Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Jen

'Tis the season of thankfulness. All month, I’ve read the many things my friends have given thanks for each day, and contemplated my own state of gratitude.

This year, I’m thankful for something rather odd, something I never thought I’d ever admit to being, much less thankful for. Take note, mark it on your calendar, burn it into memory, because it’s that unlikely an admission and you won't see it again v. I’m sure Mr. Hat will be hauling this out for years to come. Ready?

I’m thankful that I WAS WRONG.

Better said, God was right. As always.

It isn’t the first time He’s taken my well-laid plans and altered them. By “altered” I mean laid waste to, annihilated, completely obliterated. I never get that “still, small voice,” but rather the 2'x4' upside the head. Hard.

And back in March, that two by four was shrunk to one little stick 6"x1” – a little white stick one pees on. 

After 17 years of fertility treatments and sheer negligence that produced nothing, one doesn’t expect it to say “pregnant.”  I gave up any hope of seeing that result 12 years ago and happily adopted to complete my family. My family was made complete six years ago, with the adoption of our son. All three kids were finally in school all day.  Everyone could carry their own gear, zip their own coats, feed themselves, pick up after themselves (even if it does take lots of badgering). We could go out without having to hire a babysitter or take kids with us. It was a brave, new, wonderful stage of life – and we loved it.

So, I wasn’t at all happy to see that word. Nope. I cried – and it wasn’t tears of joy. I ranted. I contemplated jumping from the roof. I swore a blue streak – a few blue streaks. I cried some more. I panicked a lot. Why now, after all those years we would have welcomed this news but went without? Suddenly, I identified with a whole new side of Sarah, beyond the years of ache.

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” Gen 18:12

And so began eight months of denial, discomfort, health complications, tears – and a good deal of laughter. It really was just so ridiculous at my age, when menopause was more likely than pregnancy. My oldest was beginning her senior year; surely one shouldn’t be shopping for colleges and layettes at the same time. I felt like I was the amusement in God’s sense of humor.

Then, as suddenly and surprisingly as it began, it ended in an emergency c-section a few weeks early.

They handed me this unbelievably tiny little thing, with a nose the size of my fingertip and a mouth equally small. His cry, when he cried, was also tiny, much like a slow leak in a helium balloon. He looked at me with these steel blue eyes, pursed his little lips into this adorable little “o” the size of a Cheerio – and suddenly it was all OK. More than OK.

It was perfect. And wonderful.

I confess I spend a good portion of each day just staring at him, loving him so much it hurts, overwhelmed with the feeling of unbelievable gratitude to have him. Sure, I knew in my head that when he got here, it’d all be fine and I would be glad. But I find I underestimated just how thankful I would be. Sleepless nights, being covered in spit up, changing countless dirty diapers aren’t dimming the wonderfulness in the least.

I should have known that having my plans thwarted would be this wonderful. I've been here before. In being deprived of the ability to conceive, I was moved to adoption, a thing I’m so privileged to be a part of. I’ve known for years I’d have been robbed of something so awesomely marvelous if I’d have had the biological kids I’d planned on. There it is again – my plan, exchanged for something better.

So this season of Thanksgiving, I’m tremendously thankful: for miracles, survival, sanity, coos, a sacrificial spouse, a six year old who adores being a brother, a rosebud mouth and tiny fingers, supportive friends, thwarted plans, a God who knows me and my needs so much better than I do...

...for being wrong.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ten Years: Remembering Mom

Ten years ago this evening, I was cleaning the bathroom when the phone rang. It was such a mundane task to be in the middle of for such a life-changing, earth-shattering moment. The call was that one you dread, the harbinger of sad tidings, loss, and life as you know it irreparably changed.

Mom had just had a massive stroke and was en route to the hospital via ambulance. What followed was a frantic, confusing night in which she never regained consciousness and ended with us tearfully bidding her farewell. We were surrounded by her friends and ours, covered in their prayers, comforted with their hugs, but still hurting tremendously all the same.

She wasn't "officially" my mom. She was my husband's. But when I married him - even well before that - she became heart and soul my mom, too. Ever supportive, always encouraging, she loved us equally and loved us well.  We had a common love for gardens and flowers and had just spent the day before together in our annual "April's here, let's get plants" shopping ritual.

When she became a grandmother, she did that even better, if that can be. She adored her grandkids. Her house was well-stocked with toys, playrooms on both levels. She was a ready and willing babysitter. She was the one ensuring the kids were taken out for frequent special outings with Grandma and Grandpa. Photo album upon photo album was filled with hundreds of pictures of Matthew, Cate, Alyssa, and Ben. She didn't get a chance to fill an "ablum" (one of her quirky pronunciations we miss) with pictures of Gracie, who joined our family on Mom's last birthday, barely a month and a half earlier.

Tonight, we'll have dinner and whisk off to conferences for a grandson she never met. She'd have loved him and his funny ways. It grieves me to think of the friendship they would have had and that he'll never get to enjoy it or her, him. He'll never know what it was to spend the night at her house, play in her garden, or walk the boardwalk at the beach with her, Pronto Pup in hand.

Above all, Mom loved her God, passionately. She volunteered for hours in the missions office and elsewhere at church. She had a large bulletin board with a map surrounded by pictures of the missionaries she prayed for every day. She opened her home every week for years to a group of teens wanting a place to have Bible study before school. She studied her Bible and worked hard to live up to and by its words. So we know that while her death was such a great loss for us, it was a tremendous gain for her.

When we left her bedside for the last time, one of us mused about the gardening she'll be doing in heaven, looking forward to the day we see her again and get to stroll through it with her. Outside my kitchen window is a rosebush she bought on our last trip to the garden center together on April 25. It was supposed to a smallish carpet rose, but it's so big now, far bigger than it was supposed to get. Its canes are eight or more feet long and it can barely be contained or trained, and sets new bushes where its canes touch the ground. I look at all that growth from that tiny little bush and think of how much her garden in heaven must be like it after all this time: lush, full, rampant, mature.

I look forward to seeing it with her, to again walk side by side, discussing each plant's attributes as we used to, with our kids nearby, laughing together. Until then, I walk through my own garden, filled with plants from her earthly one, and contemplate how to remember her to my kids, soon to be three now who didn't get to know her. There's such a lot to remember and share.

Which means there's also so much to miss. And I do. Every day.

So, Happy Heavenly Birthday, Mom, with all my love.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Day the Heartbreak Stopped

Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving
~ A.W. Tozer

March 8 is an auspicious date in our household. It is the birthdate of Mr. Hat's mother. It is also, less significantly, the date our naughty Cat Hat was born. 

But most importantly, it is the day that saw the end of years of heartbreak. Ten years ago today, Grace came home.

For seven years, we had tried to expand our family. We made charts, endured tests, hoped the drugs would work. We contemplated and debated adoption, unable to see how it would ever be financially possible. 

Then one day, a baby fell from the sky, into our arms.

A friend in another state was housing a girl at the end of her pregnancy, a girl who suddenly, finally realized adoption was the best choice for her child. Remembering our desire to adopt, they called us, touching off a whirlwind as we sought to cram a process that took months into just two weeks, which was when she was due. When we got the call she was in labor, we drove an entire day to get there, the whole time feeling indescribable excitement.

They put this darling little bundle in my arms. This little, tiny thing with big brown eyes, a shock of dark brown hair, rosy cheeks and rosebud mouth. My son was beautiful; he looked just like that picture by Bessie Pease Gutman. For three days, we held him, loved him, planned for his future.

Then, just as suddenly as he came, he was snatched away. His birth mother learned the limits of his father's rights and beat a fast path home to Virginia. I never got to say goodbye. Instead, I came home to a ready nursery, piled up shower gifts, and the antique wicker bassinet in which I once slept trimmed in blue ribbon. I didn't get cards of congratulations; they were messages of condolence.

It was a while before we dared to dream again. When we did, we looked in Mexico, Afghanistan, and China. Three times, we started the process to adopt from China. Three times our process was sidelined. Clearly God had some other direction for us. 

We began our plan B late summer of 2001: domestic, transracial adoption. It was terrifying to trust the domestic process again, but it was clearly what God had in mind. Our only child, a tiny little autistic girl, enthusiastically begged God every night for a sister, asking Him to give her brown eyes, brown arms, brown legs.

In late January 2002, we got THE call. She was here! She'd be ours. We visited her in a temporary foster home, bonding with our new daughter, cooing over her gigantic cheeks, counting the days until she could come home. We swapped out the blue ribbon on the bassinet with yards of pink; she was coming home tomorrow.

And then it happened. On Valentine's Day, our hearts were broken again, as her birth mom came to claim her. It was just as heartbreaking, but this time, I at least knew I would survive. Another ribbon-tied bundle of condolence cards and pictures joined the first in a drawer, the only proof I have that for too short a time, I was a mother to two others.

Two days later, another little girl was born. I didn't know until the week after. We were so afraid she'd be lost, too, that we didn't visit. We couldn't bond and lose again.

Court day came. We got on our coats to head to the agency, breathless with anticipation that this might just actually work this time. Miss Hat was bouncing with joy. 

We headed to the door. Hands on doorknob, the phone rang. Not today. The judge wanted to see more effort to find the birth father, so he would have the chance to assert his rights to her. A man who abused her birth mom, who disappeared and was never a part of her life or pregnancy, stood between us and a dream fulfilled. So again, we waited.

A week later, on March 8, 2002, I was on my knees, while a woman I'd never met stood before a judge in another county, voluntarily relinquishing her rights to this little girl. I begged God for her courage and the judge's common sense. I begged Him not to let this fall through again. 

And then the phone rang again. It was done. She was OURS!

Her sister nearly crashed through the door of the foster home in her excitement to finally meet her baby sister, this baby she'd prayed for for years. The foster mom, Mama Pat, met me at the door with the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen and put her in my arms. 

There really aren't words to describe how that moment felt. My heart hurt, tremendously, but for once, not with breaking. It hurt with bursting gratitude and joy. Seven years of ache and many thwarted plans had finally met their end with this tiny little thing in my arms. Here was a gift of such tremendous worth I never could deserve it: Grace.

Ten years later, Grace is an energetic girl who lives her life in extremes; there's no middle ground for this child. She's wild, quirky, entertaining, and talks incessantly. She's brought tremendous joy and lots of laughs. She's also given us lots of frustration and challenge. There are days I want to quit. But at the end of the day, it's all OK, because...


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Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Tale of the Wet-Mitten Takeover & How They Were Defeated

Well, winter finally came. With it comes the plethora of mittens, hats and scarves needed for three kids. And so begins the daily battle of what to do with all this stuff.

Some moms find those pocket organizers you can hang on your door a good solution. And it is, if your kids keep their mittens and such dry. My kids don't. Their stuff gets wet. Very, very wet. And thick mittens take FOREVER to dry.

For many years, our solution was to toss it all on the various large heating grates around the house. Which means they are in the way and getting scattered all over, while we all freeze because the vents are down to a quarter of their capacity.

"Mudroom" is an ambitious name we use for a tiny little space between the kitchen and entry, about 5' x 5', off of which is the bathroom, the kitchen and the great outdoors. So there's no place for a drying rack.

I saw the solution in an issue of Handyman Magazine a few years ago.  A reader submitted his idea for utilizing wall space to handle all this wet gear. Wall space I don't have either, but I do have the back of the door. Bingo!

The reader used a permanent installation of eye hooks and wire. If you want to look at it all year, this will work well. Me, well, I don't need that reminder of winter in the middle of summer, so I use a strictly utilitarian, temporary method: nylon twine and 3M hooks. It isn't pretty, but it works. If you care about the aesthetics, use some of the pretty 3M hooks and the colored butchers twine.

Begin by placing your hooks in rows, lining up both vertically and horizontally. Use a level if you really care about it being straight. As you see in the photos, I don't really care. Add a hook in the middle (or more if you are going wider), which will help bear the weight and lessen sag when loaded with gear. If you are using a wall and have more horizontal space, you can add more hooks than I have here.

Tie the end of your string to the upper leftmost hook and thread it horizontally to the next hook and wrap the string around it. Then continue to the next hook(s) in a row. At the end, you can either tie off and do the next row just like the first, or, as I do, you can run your string down to the next row, wrap and head the other direction. The particular string I had on hand unravels and it's a pain to tie, so I try to keep the need to knot to a minimum. And I've actually used the vertical runs, too.

Once all your hooks are covered with line, you can hang your gear with clothes pins. Voila! Drying mittens, hats and scarves. Oh, and you'll be able to find them again in a rush to get to school. Bonus!

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