The Girl Who Lived ~ by Sam

17 years ago today, on March 28th 2000, I was 29 years old.  Gosh, it seems like a lifetime ago.  Shane and I lived in the upstairs apartment at the back of our building of six units, which faced another, identical 6-unit building.  Our daughter, Justice, had recently become a big sister for the first time, to Hallie, who was born at 11:58 pm on March 17th ~ St. Patrick’s Day! ~ on the front seat of our Honda Civic in front of Kaiser Permanente Hospital’s Emergency Entrance in Woodland Hills.  We almost made it to the hospital in time, but, what can I say?  Hallie was in a hurry to be born on St. Paddy’s Day.

When I think about that little baby, my first impressions are of a strong, alert child, right from the word, “go!”  I had a hard time, hemorrhaging and requiring a couple of courses of pitocin to get the bleeding under control upon being transferred up to a recovery room, but not our little baby.  Hallie was eager to nurse, wide-eyed, alert and responsive.  I remember lying on the sofa the day we brought her home, with Hallie resting on my belly.  She just wriggled her way up my body all by herself, like a tiny little mountain climber.  I know, I know ~ babies do this ~ but we were so impressed right from the start by her strength, her grip, and how awake and aware of the world around her she was.  She just seemed interested in everything.

On the evening of March 28th, baby Hallie was just 11 days old.  Justice was asleep her room.  She would have been 2 years and about 4 months old.  Shane was working at his desk in the living room, and I was napping on the sofa.  Hallie was asleep in the cradle my dad had built, which was in the room with us.  We always had our babies sleep wherever we were.  So, we kept the cradle in the front room.  I learned later that Shane had somehow become aware that something was wrong with Hallie.  Maybe it was the absence of breath sounds.  Maybe it was a choking sound.   Maybe he saw something out of the corner of his eye.  I don’t know, but I thank God that something alerted him.  I awoke to the sound of him yelling her name.  He was holding her, her face was bright red, mouth wide open, like she should be screaming, but there was no sound.  I could see the terror in both of their eyes.  I don’t even think I was fully awake before I was across the room whisking her away and saying, “Call 9-1-1!”

Having worked in a preschool classroom, I had, at least, been trained in infant CPR.  I went in to auto-pilot.  It’s hard for me to put in to words what happened next.  I can remember it all so clearly, like I am watching a movie, but it’s difficult to articulate.  I remember checking her airway.  I remember running through all of the steps in my head ~ which I remembered then, but don’t now ~ I remember performing the infant Heimlich maneuver, and feeling a tremendous sense of relief when she coughed up a huge chunk of mucous…and then a renewed sense of panic when, instead of starting to breathe, my tiny little baby went limp and blue.

I remember that Shane was on the line with the 9-1-1 operator by this time, and that she remained on the line with him until we left for the hospital.  I remember that, at some point, little Justice was awakened by the commotion, and wandered out.  I remember that the paramedics from the nearby fire station arrived within two minutes that felt like an eternity.  I remember.  I remember loosening her clothes, jiggling her limp little limbs, begging her to breathe.  I remember Shane’s voice pleading with her to breathe.  I remember repeatedly thumping the soles of my baby’s tiny feet, so she would gasp for air, and hoping against hope that, eventually, those tiny little gasps would “catch,” and she would start breathing regularly again.  And I remember that, eventually, miraculously, she did.  Right before the paramedics arrived.  She was breathing, albeit shallowly, by the time they got there, but, since she had not been, of course, a trip to the ER was still in order.

I remember when the paramedics explained to me that I couldn’t hold her on the way to the hospital.  That I had to hand her over to them.  That she had to be transported by them the way any patient would, but I could ride inside the ambulance with her.  Shane and Justice could follow in the car.  I remember the look on Shane’s face when he realized he had to let them drive away with his baby.  I remember how tiny she looked inside the ambulance on that huge gurney.

I remember sitting at the hospital while they checked her over and over and questioned us about what had happened, and found no explanation.  No explanation.  And just…sent us home.  I remember the diagnosis.

ALTE

A.L.T.E.

I remember searching for information to try to understand what had happened to my child and finding that it stood for “Apparent Life-Threatening Event.”

As if we couldn’t have guessed.

I remember months later when I had to fight for the insurance company to cover that ambulance ride and hospital visit, because, they told me, the incident “wasn’t life-threatening.”

*ahem*

“Please refer to doctor’s diagnosis.  A.L.T.E. – Apparent Life-Threatening Event.”

I remember how, at about two months, she suffered another episode of the same type.  Still with no further explanation.

I remember how, years later, she developed asthma, and often suffered respiratory complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia.  I remember the time she had croup, and developed stridor, and her little chest would cave in, instead of expanding, when she took a breath, and my heart would ache for her.  I remember other parents thinking I was being “overprotective” when I said it was important for her not to be exposed to respiratory ailments because she was at high risk for respiratory complications.

But, more than anything, on this day, I remember my child’s beautiful eyes, smile, voice.  I think of all of the amazing things this almost grown person has achieved.  I think of the art my child has created, the roles this young actor has played, all the music and dances and stories…and everything yet to come.

Hallie was due on March 27th, born on March 17th, under rather unusual circumstances.  Then March 28th came along and did its best to wrestle her away from us.  Every year at this time, I can’t help but pause and count this particularly incredible blessing.

 

Worth 1,000 Words ~ by Sam

My, it’s been ages since anyone has posted here, hasn’t it?  It would be impossible for me to try to summarize everything that has been happening, so I had this crazy idea.  What if I just gave you a peek at this past week?

There were a number of significant events I feel I should mention.  We drove out and watched a bit of the Perseid meteor shower.  The kids went back to school.  Shane has been trying to build this computer, and I have been trying to get back to exercising.  We snuck in a date night.  I have been working on some projects.  Justice received the news that she had been accepted to her Major!  (Congratualtions, again, kiddo ~ we never had any doubt). Kaia very unexpectedly had her braces removed!

One day, while talking with my mom, I realized that, as of July 19th, 2016, my dad is ~ and this is HUGE, you guys ~ my dad is OFFICIALLY CANCER-FREE!!  That means his last chemo-treatment was July 19th, 2011, and he has been Cancer-free for 5 years ~ 5 years Cancer-free=officially Cancer-free, so this is cause for much celebration.  After I got off the phone, I lit a candle at St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church, and left some roses with the Holy Family in the crying chapel there, because they listened to a lot of my prayers during those five years.

So, without further ado, here are lots of pictures from this latest week of my life.SerenadingTheMoon

And Shane brought me silk flowers, so they won’t ever wilt.

Photo on 8-18-16 at 8.39 PM

So, that was my week.  As you can see, It was pretty exciting.  First week of school down!  Can’t see what the next week has in store for us!  Here’s to an excellent year.

Disorderly Conduct ~ by Sam

Let’s talk about our obsession with weight loss.  I don’t mean MY obsession with weight loss, which is, on most days, a thing of the past.  I mean ours, as a culture.  I mean, let’s talk about the messages we send, especially to women and girls, about body image, weight, and the constant need to count calories, exercise, reduce, reduce, reduce!

Based on the ads seen in magazines, television and the internet, heard on the radio, and emblazoned on the sides of public transit vehicles, billboards and bus stops, the spam emails I receive on a daily basis, and the “suggestions” that pop up on my Pinterest and other online accounts, we, as a culture are all, presumably, obsessed with the idea of losing weight and achieving the elusive “ideal body.”  If we believe the ads, we can assume it’s all we ever think about:  “How can I get through this Holiday without gaining weight?  How can I cut the calories in my favourite dishes, so I can still eat them, but not gain weight?  How can I lose those extra pounds I put on over the Holiday?  What exercises can I do to sculpt my abs, lift my bum, tone my thighs?  What should I wear to look my best?  How can I use makeup to achieve a flawless, chiseled look?”  If we aren’t careful, the ads go to work on our fragile psyches and, in a twisted example of self-fulfilling prophesy, we become those body-image obsessed creatures to whom the advertisements speak.

And it all leaves me thinking, “When will this stop?  How can we learn to just be healthy, and to see the beauty each of us already, naturally, exudes?”

I am inundated on a daily basis with messages striving to convince me that I am not thin enough, not toned enough, not pretty enough, not sexy enough, just…not enough.  It’s not a hard sell for me, because my ego is still pretty fragile in the body image department.  When I see these topics popping up as “suggestions,” based on my internet habits, I have to wonder, “Why?”  Is it because I search health and fitness topics?   Recipes?  Special diets (not weight-loss diets, but vegetarian, dairy-free, anti-inflammation…)?  Is it assumed the only way anyone would want to improve their overall health would be by losing weight?  Do we only strive to improve our health in an effort to look “good enough” in the eyes of others?

Some people reading this might be thinking to themselves, “Why would all that stuff bother you?  It doesn’t even apply to you ~ you’re thin!”  It’s true, I am.  I am also an eating disorder survivor, which, again, is a bit like being a recovering addict.  I think I will always be in recovery.  There will always be a switch in my brain, just waiting to be flipped to trigger those disordered thoughts and behaviours.  And I can’t be the only one.  Do we all have that switch, and is it merely a matter of waiting to see whether or not it is flipped?  Let’s pause for a moment to consider how being inundated with those messages affects children growing up in our society.

I’m not saying the advertisement industry is responsible for my eating disorder.  There is so much more to it than that.  But think, for a moment, about being a young girl, and being inundated with images of seemingly “perfect” female bodies.  Imagine (if it has not been your experience ~ which, if you live in the U.S. and are exposed to the media, I am willing to bet it has been) being fed subliminal messages your entire life about what it means to be beautiful, and that you will never measure up.  Because that’s the message we are sent, constantly: “You aren’t thin enough.  You aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t toned enough. You just aren’t good enough”  We are constantly spoonfed this idea that we must need to “improve” our appearance, which, just by its very nature, has a tendency to convince us that we must.  That we aren’t there yet.  And, see, we will never be “there,” because, if we are ~ if we attain that “ideal” ~ they have nothing left to sell us.  We are their market.  “Buy our product, so you, too, can be perfect!”

Does this happen to little boys?  I think it must, to some degree, and I certainly see it happening to men, too, but there does seem to be a tremendous focus on body image in marketing to girls and women.  I don’t want to discount the male experience of the same images and messages.  I know it’s there.  I can only speak from my own experience, however, and it occurs to me, as I write this, that all of us have a narrow view of the world that is specific to our own experience.  So let’s not say this is just a problem for girls and women.  Let’s say, “people.”  Because, even ads that seem to be targeted at girls and women are having a negative affect on the ideas men and boys have about fitness, attractiveness, and what is and is not a realistic goal. Then there are all the ads targeted at men in which the models are svelte, chiseled (probably, also, with a photoshop assist).  It’s all sending the same, negative message.

But then, companies making ads exist to sell a product or service.  They want us to buy into their ideal body image myth, so we will buy their goods and services.  I get that.  But, why can’t the ads reflect something closer to reality?  I see some companies moving in that direction, and that’s a good thing.  But how do we turn off those negative responses inside ourselves.  How do we strike that delicate balance between being healthy and responsible in the choices we make about food and fitness, and being obsessed?  How do we learn to look in the mirror and see the beauty that’s there, no matter who we are?

I’m not saying no one ever needs to think about fitness or weight loss, because those can be healthy goals.  I just want to know how to keep that negative body image and self-destructive behaviour switch in my own brain firmly in the “off” position while outside forces constantly threaten to switch it “on” again.  More importantly: How do we keep it from ever turning on in our youth?  I’ve got a pretty firm handle on how to beat an eating disorder, I guess, even if it remains, for me, a daily battle; but how can we change the messages we send, particularly (but not only) to children, so that switch never flips on in the first place?  Maybe by placing the focus more on our intrinsic self-worth, our intellect, strength, ingenuity, talent, humour, kindness ~ all of that great value with which each and every one of us is born.  Our uniqueness.  Our ability to overcome adversity.  Our silliness.  Everything it is that makes us who we are.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?  If we all learned to base our self-worth on who we are, inside, rather than how we look, would our whole world view change?  I know there are people out there who do this already, and I so admire them.  How do we, as a culture, make that standard our norm?

I don’t think there is any escape from the idealized, artificial, manufactured “perfect” that is being sold to us, but I think there is hope in the way we deal with it, the things we say to our children and youth, to each other, even to ourselves.  I think it is important to start a positive monologue inside ourselves, reiterating that we are, in fact, good enough.  We’re strong.  We’re beautiful.  We are better than “good enough,” and we always have been.  I think if we can change the way we talk about (and to) ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we will change the way we see ourselves ~ and maybe, with that small change, will come a change in the way others see us, and, ultimately, in the way they see themselves.

So, yes, strive to be healthy.  Do make responsible choices about food and fitness.  But start our knowing that you are already perfect, and beautiful, just as you are.

Counting My Blessings ~ by Sam

Today, we went Christmas shopping with the girls.  Almost every year (we’ve missed a few), the five of us go to the mall together.  We separate into small groups ~ or, now that the girls are older, we might all go our separate ways ~ to shop for each other.  Before splitting up, however, we like to spend some time shopping together for grandparents, friends, etc.  It gives us a chance to see what the others like, enjoy the decorations, music, maybe a snack, and to shop for our little “Christmas Angel.”

Each year, we stop by and pick an angel off a tree at the mall.  These are little cards, hung like ornaments on the tree, each with the name and age of a child, the child’s clothing sizes, interests and/or gift requests.  Shoppers can take a card, shop for gifts for the child, then return the card and gifts to be wrapped and given to the child.  The girls usually like to choose a little boy to shop for, since they don’t have a little brother.  It is one of our favourite traditions, and, no matter how lean things might be for us, we always manage to find enough to buy a gift for one of these little angels.

This morning, on our way in to Mass, we noticed a similar tree there.  We decided to choose a card from that tree, and the girls selected a 2-year-old girl this time, since they hadn’t shopped for a little girl in a long time.  We were excited at the prospect of shopping for a couple of adorable little outfits and a toddler-appropriate toy  to brighten a little child’s Holiday.  After Mass, we drove to the mall, and, as soon as we walked in, there was the tree, with more little cards hung all over it.  The girls decided to look, just in case they wanted to shop for another child.

We were finding a lot of older kids, asking for things like bicycles, which we weren’t sure we could afford, but kept checking the cards, just in case there was something we could manage.  We were just about ready to leave when we came upon a card that was written for a 1-month-old boy.  The card asked for a stroller and diapers.

A stroller and diapers.

We just couldn’t walk away.  This tiny baby needed a stroller and diapers for Christmas.  The girls all offered to pitch in, and we took the card.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a store in the mall that sold diapers, so we got a stroller and two tiny outfits ~ one with suit pants, a matching vest, and a tiny button-up dress shirt, and one with a sweatshirt and pants, and a little warm puffer vest.  When we returned to the tree with the gifts and tag, we explained that we hadn’t been able to find diapers, and the woman working at the table said she would get the diapers and add them to our gift.  We also found an adorable sweater and leggings set for the little girl, as well as a gorgeous, sparkly silver dressy dress and sweater set.  We have another week to find a little toy to go with it.

When we got home this evening, the garage, which we just had fixed, was leaking again, as was the bathroom ceiling.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do about these new little bumps in the road, but a baby boy will get a stroller, a couple of snazzy outfits and some diapers for Christmas, and a little girl will get a dress fit for a princess, some play clothes, and a little toy.  And me?  There’s a roof (albeit, a leaky one) over my head, and food on the table.  If that’s not enough, I get these sweet, tender-hearted girls, and this generous, kind-hearted man.

Already, I got my wish.

I didn’t choose the Slob Life… ~ by Sam

…the Slob Life chose me.

Really.  It started when I was young.  My dad finally gave up on trying to get me to put my clothes in drawers, and built me a giant cedar chest to throw them all in, instead.  I smelled like a hamster for years.

I can’t help being a little preoccupied with trying to understand how I got to be so sloppy in the first place, at the moment.  You see, I am cleaning. For the record, I clean every single day.  For real.  It just doesn’t seem to stick.  I feel like Pigpen, from the Peanuts.

Right now, for instance, I have just finished mopping all of my tile floors.  Twice.  I still don;t feel they are clean enough.  I don;t feel they will EVER be clean enough.  Other people lived here before me, and I have absolutely no idea how great their personal hygiene, health and housekeeping habits were.  There could be so much filth and so many germs here!  So I have to keep scrubbing.  But, I have to keep scrubbing with things like vinegar, tea tree oil, baking soda and my steam mop (best investment I have ever made, BTW), because we don;t want a bunch of nasty chemicals in our home.  And I just don’t feel like it ever looks clean.  I really do wonder if it sat un-mopped for decades, and some of the dirt has turned to rock and permanently bonded with the floor.

I try to do the right things.  I make my own laundry detergent, soften our clothes with white vinegar and essential oils, use a microfiber cloth to dust, bake homemade bread, cook whole foods, grow as much of our own food as possible, vacuum with my special pet attachments to get up as much fur and dander as possible, freshen rugs with baking soda…and my kids just keep getting sick.  I know this is, in part, because we live in the world, instead of in our own little home.  I know that other people carry germs, and we come in contact with them, and there we are all sick again.  I get it.  No amount of cleaning will help.

Germs aside, here’s the thing I really don’t get: How is it possible that i spend so much time, and put so much effort into, cleaning my home, and I absolutely never feel like it’s clean?  NEVER.  There are always things out of place.  There are always dirty socks all over the house, a skateboard in the living room, 19 pairs of shoes strewn from one end of the house to the other, backpacks, lunchboxes, box projects, project boards, headphones, sweaters, 487,000 pens and pencils (but I can never find one when I need one!!), clean laundry waiting to be folded, folded laundry waiting to be put away, dirty laundry waiting to be washed ~ SO! MUCH!! LAUNDRY!!!  And dishes.  Always dishes.  Dishes waiting to be put away.  Dishes soaking in the sink.  Dishes waiting to be rinsed.  Dishes that have not been cleared.

So, I spend another good chunk of my time following people around and saying things like, “Put away your laundry.”  “Clear your dishes.” “Pick up your (socks, shoes, sweaters, headphones, backpack, box project…)” and they do.  It gets done.  And then, I turn around and see it.  My stuff.  All of my stuff.  All piled up, waiting for me to deal with it.  My magazines.  The bills.  My laundry.  The stuff I took out of one purse that won’t fit in to the new purse, but I still need to put away.  That project I’m working on.  That other project I’m working on.  That OTHER project I’m working on, and…HOLY CRAP!  WHY AM I WORKING ON SO MANY PROJECTS?!?!!  I don’t have time for this!!

And then I get a call.  A friend is coming over.  A client of Shane’s will be swinging by to pick up/drop off whatever. My kid is sick, and I need to pick her up. Someone has a flat tire, forgot her glasses, inhaler, or something else without which she actually can’t function.  And so, my pile of stuff gets set aside.  Piled on top of another pile of my stuff.  Shoved in my bedroom.  The laundry I was going to put away, the dishes I was going to do, that project ~ or other project…or OTHER project ~ is set aside.  Again.  It just keeps piling up.  Sure, I chip away at it here and there, but there is always something new to add to the pile. The bills always get paid, but more bills come.  Often, I am tempted to just throw out everything else, and start over; but, to be honest, I have tried this, and, invariably, as soon as the garbage was picked up, we needed something that was in that pile, despite the fact that we hadn’t seen it for three years.

In my mind, I am organized.  In my dreams, I am organized.  I have an uncanny ability to make myself appear to be organized when company arrives (unless they really know me, or have seen my bedroom); but, in practice, I fall short.  It’s not my fault, I was born short, and I kinda stayed that way.  🙂

I know they kids get irritated when they see that my room is not all that neat, and that I have a pile of stuff lying around the house, because they can’t understand why it is so important to me that they pick up their stuff.  What they might not understand is that it is also important to me that I pick up my stuff…I just can’t seem to ever get it done.  I mean, I do it, but then I turn around, and more has spontaneously generated somewhere else, and I have to start all over again.

I will keep trying.  I will keep trying because, if I don’t, we will be drowning in a sea of clutter.  I don’t know if I will every actually get it done.  I think, in my mind, I keep aiming for that moment when the house is clean, when, in fact, all I can do is keep trying to manage the clutter on a daily basis, keep scrubbing and cleaning and folding, and putting things away, and just hope I am doing a better than half-assed job of keeping the house reasonably neat.

Well, at least now, if you visit my house, you’ll know, it’s not messy because I like it that way.  It’s not messy because I don;t care that it’s messy, or because I don’t try.  It’s messy because there’s only one of me, and I just can’t seem to ever get it all done.  It’s messy because the mess just follows me everywhere I go.  Maybe, if I wasn’t busy with all those projects, I could get it pristinely clean.  If I never baked, or rescued a sick kid, or tended the garden, or ran someone’s glasses or inhaler to school.  Maybe, if I never went to lunch with a girlfriend, or went for a walk, or played my banjo, or blogged about what a mess my house was… Maybe, then, my house would be better organized.  Maybe then, everything would be in the way it is supposed to be.

Everything, that is, except me.

Back to the grindstone.

Maybe.

Or maybe I’ll pick up my banjo for just a few minutes first…

The Nest ~ by Sam

Just returned from dropping off Justice for her Senior trip to Yosemite. Hallie spent the night at Makenzie’s, celebrating their birthdays with a few close friends. Kaia slept over at Sea World with her Girl Scout Troop, and will spend the day there. Shane is asleep, after picking up Justice at 3:30 this morning from a day (and Grad Night) at Disneyland/California Adventure. It’s just me, the cats, my birdie friend who sits on the telephone wire over the backyard every morning, a cup of coffee, and my banjo. Not a bad way to spend the morning, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss my girls. A few quiet moments here and there are nice, I suppose, but, at the end of the day, I still love the “wild rumpus.”

The older they get, the broader our circle becomes. I like to believe that they are not drifting away from us as they grow, but widening the arc in which they travel around the heart of our family ~ taking all of their awesome, unique energy out in to the world, and bringing more people in to our circle as they go. I know that my world is richer because they are in it. It only seems fair to share them with the rest of the world, even when I want, selfishly, to hold them close.

And now, prophetically, my little birdie friend has flown away, having chosen the perfect moment in my narrative to do so. I know she’ll return, tomorrow, only to fly off once more. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?