Monthly Archives: January 2014

I Am Not An Ostrich

I am surrounded by mothers here.  They may not be the best, or the wisest, or even the nicest.  I do not know them.  Most of them, I never will.  In one room nearby, a young mother held her baby today amidst the tangle of tubes hiding the little body connected to them.  Behind a door marked, “caution: chemotherapy”, I heard a child call out “Mommy!” and the quiet murmur of the parent’s reassuring answer.  Another sat tired in yesterday’s clothes as her son molded play dough beside her in the play room.   We’ve watched our children struggle under sedation.  We’ve held them, allowing painful work to be done.  We’ve turned our heads so our little ones will not see our tears.  Most mothering doesn’t happen in a hospital ward, but here, it is starkly clear.  Motherhood can be tough.

Today I will watch my son go into surgery.  Again.  Compared to many moms surrounding me, I am a lightweight in this area.  But still it isn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last.  I know this will hurt him.  I know he won’t understand.  But I know his life depends on this operation.  Without it, fluid would build up in his brain and eventually squeeze the life out of it.  Shunts to divert the fluid were invented about the time I was born.  Before that, hydrocephalus was a death sentence.  So I am very thankful he was born in this generation and this is a relatively routine procedure.  But I still don’t like it.

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I just happened to be reading the book of Job this week.  The ostrich in chapter 39 jumped out at me.  One of a handful of flightless birds who get a lot of press in board books and Sesame Street, ostriches are interesting.  Runners with fluffy soft feathers and hips of power – they are eye catching ladies of Africa.  But God Himself calls their motherhood into question.  He made them fast.  He made them big and bold.  But He did not make them good mothers.  “She leaves her eggs on the ground… She forgets that a foot may crush them…  She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers… because God deprived her of wisdom.”  (Job 39:13-18).

I am commissioned with a discipleship for the next 18 years, times five at least.  I feel completely inadequate for the job at hand.  Ack.  But yet I was made for this.  I am not an ostrich.  I was given arms to carry infants in the dark hours.  I was given a heart to comfort them when they lean hot with a fever against my chest.  I was given a voice they run to on the playground (and cringe at when it remonstrates them).  I was given feet to chase wayward toddlers and awkwardly kick soccer balls back and forth.  I was given a mind to try to answer the endless question “why?”  When my back aches and my eyelids droop heavy, when my heart hurts and my brain feels numb, even then, I was made for this.

A few days ago, a mother came.  She wasn’t related.  She lives far away.  But she came.  She brought fruit, butter, bread.  She held the baby while I consoled my sick toddler.  She brought hot coffee.  She stayed all day, here in this little hospital room, while my husband had to work.  As she left, she hugged me tight, pressing a little money into my hand for food.

Other mothers have come.  Many more have sent notes, food, little toys, crayons, bananas, chocolate, coffee, pictures drawn by their children… And mothers have prayed.  Oh, they have prayed.  My son should not be doing so well.  Mothers, in the quiet corners of their houses far away, are storming heaven on his behalf.  I feel the vibrations.  It brings me to tears.

Has the rain a father?

Who has begotten the drops of dew?

From whose womb comes the ice?

And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?

Job 38:28-30

Did God make mothers for the rain?  No.  Did He form parents for the seasons, for the heavens, for the earth?  No.  He made animals bear young, some even feed their offspring, some even teach them life skills.  But their young mature and leave and do not return (Job 39:4).  Only the children of men have mothers.  God breathed life into the squalling helpless little life of a child, handed him to a woman and bestowed on her the calling.  This one has a soul.  This one has the breath of God in him.  Over this one, I make you “mother.”

Waking up from anesthesia in his happy place.  Grandma's arms.
Waking up from anesthesia in his happy place. Grandma’s arms.

And though I am inadequate, wretched and in great need of grace myself, He has made me mother. Oh, the irony.  I feel depleted, weak, and unsure of my steps.  But I keep walking.  I keep hugging.  I keep holding.  I feed and clothe and and cry and pray and breathe in the sweet smell of my babies, not because I am confident of my abilities.  I am not strong.

But He has made me mom.  So He will make me able.  That is enough.

 

Bring Me Low

I held my infant son last night in darkness, breathing in his baby smell, burying my worries in the folds of his squishy neck.  He should have been asleep, but then, he should have been in his crib.  At home.

But we were far away.  The IV pump beeped.  A little boy in the bed next to me moaned.  It was my little boy; the IV pump was connected to him.  On the other side of the bed, another tube connected a dripping bag to his head.  I squeezed the warm baby closer and tried to process it all.

Friday morning we went to physical therapy.  Ben was a bit cranky, but life’s not all peaches these days, after all.  Brain surgery was three weeks ago; more doctors and nurses and discomfort and attention than anyone really wants had all added up.  So I took joy in hurrying home to bake him a cake for his third birthday the next day.  I wanted some of that attention to be simply good.

But I looked down at him on the floor, placidly licking the beaters (yes, I’m that kind of mom).  He had no fever; he didn’t act sickly.  But his new shunt didn’t look right.  It should have been merely a bump under the skin, softened by a fresh fuzz of new growing hair.  But it looked angular, irritated, and almost like you could see actual hardware just under the flesh.  I sighed.  Two weeks ago, I had spent most of the night in the emergency room and then drove a couple hours to the neurosurgeon’s only to be told he had a mild virus.  It wasn’t a shunt problem.  It was no big deal.

Was this a repeat?  What if it wasn’t?  I called the neurosurgeon and got the expected response.  “Come down, we can’t tell from here; or go to his local doctor and get their opinion first…”

I loaded the five kids in the car and drove across town to the pediatrician.  They informed me it would be a while.  The five of us sat down and made friends with the rest of the waiting room (we’re that kind of family, by default, since we have five kids and a wheelchair with light up wheels).  A couple hours later, a doctor finally peeked in to our cubicle where the kids where shredding the paper on the exam table.  “It’s not supposed to look like that, huh?” She frowned and squinted at it.  “I’m here to ask you that,” I remonstrated her silently, not surprised by her uncertainty, but not encouraged to hear it.  I don’t want to be the one with more experience with shunts in the room, particularly malfunctioning ones.  “If the skin is open, is that bad?” I pushed her, unhappily.  She dabbed at it.  He squealed.  Clear liquid dotted the skin she’d just touched.  “I’ll call the neurosurgeon for you, ” she offered gallantly.  “And just see what that means…”

A moment later, she returned to the room.  “They want you to go to the emergency room down there; the neurosurgeon will meet you.  And don’t feed Ben anything else today… just in case… ”

I groaned.  It was that kind of shunt problem.

Grandma met us at the house and took charge of the still-unwashed dishes.  I grabbed a cold coffee cup out of the bathroom as I tore through the house, grabbing clothes and toothbrushes for half a dozen people going two opposite directions.  He’ll want his teddy bear.  I’ll want to bring deodorant.  Did I eat anything yet?  Feed the baby and stick him back in the car seat.  Where’s another tote bag?  I really needed to buy diapers today… Who hid the nail clippers?  The boys are fighting; Oh God make them be good for Grandma, please!  Where are all the water bottles?  Why did I put all the baby’s sleepers and my underwear and favorite jeans in the wash this morning?!?  I managed to throw them in the dryer.  Daddy arrived home from work in record time and started throwing things into cars.  I hoped the right bags would go the right places.  We kissed the three oldest and commended them to my own mother’s capable hands.

And we left.

Four hours later, clothed in an attractive sterile paper gown, I laid my son on the operating table at the biggest hospital in the state.  I felt a shiver like Abraham must have as he laid his own trusting child on the altar.  The anesthesiologist held a mask over his little mouth and we sang happy birthday to him as he fought the overcoming effects of forced sleep.  “Good bye,” I whispered to his small motionless form, and kissed his forehead before they ushered me quickly away.  They didn’t let me keep the svelte crackly blue gown either.

This time, it had been a big deal to worry.  His new shunt had somehow managed to work its way up and grate against the skin.  Finally, it had broken through.  Once exposed to the outside world, the whole system had to be removed.  Quickly.  It was an open doorway into his brain.  Any germ worth its name would jump on the free pass.  We found out later he was starting to grow some sinister bugs in his head which could have been deadly within hours…

I saw him after surgery, once again plastered with sweat and the foreign smell of disinfectant.  They couldn’t put a new shunt in until every trace of the invading germs had been destroyed.  In the meantime, he’d have an external shunt, a tube to drain the excess brain fluid into a bag that would have to stay level with his head 24 hours a day.  He’d also be on intensive intravenous antibiotics to kill anything that had gotten in.  We staggered when the first doctor told us it would mean a week long hospital stay.  I’d figured over the weekend, at the worst.  As the next several days progressed, we found out it would be at least two weeks, at best.  Good thing I put the wet laundry in the dryer.

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He woke the next day with a headache and a hospital gown.  The sympathetic overnight nurses had managed to throw together a bright birthday poster for his room.  They even left some tissue-wrapped presents at the foot of his bed.  He wasn’t terribly impressed, but scribbled some crayon pictures around the tangle of tubes anyway.  He very much wanted a birthday cake, which we hoped the cafeteria could accommodate.  (They couldn’t.)

Ben's world
Ben’s world

We struggled through the next twenty four hours in a daze.  The incessant beeping of monitors, the buzzing florescent lights, the utter lack of personal space, phone and Facebook filling with concern, baby and toddler fussing together, bad coffee and well-wishing volunteers…  It is overwhelming and numbing simultaneously.  We are attaining to the big leagues (the lower levels of it, anyway.)  A pimple is threatening my calm countenance.  The baby misses rolling freely on his blanket on the floor.  I miss life sized bath towels and actual beds.  Why did I ever complain about normal before?

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I have walked with God long enough to know that when I ask to know the Lord in the land of the living, everything that stands in the way must die.  And I’m just finishing the book of Job in the Bible.  Pure coincidence, obviously.  If this is what it takes that I may know and prove the goodness of my Saviour, then, well…  I don’t like it.  Honestly.  I’m not going to say I’m glad He’s bringing me though this.  I’m not that good.  I’m pretty grumpy about it all, actually.  But I do know there is bigger stuff at hand.  And at head.  I wish the drain in my kid’s brain would draw out some of the stubborn toddler-ness that’s stuck in there.  It’s clearly malfunctioning in that regard.  He hasn’t said “yes” to a single person here yet.  We’ve got work to do.

 

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Job wasn’t jumping for joy when he lost all his kids and all his stuff and broke out in infected boils all over and his friends called him a sinner.  He didn’t like it either.  But he bowed low and trusted His God.  Even in this.

The valley of the shadow… This is where we are.  But God is here too.

So be it.

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Welcome To My Crib

It was time.

Time for the baby to move out of our room into a crib in the boys’ room.

Time for the almost three year old to give his crib to the baby.

Time for the four year old to give up the toddler bed and move into a twin sized bed.

Time for the five boys to squeeze into one room.

It was time for bunk beds.  Round two.

But I wasn’t ready.

As a matter of fact, the baby learned to sleep through the night over a month ago (Haaaaalelujah!)  So it was time.  He needed to get out of our room.  We calculated that for Christmas we would invest in bunk beds. The grim-faced delivery men dropped off several imposing boxes a few days after the holiday.   It was New Year’s Day when Daddy and his helpers got around to the fun of assembly.

helping
helping

It was an all-day project (as projects with so much “help” tend to be).  I was mostly uninvolved, catching up on laundry, cleaning, and rudimentary cooking to keep us alive.  (Found out the dining room smoke alarm was dead when I tried to cook a pizza for lunch, all in a day’s work…)  The two littlest were out of sorts after days with schedules all askew.  But I was impressed when two boys walked by carrying the vacuum in tandem.  They guy-cleaned the rug before setting up the bed frames, and I was not in a position to complain.  They fought for the right to wield the drill (with help), and jockeyed for position with the tape measure.  They glowed with importance when asked to recharge a battery or be chosen to hold screws (your own might be loose if you trust a four year old with that job!)  Their excitement was infectious.  And yet, I managed not to catch it.

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I’ll help you, citizens!

I had dragged my heels when my husband had offered to attempt the project on his day off.  I just wasn’t in a hurry.  True, we needed our bedroom back.  No more holding our breath so as not to wake the baby when we went to bed late or got up early.  No more sleeping on the pull-out in the living room while he learned to self-soothe.  No more waiting for a bigger house to materialize.  It was simply time.  

five months old
five months old

But the thought of my still-just-two year old in a big twin-size bed grated against my cuddly, coddly mother hen-li-ness.  It seemed normal for a baby sleeping in the crib to be incapable of getting himself in or out.  It seemed odd for a child sleeping in a big bed to need the same level of help.  Bunk bed ladders seemed tauntingly impossible for the child who couldn’t even climb a stair alone.

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view from the crib

Late that night, as I checked in on the troop of five in solemn repose in their new beds, the sadness washed over me again.  The baby looked so small in his corner of the new big crib he’d just inherited from the two year old.  The toddler seemed dwarfed by the bunk bed mattress extending for a mile past his little legs.  The two bigger boys in the older bunks were tucked around the corner, hard to reach.  The room seemed ever so much smaller, now completely devoid of floor space and full of night breath.  So full.

The next night, as soon as Daddy got home from work, I topped off the baby and handed over the reigns of bedtime duty.  Grocery shopping is just so much more efficient without five helpers…  I raced through the store in record time and turned back onto our street before the car was even warmed up.  It wasn’t that late; cars were in most of the driveways, the residents still awake within the homes.   Thin blue light of televisions reflected through many windows, others were dimly lit.  I smiled as I pulled up to our humble abode at the end of the street.  Lights blazed from nearly every window, spilling across the white snow banks, rays escaping around curtains.  The overflowing recycling bin on the porch was guarded by two plastic dinosaurs.   My house, so full.  So full of life.  It looked so deliciously inviting, warm, enticing.  Alive.

Our electric bill is probably higher than our neighbors’ (and we don’t even have a t.v.).  Our dishwasher and laundry machines work overtime comparatively.  It comes with the territory.  But our house is the one spilling over with laughter, conversation, stories, the hum of the vacuum, the smell of woodsmoke and always something cooking, always, something moving.  Always life.  

And it’s mine.  I’m so blessed.    

And my children, tucked snugly together in their little room, slept through the cozy night, as oblivious to our lack as I had been to my overflowing blessing.

Maybe it’s time I realized that.