Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good Morning, India

Once, a long time ago when adventures involved a whole lot more than taking three young kids to the grocery store, I traveled to Darjeeling, India.  Early one morning (and I mean early, around 3:30 AM), my two traveling companions and I dressed warmly and hopped into a Jeep-like vehicle with four or five strangers.

In the darkness, in the silence, in the cold, we sat with our hats pulled down and our scarves wrapped around as the Jeep climbed up, up, up to the top of a very high hill.  When we arrived at our destination, which seemed fairly random and sure to be unknown, there were dozens of other cars and trucks.  The place was buzzing in activity though it was completely bathed in darkness.  I realized it was not random and it was pretty well known.  We got out and strolled around an abandoned fort--we and more than two hundred Indian tourists and one or two dozen foreign tourists, so "strolling" was really more like "squeezing past way too many people."  It was horribly crowded; I was getting the feeling that whatever my companions had in store for me was not going to be worth it.

After 30 minutes of un-fun shivering with all of these tourists, the skies began to get lighter.  The loud banter you'd expect to hear from this many people slowed quickly.  Silence fell as people's attention turned to the sky and their natural surroundings.  Slowly, very slowly, the black turned to dark blue, which slowly turned a little lighter.  We all waited, simultaneously knowing and not knowing what to expect.

And then, the man right next to me shouted loudly and emphatically a syllable or two in Hindi. I didn't know what he was saying, but I saw what he was pointing at with massive excitement: A sliver, a tiny slit of brilliant red, was peeking out over the mountains.  There it was!  The Sun!  Over the Himalayas!  There they were!  The biggest mountains in the world!

The Sun-spotting man next to me and I were not the only two people who were excited to see the Sun pop up in the distance over the most majestic mountains in the world.  The whole crowd erupted in cheers at the sight.  Silence turned to celebration at the start of this sunrise.

And we all witnessed together the entire red ball of the Sun rise up from behind the mountains.  Slowly at first, but with gathering momentum, the circle of red rose up from behind the mountains until it stood alone.  The mountains reflected the sunrise; they were a brilliant pink-yellowish color.

Good morning, India!

It is with this same excitement that I start the new year.  I'm grateful for 2013; though it was easily the most difficult year of my life, those emotional and mental struggles are mostly behind me.  But all that stuff I waded through and got muddied in surely left an impression on me, and I know I am stronger and wiser because of it.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lorelei had a Sad Day.

Lorelei is 6 1/2.  She is bright, enthusiastic, cheerful, thoughtful, and fun-loving.  I try to remind her each night as I say good-night to her how much joy she brings our family.  As I sit on her bed, I remind her that our family is lucky to have her.

One night, as I was about to say good-night, her normal brightness and enthusiasm and cheerfulness was...drooping a bit.  Good girls are certainly entitled to a bad day here and there, so I hugged her even tighter.

Then she looked at me, and stated: "Mommy, I'm sad."

I sighed, smiled, and sat down.  I asked her to tell me about it, but she admitted that she didn't know why she was feeling sad--she couldn't pinpoint it to school or to the bus ride or to home or to a person or to an activity.  There was sometimes just some sadness that washed over her.  I explained to her that sadness was an emotion that was going to be part of her life--as it is a part of all of our lives--even though I sure wish I had a magic wand that could protect her from it.

We chatted a little, me trying to be wise and Lorelei listening politely, until Lorelei suddenly brightened.  "Mommy, that's it!  I've got it!  Let's have a 30 Day No Sadness Challenge!"

(Background: In the fall, I completed a 30 Day No Yelling Challenge because I didn't like how I was yelling almost every day at one kid or another.  It was a habit I wanted to break, a behavior I wanted to change.  So I enlisted the kids' help--told them to say, "Ben and Jerry's!" when I was about to yell to a) lighten the mood and b) remind me of the prize at the end of the challenge.  It worked pretty well though I did break a door out of frustration, which is sorta ironic.  But I didn't yell.  Hmm.  I think this is my SOL next week...)

I smiled, "I don't think that's the point.  Yelling is a reaction that is not helpful and not kind.  Sadness is an emotion that we can't just will away.  I think the point with sadness is to know that it exists and still be happy.  The challenge is to hold gently whatever it is that's making you sad, and remind yourself to look at all the good, happy things in your life and focus on those.  That way, you can still feel sadness, which is just part of life, but still dance with joy.  That's the challenge."

It was one of those moments where the words were directed at Lorelei, but I knew that I needed to hear and listen and believe them myself.  As 2013 comes to a close, I am so grateful that the sadness I felt on the first day of this year has slowly diminished.  I've trained myself to look at the good and happy, which (lucky me) is always within arm's reach.

And yet, I know that my specific sadness won't ever go away completely.  But I'll learn to dance with it, and hopefully show my daughter (and sons!) that life is better when you invite in all these complex emotions.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Pause that Changes it All?

Yesterday was my youngest son's 2 1/2 year well-baby check up.  It seemed to me pretty unnecessary--Kiefer is robust and strong, stocky and smiley, full of giggles and joy and pure love.  As a third child, he benefits from the always present, mostly positive example of his two older siblings.  As my third child, he benefits from my experience; I'm more able to separate the grain from the chaff.  Though sadly for him I'm really good at ignoring tantrums.
Meet Kiefer.

While his big brother and big sister were at school, Kiefer and I strolled, hand-in-hand into the doctor's office.  The wait was long, and we sat in our little waiting room, he on my lap, playing silly games--like pretending to hide from whomever we thought might open the door.  "Someone's coming!" I'd whisper urgently, and he'd bury his face in my shoulder.  I love when he plays really close to my face, just inches away, so I can see every millimeter of his perfect skin, the brightness of his blue eyes, the unevenness of my last trim of his hair.  I just breathe him in.  Pure love, this child.

Finally, the nurse practitioner comes in.  She's a harried lady, but kind and thorough.  We like her.  We chatted for a few minutes about Kiefer's overall health.  I had no concerns, though like every mom I wish he'd sleep a little more (exactly when I wanted him to.  what's wrong with that?!).

She reached for her stethoscope and began the exam.  She didn't get far.

She pulled up Kiefer's shirt and listened to the lub-dub, lub-dub of his perfect little heart.  And then she listened some more.  In fact, she just kept pressing her stethoscope into his chest again and again, listening very, very intently.  This is my third child--I know how long this part of the exam should take. Read: not long.

I took some deep breaths, this time not just breathing in my littlest guy but the ease of these moments, before the doctor spoke.  We've been so lucky with our health.  A family of five and all we complain about is a sneeze or a puke episode every now and then!  Lucky, lucky us.

Is this it? I began to wonder.  Is this the pause that changes it all?  What is she going to tell me?  How could anything be wrong with my child?  Even as I thought it, I knew that that is the exact thing that every mom thinks, even the less fortunate ones who get news of complications moments after thinking it.  Underneath, we are all kids with super hero capes thinking that we and ours are indestructible, totally immune to anything bad.

She looked at me.  I steadied and readied myself.

"He has a slight heart murmur.  It's nothing to worry about.  It's called a Stills murmur, and it is very, very, very subtle.  It shouldn't affect him at all in his life, just something to know about."

I thought I had breathed sighs of relief before in my life.  Nope.  They were nothing like this one.