Sunday, November 13, 2011

A whole year already...

My apologies to anyone coming to this web address for Autism-related speak.  This one's not terribly Autism-related, but it bears sharing.  Thanks for understanding!

It's an anniversary today, and I'm not sure what to do with it.  

One year ago today, if you count these things like the US does Thanksgiving, I walked back to change my baby girl's diaper in the guest bedroom at Nanny's.  Once she was clean, dry, and smelling sweet again, I decided we girls would go talk to Nanny some more.  By this time she was in her bed all the time, beyond thin and frail, not able to speak much at all.  I'd just about an hour before sent Eric back on his way home so that he and Ryan could be in school the last week before the Thanksgiving break.  Walking through the dressing room and bathroom, I stood an looked at her for a minute, with my little girl on my hip.  As I  stopped to admire her for a second before entering, I did a double take.  Is she breathing?  I ran closer.  

She wasn't.  

About an hour after, through tears and uncontrollable sobs at her bedside, I promised I'd take care of everything for Thanksgiving, I remembered everything she taught me, and how much I loved her, and appreciated everything she ever did for me, she left.  As I posted on Facebook after we'd called family, "Nanny was a lady, and a lady always knows when it's time to leave."  (stolen from Fried Green Tomatoes)

I can't believe it's been a year.  A whole year.  I will not tell you she was perfect.  I will not say that she had no issues, no problems, no shortcomings... but I will tell you that she was amazing.  She was giving, funny, tough, smart, loving, and just plain cool.  There's so much she did for me, and last year I wrote a ton on that here.  A year later, I can honestly say that my heart is still broken for her.  

I remember standing around with my Mom after she passed... I mean right after, when the hospice nurse came to do her thing.  There was a great sense of relief.  And, as with everything else in our family, we dealt with it with humor.  Mom had gone to school with the hospice nurse, and even when the funeral director came to pick her up, I'd been in band with his son, and I'm thinking Mama or my uncle went to school with him.  When you've lived in a small town for fifty some years, everyone is family somehow.  And you know, it's pretty cool.  But still, there we were... our beloved matriarch, friend, and for so many of us, our stability... was no longer with us.  I can't tell you how strange it was or how oddly hollow it felt.  Honestly, I didn't lose it until we pulled up to the funeral home.  I had the gray pants suit I knew she loved in my lap, along with shoes, jewelry, and a nice pink shell (which Bree and I later went home and traded for a pinker pink... we found the perfect casket and the pinks didn't match).  When my aunt Gladys Mae (one of Nanny's sisters) pulled up to the funeral home, I couldn't get out of the car.  Yup, I picked the perfect time to lose my marbles.  

Eventually the family managed to scrape my pieces back together and we got everything done.  The casket was just too neat.  It even had rosebuds on it!  Once we were through there, we went to the flower shop.  I'm still grateful for how sweet everyone at Bullard's was... Miss Marty really made things just perfect as they could be.  Through all that stuff, even the funeral, it was just make-it-through.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We were all together, and as long as we were together it seemed like we'd survive.  We all missed her.  We all understood who she was.  More than that, we understood each other's pain.  

Thanksgiving came, and I kept my promise.  Bree was bringing her fiance home for the first time, and dinner had to happen.  So with a very confused Grandad sitting at the breakfast table, I labored in the kitchen where I learned everything I know about cooking that I didn't pick up from Alton Brown.  I knew that kitchen like I knew the back of my hand.  Nanny, for the last couple of years, had called me... yes, all the way in Texas... when she couldn't find something in the kitchen.  If Bree and Mom didn't know, she knew there was a chance I would.  At one point, I went to the garage to take a pie out of the convection oven, saw how pretty the meringue was, and lost it.  I'd never see her pleased-as-punch eyes again as she smiled and said "good girl!"  

When we went home I had a lot to do.  We were moving into the house we just bought.  The last conversation I had with Nanny was about this house, to tell her all about it.  She was so excited that I'd finally have room for the furniture she wanted me to have, and that the kids would have plenty of room.  Honestly, I do not remember much about packing.  I don't remember much about moving.  Christmas preparation was a blur, and Christmas itself wasn't much better.  The best part was getting to have my husband's sister's family all with us at his parents' house, and I'm so glad they were there.  Christmas Eve Eric's bulging disk became a ruptured disk, and Christmas Eve festivities melted into his Daddy taking him to ER, and the rest was a blur of pain meds, praying, and comforting.  The point I remember most in all that is a moment when I checked on my Vicodin-leveled husband as he slept in the big, brown chair in the living room.  "Just checking..." I told my dear father-in-law, "because you know, when you've seen one person you love quit breathing..." and I melted into a bawling puddle on his shoulder.  Not excatly our best Christmas experience, but surely not forgettable.  

In the next few weeks, we hosted Mom and Bree for our own little Christmas, had back surgery, had Maelynn's first birthday, and unbelievably, time kept ticking.  

If you'd asked me years ago how I'd handle losing Nanny, I would have likely refused to talk about it. If anything, I'd have said something along the lines of "i don't know, but it's gonna be bad."  I know I'm not the only person to ever lose someone dear.  But this was a more than significant loss to me.  Our every holiday is different when it would have been our turn to be there.  Nanny's house has been home as long as I can remember.  Even when Mom and I lived in OKC when I was a kid, home was on Morris Creek road.  It hit me, this fall, when we had our bye week in football.  Eric's Mom and Dad were busy, and I thought "hey, we'll just go to Heavener!"  Immediately it hit me.  Mama works on the weekend.  Nanny's isn't Nanny's anymore.  


So where am I going with this?  It's been a year and I still think about her every day.  I can still weep at the drop of a hat.  There are major changes occurring in my Mom's life, my sister's, and mine.  But the overwhelming constant in all this, is life goes on.  It just does.  It can go on with you, it can go on without you.  It can go on in spite of you.  And you know what else?  All that is your choice.  You can choose to take a step back, realize that the way you wanted it to be isn't necessarily the best, and fight the beautiful fight... the fight for your and your loved ones' happiness.  Part of that is feeling the hurt and allowing yourself to mourn in your way, and that no one should be allowed to make you feel bad or wrong for how that happens or how long it takes.  I learned a ton about mourning with and comforting others, and will hopefully put that to practice.  

The best part of all this... if there is a best part... is that I have the peace of knowing did my best.  I did everything I could to love her like Jesus.  With my husband's blessing, I took weeks of our life and spent them at her side.  God gave me the grace and inner strength to do things for her I never dreamed I'd be able to do, and he gave us the joy to keep her laughing through it.  I learned a lot, not the least of which is that when you love someone and are truly grateful for their place in your life, God will give you what you need to return the favor and care for them.  You will amaze yourself.  I was grateful for the privilege of caring for her then, and I'm even more grateful for it today.  I saw her care for her father in his last days, and Mama and I, especially Mama... she would say made her proud.  

So of all the times this year when I've started to call her when Mae did something cute, or when I've said "I can't wait for Nanny to see...", of all the times I've just missed her voice or the way she laughed, or wanted to tell her about something I knew she'd be proud of; of all the times I saw her handwriting and my heart broke again, of all those memories surrounding her final days, the most precious thing I learned in all this mess of tears and pain is that God is with us.  He is with us, and He is on a side better than our side.  He's on His side.  He can see what we need.  He knew I needed a little girl, and that I'd need her sooner than we'd planned.  He knew I needed a husband who would love Nanny as much as I did, and would gracefully give me the time I needed to care for her.  

Thanks be to God for the life of Carlene A. Holt, whose name and presence remain carved on my heart. 

I miss you, Nanny.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What are you?

It's been a big day!  We cemented in paperwork Ryan's sans-aid status.  We are so proud of him and so thankful for his teacher and a school district that will fit the paperwork to him and not him to the paperwork!  Also tonight was the UIL State Marching Contest.  Same kind of thing as state football playoffs, but band instead of football.  Different setup, but basically the same thing.  And it's a big deal.  The year the band where I taught my first two years went to state, Eric took me to see their performance.  Yes, it's that big to us!  Texas is serious about its marching band.  Matter of fact, band is what God used to get me here from Oklahoma in the first place.  Eric was thrilled to learn we could watch online this year, and there was one band in prelims that he just LOVED and he really wanted to share with me.

The band he was crazy about was right about the time we're usually wrapping up baths and heading into story time, so we decided to let the kids stay up a tad past time and watch this one band.  The evening has been great.  Ryan had a project to do, which was actually pretty cool.  Each of the kindergarteners was to decorate a white cardstock feather, all of which they'll put together on a big turkey in the hall.  Say it with me now... *Awwwwww"... yes, I thought it was cool.  So cool, in fact, that I decided Maelynn and Richie ought to make one too.  So armed with markers, scissors, and pre-cut feathers, we went to work.  I was proud of all the kids.  Maelynn, because she positively vapor-locks over the idea of coloring, then manages to color her whole arm purple.  Oh yes.  Her. Whole. Arm. Richie, because he used the glue stick like a pro, and did a great job of talking about what we were thankful for.  Ryan, because he wrote a couple of words with some prompting (okay, goading), and wrote his name on his feather.  I'm one of those moms who doesn't want to do the project for him, but want to give him tools to do what he wants with it, with just a little guidance in the right direction.

Once our feather mess was off the table, I threw dinner together.  After that was over, we went straight to the bath so we wouldn't miss the band Eric wanted to see.  There was a bit of time after baths, so while Eric helped the kids get the living room picked up, I cleaned up after dinner.

Those of you who read about my adventures often probably already know why I'd love to watch this, but it'd be hard at the same time.  If you don't, you can click here to catch up.  Long story short, before I was a committed stay at home wife and mom, I loved my job dearly.  It was truly what I wanted to do forever.  So as I wrapped up the dishes and wiped off the table, I hear "Honey, it's starting!"

Why, tell me, did I not want to do this?  Probably the same reason I don't like tear-jerking movies.  I know it's going to get to me, one way or the other.  I've fought the "but-people-think-I-just-sit-and-eat-bonbons" thing and all the guilt I feel watching other great moms work and do a great job at both.  Excuses aside, that's just not me.  For us, for me, for our family my being home works.  So literally because my husband asked me to, I flopped down in the overstuffed chair to watch the one show he wanted me to see.  As it began, Richie climbed into my lap, asking if I'd read a book.

Mommy:  "I'll read the book after this band, sweetheart.  This is important to Daddy, and Mommy too."

Then the thought struck me, as it has a hundred other times... I wonder if he really doesn't know how much this means to us.  After all, I've all but wiped band off the radar except for volunteering a sectional here and there, and then the kids go with us.  So I explained.

"Richie, did you know Mommy used to be a band director too, like Daddy?  I used to teach the band kids like Daddy does."

You know what my dear son said?

He looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out my ears for a second, and with a slightly furrowed brow, he said, "No, Mommy.  You're a MOMMY."

And you know what?  He's right.

A couple seconds later, Ryan crawled into my lap.  Then Maelynn tried her best to snuggle... and through a few of the happiest tears I've ever cried, I looked at Eric and said "get the camera."

Richie, Ryan, Mommy, and Maelynn

I've been a lot of things in my life.  I've been a daughter, granddaughter, little girl, a grown woman.  I've been first chair, the benchwarmer, the sorority girl, the awkward freshman.  I've been the student, and I've been the teacher.  Of all the things of this world I could be, the best title ever bestowed... above graduate, above it all is the title bestowed upon me by a golden-haired three year old boy... Mommy.  

"For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."  ~Jeremiah 29:11

Thanks be to God, the giver of all good things, for weaving the tapestry that is life, never failing to put in just the right colors and textures to give it its beauty. 

Monday, November 7, 2011


Today, I was doing so great.  Climbed out of bed at 6:00, awake. Happy.  Yes, you should be amazed.  If you know me in real life, you're still shocked.  Maybe it was due to the time change so recently, maybe the planets aligned, but to whatever you choose to accredit it, this life-long anti-morning girlie was up and ready to stay up.  In another twist of fate, my dear husband was not.  I was so proud of myself this morning.  If there's ever been a morning I had it close to together it was this morning.  Eric had eggs and toast for breakfast, left for work on time, and even feeling a bit better about the world in general than he did when he got up.  Ryan did great, so did Richie and Maelynn.  Just a great morning.  On time for school, on time for my Monday mama prayer date, back home in time to get the kids lunch and clean up the kitchen and wash diapers, then still be on time to get my big guy from school for therapy (or "ferrisbee" if you're Richie).

Then we get Ryan.  A twentysomething looking man brought him out, letting him run ahead of him... turns out he's the sub.  Ah.  Upon inquiry, I find that Ryan has had a good day but wasn't too thrilled at missing recess due to the rain.  Yeah, typical.  Change in routine throws him almost every time.  He climbs in the van, and I immediately notice his hands are covered in something... marker, maybe?  Very unlike mister fastidious.  Spill a drop of milk?  Get a little catsup on his hands?  "Wipaatoweeeeel!"  Mr. Sub Guy didn't explain, but hey... he made it through a class of 21 kindergarten kids, at least one of whom has special needs.  Gotta hand it to him though.  He did lack that deer in the headlights look that subs for PPCD usually had.

For a while now, Ryan's been attached to Stevie Wonder.  The old funk-sound type.  He's been hooked on one song for about a month now, and just recently has been listening to more on that CD.  When he got in the van, I had been listening to my iPod, and let's just say after a loud button-mashing fest I managed to get things settled and we were on our way.  He settled on the one song on that album I"m not crazy about, but it's not so tough to listen to something over and over when you have a little guy dancing in his own way and thoroughly enjoying it.

We pull onto campus after averting what could have been a huge meltdown when road work caused us to detour past the children's museum.  "Go see trains?"  "No sweetie, it's time for Ms. B."  He accepted that.  So relieved!  After the usual stroller out, two kids unstrapped, harnessed, unbuckled and one restrapped into the stroller we were on our way to the building.  The "big elevator" has been sick lately, so we've been using the "little elevator" on the other end of the building.  This time it was working, but all the way in Ryan wanted to know which elevator.  "We're going to the LITTLE elevator," he said over and over, in between my explanations that we'd like to use the big one if it's well.

At the elevator, I put Ryan on my back and picked up Richie on my front, pushing the stroller onto the elevator as a nice lady held the doors for us.  She was friendly, which is such a relief to any mom... but not being treated like a cheap circus sideshow when you already feel like one is just fabulous.  I explained that one kid had a love/hate relationship with elevators while the other just has to be just like his big brother, and she totally seemed to get it.  Love it when that happens!

As we try the drop-off, Ryan shows off what we like to call the "waternoose jump n stim" as he watches the elevator from his elevator-watching perch in the hall (not too close, but he can still see it open and close).  When Ms. B arrives, Ryan continues his thing and Richie thinks he has it made.  Nope.  When Ryan went in and the door shut, Richie fell nine kinds of apart.  This was no longer fit mode.  This was real tears, pouring from the pain of unfairness and just flat not understanding why in the world brother gets to go and he doesn't.  Such a cool place with such cool toys!

Just before this, as we waited, Richie told me it was his turn to go see Ms. B.  I have tried everything from explaining Autism in kid-terms to focusing on what cool things he gets to do that Ryan doesn't, but when that door shut in his face, it just didn't help to know that he gets to spend time with Mommy and Maelynn.  During our waiting time, he even tried to tell me that he has Autism.

NO. YOU. DON'T.  Thank the Lord, you don't.

We've visited this topic before in Knockin' Round Baylor.  I've continued to do my dead-level best to help this feel less like a sacrifice of his time and help the time be such fun that he really doesn't notice that we're taking two three-hour chunks of his days every week to drive Ryan to therapy.  I want all of our kids to feel special, loved and heard.  I want them to know their parents love them and that their feelings matter to us.  Every other time I've managed to just stay happy and drag him away to a more fun activity, but today?

Today I sat and held my precious, curly-golden-haired baby boy and cried with him.

As a band director, one of the first things you learn about picking music is that slow and pretty does not equal easy.  It takes great control in several ways to play musically as you play softly.  Nothing wears you out faster when you *ahem* haven't played much in a while than to play something slow and pretty.   I'd even argue that it can't be done without hours and hours and days and weeks and months or even years of daily practice to perfect the art of playing an instrument.  Once you have that ability, you could even make someone cry with the Alphabet Song.  If you lack the practice, it can't happen.  The muscles haven't been built; therefore the strength needed to support gentleness just isn't there.

It hit me earlier this week that it's much the same in life.  It's easy to tell someone to suck it up.  It's a lot easier to tell someone to get over it, and let's go do so-and-so than it is to sit and cry with them.  It's a lot easier to tell someone they need help than to be the help.  And more than that, it's easier and simpler to look at someone and tell them what you think they need to be doing.  Handing down a judgment, shaking your head, and walking away is not tough.  It may make you more calloused and tough... but it takes far more strength to hold your opinion and open your heart.  Part of this is relinquishing the idea that you can make someone feel happy, special, loved, comforted, etc.  No one can make another feel anything.  All we can do is give gifts of our time and hearts, and when given out of the right heart, those things can change someone's world.  When given with no strings attached, nothing expected in return, no price tag of guilt, no gain of pride... just to inspire another to turn their countenance upward and hearts light... the gifts of time, money, things, even just our presence can completely change a life.  But to go with the impulse of anger, frustration, a need for control, or even the latest thing you heard that someone else did or does can do irreparable damage.  What comes naturally and easiest isn't always best.

I still believe in helping my children feel loved and special and making sure I do what I can to help them be who God made them to be.  But I also believe that ultimately all any of us can do for anyone is listen, give real, true, abiding love... but mostly, and most importantly... carry them to Jesus.  Pray for them, with them if they will let us.  For Richie, today, the best thing I could do is teach him with my arms around him and the tears on my face that his hurt is real.  It is real, and I hurt too.  Because when you're hurting, the last thing you want to hear is "just don't hurt" or "if you'll just listen to me I'll fix your problems" or some such nonsense.

When we picked Ryan up, we found out he'd had a rough therapy session.  They're working on trying new foods, and at one point he even threw up.  Tonight, he's already melted down over having to wait his turn.  It's so hard to watch as he just doesn't understand.  It's excruciating to watch any of the kids hurt.  To try to explain what's going on is so often not helpful.  It might soak in an help later, but not at the moment.  Even as we picked Ryan up, Richie threw down because he wanted to go have "his turn". Ms. B looked at me and said, "If he only knew how hard Ryan works in there..."  and all I could do was thank her and walk away.  Well, lumber away with a screaming three year old on my hip and a jumpy, stimming six year old at the side of the stroller.  Of course, all Richie knows of the therapy room is the cool toys from the times we've had meetings there.  Ms. B and I talked about how Richie probably thinks all Ryan does in there is play with all those cool toys while we're out waiting for him to be done.  In reality, he's learning life skills... like how to wait, how to take "maybe" for an answer, how to try new foods, and, skill by skill, how to just live in the world without screaming and hitting constantly.

What do I do when it hurts them and I just don't know what to do?  Show them I love them by listening and hugging and just bearing with them, holding the advice, frustration, control, and at times the discipline for later.  Because as we've all learned at one time or another, sometimes whatever it is, it just hurts.  Whether it's Ryan's meltdowns, Richie's disappointment at not getting to go, or Maelynn's being told "no",  sometimes it just hurts.  As Crystal and even as Mommy I can't always fix it, but I can bear with them, support them, and lead them to someone who can.  So from the bottom of my heart, to all of you who are in my path daily and to those who I've met in the ASD community... I can't understand, but I hurt with you.  I can't know your pain, but I will cry with you.  And I will carry you to the one who can understand.

I will not pretend to feel the pain you're going through
I know I cannot comprehend the hurt you've known
And I used to think it mattered if I understood
But now I just don't know

Well, I'll admit sometimes I still wish I knew what to say
And I keep looking for a way to fix it all
But we know we're at the mercy of God's higher ways
And our ways are so small

But I will carry you to Jesus
He is everything you need
I will carry you to Jesus on my knees

It's such a privilege for me to give this gift to you
All I'd ever hope you'd give me in return
Is to know that you'll be there to do the same for me
When the tables turn

And if you need to cry go on and I, I will cry along with you, yeah
I've given you what I have but still I know the best thing I can do
Is just pray for you

I'll carry you
I'll take you to Jesus on my knees
          ~"Carry You to Jesus", Steven Curtis Chapman 

And I know you do the same for me. Thanks for reading.  :-)
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