kitchen floor not rise up to meet you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some Miscellaneous Elaine Doings

Early this morning Elaine came into the bathroom and asked, as she does every single day, "Is it my turn to swim?"

"Yes!" I said, "Today is Thursday, so it's your turn to swim."

"Mom, I know the name of that little girl at swimming now!" she told me.

There is another 3-year-old girl at the swimclub (not in her actual class) who Elaine absolutely loves. While Lucy and this girl's older sister take their lessons, Elaine and she hold hands and look at the fish in the fishtank together and play in the play area.

"Her name is 'Kloopy,'" she said decidedly.

Fortunately for the little girl, her name is Aubrey. We'll have to practice that I guess so Elaine won't persist in calling her Kloopy.

After this conversation, she and Lucy gathered some of their stuffed animals and took them to China in the laundry basket. There they sold them. Is this some sort of white slavery ring? I chose not to look into the matter very closely. But here they are:

After I dropped Lucy off at school, I decided to make a big batch of soup so we could have half and I can bring half to my parents tomorrow. Here is Elaine, helping me. She would much rather do this than play with her toys, which is kind of nice.

After I took the picture, I noticed the proximity of the chopping knife to her. Fortunately, she was too busy putting pieces of celery leaves and bits of potato into each measuring cup to notice.

That's about it so far today. We are all a little discouraged. I talked to my dad this morning on the phone. My mom started radiation this week because, while getting her MRI on Monday, a random doctor--not someone on her team--looked at her images and called her into his office right after. He said that it is absolutely urgent that she begin treatment immediately for the tumor on her spine or she will soon be paralyzed. As she told me, "I may be gone in a few months, but I don't want to be paralyzed as well. Bed pans--no thanks!"

But the radiation has been extremely painful so far, and in addition, the kind of cancer she has is still to be determined. She has already had one unsuccessful biopsy. Yesterday the doctor laid out about four different ways they can try again to get a biopsy--each sounded more painful than the last, and she is already in horrible, crippling pain. As well, the dreaded word "chemo" has been thrown into the conversation; she's had two rounds of chemo in her life already and didn't plan for any more.

So when I said we're a little discouraged, I guess that means a lot discouraged. A friend gave me this verse, and this is what I'm holding on to today: Psalm 34:18 "The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." It is very comforting to know that the God of the universe is near, personally, to us, even as our hearts are breaking.

He is just as good as ever.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

For Some Reason This Picture Cracks Me Up

They're watching Riverdance clips. Yes, the obsession continues unabated.

Also, for some unknown reason (am I INsane?) I taught them "The Name Game."

Here's a little note to self: Do not teach children, who adore anything annoyingly repetitive and never-ending, a song that is annoyingly repetitive and never-ending.

Kill me.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Times They Are A'Changin'

I've been telling the girls every day to be on the lookout for the first robin. I don't know what's wrong with our city, but since we are looking for robins I haven't seen a single bird--robin or otherwise. No sparrows even. Apparently we live in a bird-free zone.

On Friday I drove over to spend the morning with my mom. She had a test scheduled at the hospital that afternoon, but she had the morning free. This week has not brought us good news. The doctors still can't figure out what kind of cancer she has so they haven't come up with any way to treat it. And they discovered that, instead of a spot on her lung, she has a lemon-sized tumor. In addition, nothing is confirmed, but they think it has spread to her liver as well.

As I pulled into their driveway on that beautiful sunny morning though, I saw a small bird hopping along in the yard. Sure enough--a robin. I ran into the living room where Mom was sitting by the window with her eyes closed. "A robin is out in your yard," I announced. "Have you seen him already and just not told me so that you don't have to be the one to make the treats?" She laughed, and I said, "C'mon, you have to look out and see the first robin!"

She rose ever so slowly and oh so painfully to see the first real sign that spring is coming back, then sat back down. We couldn't share our usual cup of tea together because she wasn't allowed to have anything before her test. But we sat and chatted and laughed about all our usual things. I asked her advice on some subjects, and she gave me her usual wise perspective. We talked about her life as it is now. She told me about her lung doctor. "I want to put my arm around him and say, 'I understand. You're socially maladjusted. You're doing the best you can.'"

She told me about all their friends and neighbors who have been caring for them, people who have called, and everyone who is lavishing affection on them. She said tiredly but with her usual humor, "I do love everyone. But some people...they want me to do things. Like join support groups. I'm so exhausted. I just want to be around someone more like myself, you know, laid-back. Someone who doesn't have any goals and objectives."

"Someone like ME!" I exclaimed, and we burst into laughter. "Yes," she said. "I just want my dearest daughter." Then she said to me as the pain crossed her face, "I have such peace. Last time I had cancer, I wasn't ready to die. But now...my children are both married and have stable homes. Both of my children are stable in the faith. I've gotten to see my little girls," she smiled, "I am ready to go." And as I sat with her in the sun, as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together, the peace enfolded us both.

When I went home, I stopped by the grocery store to get the ingredients to make the robin treats. The girls would be so excited, and our whole family was getting together the next day so we could have the robin party together. But for some reason, though they are the simplest things in the world to make and I've made them countless times, they just didn't work. The chocolate would not melt on the stove. I stirred and stirred, and it was just a grainy mass that got harder and harder. I tried to microwave it and thin it with milk, nothing worked. And behind me the girls shrieked and talked and laughed until I thought my head would explode.

Finally I sat down in the rocking chair and cried over the stupid robin treats. Everything ought to work the same way and chocolate should melt right every time and this tradition should happen every year and I don't want this to be the last time I ever make a robin treat for my mom. Then Lucy said, "Mom, Manga always says, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.'" So I got up, went back to the grocery store, bought more ingredients, and finally succeeded in making the (most expensive ever) robin treats.

We had a good day on Saturday with all my family together. My dad ordered in lunch for all of us, and we talked about happy things around the table, and my brother and his wife told us all about their recent trip to the Philippines. But though we didn't speak of it, cancer was always there with us, the uninvited guest.

Sunday brought the time change. Why is it so early this year? Elaine woke up in a mood. She was grumpy about everything and everyone and mad at the world. When she gets like this, you really can't do anything with her, and she will finally climb to my lap, sobbing, "I just need my Mama Time!"

On the way to church, I heard the hymn 'Tis So Sweet, the hymn that reminds me so of my mom, that she used to sing around the house, that we all sang on her 75th birthday, and the grief has come crashing back in wave after wave. When we got to church, I saw with relief that I was scheduled to work in the infant nursery--that's all I wanted, to just sit in a quiet room with only a baby for company. My good friend Sarah was scheduled too, and we got the one baby who was there today quieted down and napping. We sat in the rocking chairs with the lights off and chatted. She asked about my mom, and as I started to talk, to my horror I began to cry again.

Sarah, who knows the pain of losing your mother, did the best thing a friend could do. She came over, put her arms around me, and knelt by my side in the dark, crying along with me, and whispered, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

One of the hardest things about this time is to continue on, to be a mom and take care of the girls. My mom gave me some of the best advice ever when Lucy was born, "Your children are not emotionally equipped to handle your adult problems." That doesn't mean to shield them from everything, but they cannot bear the burden of a mother who is so sorrowful that she doesn't even want to get out of bed. But their constant chatter and their needs and their bickering about whose turn it is to get out of the tub first and whose turn it is to pick the story tonight and crying about not being able to get their tights on...it is so hard to pick up and carry on.

They were watching episode after episode of The Muppet Show this afternoon, and if you're wondering if hearing Animal bang on the drums is some sort of antidote for emotional pain, I am here to tell you that it is definitely not. I feel best when I'm there with my mom; seeing her, talking to her, listening to her. It's when I go away and can't see her anymore that all the fear and the pain and the stress surround me. I just want my Mama Time.

But as always, God brings something to me when I am most desperate. I went in to the kitchen tonight to fix the girls' supper and flipped on the CD player, just letting play whatever was in there.

Here is what He gave me at just the right moment. I hope you can hear it too.

So, even in the pain tonight, I am still standing with my shoes off.

He is just as good as ever.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Signs of Spring I Have Seen Today

Moss on the patio steps...

Tulips coming up around the tree (must rake soon)....

And my personal favorite...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Conversation from the Bathroom This Morning

The girls and I were in the bathroom this morning, getting ready. I was doing their hair. Lucy had Prince Charming and Snow White Polly Pocket dolls with her.

"When I put this cloak on Snow White, you need to say 'Goodbye' to her, Mom," Lucy told me.

"Do I have to?" I asked.

"Yes. Now here's her cloak, so say 'Goodbye.'"

"Goodbye, Snow White," I told her.

Then she continued on in a high Snow White voice. "I am now the queen! I am the queen of all Polly Pocketland!" and she set her and the prince on the windowsill to reign over us.

Elaine walked over to the windowsill and looked Snow White straight in the eye.

"You are NOT the queen of ME!" she told her.

I foresee a lot of parent/teacher conferences in our future, don't you?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Recent Quote Collection

The setup: Elaine was sick and crying. Lucy in a massive burst of generosity offered her most precious possession.

Lucy: You can borrow Rabbie. Just don’t hold him by his arms. Or his legs. Or his ears. Or his neck. I discovered that when I was sucking my thumb that it would probably rip his head off.

The setup: Back in February when we were doing our note boxes, Lucy would ask me periodically throughout the day if I had left her a note. I reminded her that she should be leaving notes too for Elaine.

Lucy: I would, but she hasn't done anything kind.

The setup: In the car on the way back from the swimclub, the scene of many an argument.

Elaine (shrieking): Mommy! Lucy pulled my hair!

Me: Did you pull her hair, Lucy?

Lucy: No, I just jerked it nicely.

The setup: Lucy was discussing an incident that happened at school.

Lucy: I was sartistic to a boy at school. He showed me something, and I said, 'Great!' as in 'oh great, yeah, I really don't like that.'

Me: Well, being sarcastic is really not a nice way to be [as I preach to myself].

Lucy: But he's a BOY, Mom. He was showing us girls one of his robot toys. It's OK to be sartistic to boys about their old boy stuff.

The setup: This morning during devotions we learned (again) the verse about how children should obey their parents. We talked about how Jesus obeyed His parents even though He didn't have to. Then I asked them some questions.

Me: Lucy, why did Jesus obey His parents?

Lucy: Because it's right and to be an example to us.

Me: Elaine, why should we obey our parents?

Elaine: So we can get our dessert.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

We're Officially on Spring Watch

When we left the house this morning it was 14 degrees out, but we are now on the lookout for signs of Spring. I asked, "What day is today?" and Lucy said, "Sunday!" "What else?" I asked. "March 1st!" she yelled.

"And what comes in March?" I quizzed.

"St. Patrick's Day! The Spring bunny comes to visit! And we welcome the robins back!"

Though it is bitterly cold and windy, it is still March, so we are hopeful. Then we talked about how it's necessary for March to come in like a lion so that it can go out like a lamb (we hope).

Then we had one of my favorite kind of Sunday afternoons--Darren took Elaine to the grocery store so I wouldn't have to go out anymore (isn't he the greatest?), while Lucy and I snuggled up with some tea and watched "Emma." Well, I actually fell asleep, and she watched.

When Elaine came back, we made some popcorn and she climbed up with us to watch "The Rescuers." That is truly one of the best Disney movies. I remember my Aunt Nancy taking me to the theater to see it. For months (years?) after that, I was Miss Bianca and she was Auntie Medusa. Now my girls love it and spend lots of time busily casting the roles from our own family. I still get the privilege of being Miss Bianca. Lucy is Penny (because she's missing her front teeth), and Elaine gets to be Teddy. They told Daddy he was going to be Mr. Snoops, but I rescued him and now he gets to be Bernard.

Another big excitement over the weekend--we had a group of people over for dinner on Friday night, and I made chocolate fondue. I let the girls have some for their dessert: we dipped strawberries, kiwi fruit, bananas, marshmallows, and pieces of pound cake. Lucy exclaimed, "Mom, this is the NICEST you've ever been to us!" Who knew? After all these years of mothering, I could have just given them a big vat of melted chocolate and they would have been happy.

And last but not least:

Of course I didn't get these from my (iron-hard, frozen) yard, but at least they are now available at the supermarket. One of the first signs of Spring!