Wednesday, November 24, 2010

{at peace with the scraps}

On a whim, I sent out a request a couple weeks ago to see if anyone had a Christmas tree they wanted us to take off their hands. I knew it was a long shot. I didn't really expect anyone to just give us a tree, but I thought it was worth a try.

And, amazingly enough, my Aunt Tammy had a 7-foot pre-lit tree sitting in her attic, still in the box, just begging us to decorate it.

I was so excited that we were going to have our first real Christmas tree I didn't even consider the fact that we would have to, you know...decorate it. I had one week to come up with enough ornaments to decorate a 7 foot tree (or at least the front of it...). I switched in to Craft Warrior mode and raided my supplies. Go time.

Sixty hot glue sticks, four balls of yarn, three bad hot glue burns, two pillowcases, some leftover wedding ribbon, a few yards of leftover upholstery fabric, and one old book of hymns later: magic happened, people.

It looks freakin awesome.

And I spent (brace yourself): $8.

I was so pleased with myself when I finished making all the ornaments that I displayed them all on my dining room table and took a picture. It was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

But what the picture didn't show was the mess underneath the dining room table.

Holy. Crap.

I'm not talking about a few pieces of paper and some hot glue strings here-and-there. This was a mess of epically disastrous proportions. Bits of yarns, paper shreds, glitter everywhere, half-empty spools of thread, buttons scattered all over the floor, hot glue strings hanging on everything, piles and piles of fabric, scissors in very dangerous places...this was the definition of mess.

Thanksgiving is here once again, and I am feeling a little overwhelmed with the memories of the last two holiday seasons. Two years ago, I was just sitting down with my plate at Jason's family Thanksgiving when I got a call from my brother. My dad had had a grand mal seizure and was being taken to the Emergency Room. J & I drove to Fort Wayne as fast as we could. While we were still on our way, Dad had another seizure at the hospital.

That night we found out that Dad had two brain tumors and would need major surgery. My dad had always been in great shape; I don't think I even remember him getting the flu. It just didn't seem real.

The next couple months we spent a lot of time in hospital rooms and waiting areas . Dad went in for surgery about a week before Christmas, and everything went perfectly. They got the entire tumor out, and it was benign: he was even home for Christmas Eve. Miraculously he's 100% back now, like the whole thing never happened.

That Thanksgiving, I realized that my dad--my dad--was not immortal. He will not live forever. I came so close to losing one of the people I love the most, one of the people that is just always supposed to be around, and I realized that this whole gig is hanging together by such a thin thread. People get sick. People die. Bad things happen. And not just to other families, other people. It can happen to my people, my family.

It messed me up.

I thought we were in the clear for last year's holidays: everyone was healthy, we had a baby on the way, I was well past the morning sickness stage so I could actually enjoy food again. Thanksgiving was wonderful (besides the fact that--true story--my dad invited the Verizon guy to our Thanksgiving, and, much to everyone's surprise, he actually came. Talk about awkward.).

Then, two days before we came home for Christmas break, we went in for the 20 week ultrasound and were handed Avram's diagnosis.

And the whole world stopped.

So here we are again, the day before Thanksgiving, the start of the holidays. Despite my best efforts, I have found myself staring at all the scraps, all the mess, at all the pain from the last two years. A lot of this year really sucked. Big time. The first month of Avram's life was spent in two hospitals. He had to have brain surgery at two weeks old...two weeks old. He's going to have a big plastic helmet on his head for his first Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But at the same time, I'm sitting here staring at this beautiful Christmas tree. It would have just been a big green plastic tree without all those scraps, all those hours at the sewing machine, all those little burns on my fingers, all that glitter everywhere, all that mess.

We have a baby: a beautiful, sweet, strong little baby boy who is proving all the doctors wrong. A healthy baby.

We have great health insurance, some of the best doctors in the country, the most patient physical therapists.

We have a warm & cozy apartment, a kitchen full of food, money in the bank, more clothes than we need, a car that gets us where we need to go.

We have the most loving, selfless family, who have all gone to the ends of the earth to support us this year.

We have friends who have brought us meals, made us laugh, sent us the perfect notes of encouragement at the perfect times. Friends we can be brutally honest and transparent with, and love us all the same.

We have each other, which has made all the difference in the world.

We have a gracious, gracious God whose presence fills our little home, who has answered so many prayers, who keeps giving us strength when we are at our weakest.

If it has taken all the scraps--all the junk, all the hurt, all the bad--in order for us to have the countless beautiful blessings that fill our life, this Thanksgiving I am grateful for all the scraps,

for all the mess,

for all the pain.

"For we are God's masterpiece."
Ephesians 2:10

Monday, November 15, 2010

{a cloud of witnesses}

It's pretty easy for me to feel on my own during the week. Jason leaves for school at 6:30 and usually doesn't return until 5. And since we only have one car, I'm pretty much landlocked with the little man during the day. We manage to get out for walks in the park and to the grocery store, but I'm not sure those really chalk up as "social outings."

Unless you count the fact that I am on a first name basis with the barista at the grocery Starbucks and the express lane checkout guy. Which is probably not something I should announce.

Each and every morning, I wake up, get Avram up, we eat, and then do exercises. For an hour and a half. Take nap, repeat. Then repeat again. Bath time, bed time. Do it all again tomorrow.

I know this is the Dark Side of being a stay-at-home mom. And all of Ave's medical mumbo-jumbo certainly isn't helping. Some days I wish so badly that someone was around to go, "It's not always going to be this hard. You won't do physical therapy forever. He will be able to do things on his own. Just be patient." or "Cassie, pull it together. He's a baby. Of course he hits himself in the face with his rattle. That's what babies do, for crying out loud. Relax." or "He is going to crawl. He won't do the inch-worm routine forever. Take it easy, mama. Don't get your panties in a wad."

But most days, there isn't.

So I go through the day, trying to focus on all of the good. And like I've said before, the good days are totally winning...but that isn't to say there aren't bad days. Frustrating days. Lonely days.

But as I look out over my living room now, on the desk there sits a ballpoint pen that belonged to my Pau-Pau. The rug is a hand-me-down from my mom (which will probably be returned with some carrot spit-up stains on it). The baskets filled with toys are the flower baskets from our wedding, and the play-blanket on the floor was made for my brother when he was a baby. Many of the books on our shelves are gifts from dear friends, siblings, parents, professors. The bottom book shelf is packed with photo albums from trips all over the world, with baby books and old journals.

In our bedroom, there is a hand-crocheted quilt that my Bunika made for my grandparents' wedding over 60 years ago. My wedding bouquet sits on my vanity: dried to perfection, wrapped in the same hanky my grandma wrapped around her wedding bouquet. It sits next to a framed quote, given to me by a dear friend: "Each glimpse of beauty points to eternity." In the drawers of that vanity are so many precious gifts: my mom's pearl bracelet she wore for her wedding, a bracelet from my dad on my 21st birthday, my Yoo-Hoo's earrings that Pau-Pau gave her while they were dating, my grandma's brooch.

The same rocking chair my dad was rocked in sits in Avram's room, covered with a quilt that covered my mother-in-law's bed when she was a baby. A shelf on the wall holds a picture of my mom holding me as a baby. There are frames filled with legacies: a hand-embroidered teddy bear Jason's mom made for his nursery and a shadowbox my mom filled with my first lock of hair, my hospital bracelet, my favorite toys when I was a baby.

My mother's sewing box sits on the dining room table, full of thread and buttons passed down from my grandmother. There is a cookbook on the shelf my mom made me, packed full with family recipes: Bunika's sarmale, Yoo-Hoo's colac, mom's chicken casserole, dad's zucchini pasta. A canvas portrait from our wedding hangs on the wall above a trunk my grandmother gave me when I was little girl, packed full of dress-up clothes.

In the kitchen, a picture hangs on the wall of my great-grandpa Thomas seated at a picnic table. He is surrounded by 5 of his kids, my Pau-Pau included, all barefoot and beaming with sunshine.

If I pause to look past the veil of fear, to lay down the weight of loneliness, I see that we are surrounded by a history of endurance, by a legacy of love, by a fortress of prayer...regardless of the distances measured by miles or time.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."
Hebrews 12.1

Thursday, November 4, 2010

{my relationship with parking garages}

Not too many things scare me. Spiders gross me out, but don't scare me. Same with blood and guts stuff. Not scary. Just disgusting. I keep my cool on airplanes. I find large dogs endearing. I don't get creeped out when I'm home alone at night.

But parking garages?

Absolutely terrifying.

I'm not sure if phobias are genetic, but I seem to have inherited claustrophobia from my father and his father.  There are three places I get sick to my stomach just imagining being in:

1. Caves/mines
2. Submarines
3. Parking Garages

As a kid, I went in 2 separate museum exhibits, one that simulated going down into a mine and one a submarine. I cried. The entire time. I all but had a complete mental melt-down at the tender age of 8.

The second I pull my car into a parking garage, I can feel my heart rate double. My hands are sweating right now just thinking about it. The low ceilings make me nervous. As do the narrow passages. And the poor lighting. And all that hideous, hideous concrete.

When I'm forced to park in these death traps I have to make a split-second decision: park on the bottom level so I can get out as quickly as I can, or drive all the way to the top level so if the inevitable earthquake strikes I will have the least amount of rubble smashing me. I am an incredibly logical individual.

My Chicago parking garage experiences have not helped me overcome this irrational fear. The first time I took Avram out on the town by myself, I had to park in a Cave of Death to go to the Children's Hospital Clinic. Between attempting to get Ave and all his gear out of the car without locking the keys inside and trying to stifle my anxieties of being buried alive by cement blocks and car pieces, I somehow managed to get inside and to the doctor on time.

Unfortunately, I walked back out to the garage to find that I had left the back door wide open, and the keys on top of the trunk. You just can't make this stuff up, people.

Today, I circled the doctor's office for twenty minutes trying to find street parking. Unsuccessfully. I had to park in a garage. Even though I was running late, I drove all the way up to 12th level to park. I have a baby's safety to think of, after all, not just my own, so it seemed a completely rational decision. The unfortunate part was that I had to drive all the way up to the top. At a snail's pace. Somehow, we made it alive.

We came back after the doctor's appointment and I was pleased with myself for having shut and locked all doors, with the keys safely stored in my purse. I clenched the steering wheel with white knuckles for the whole 12 story descent and quickly paid my ticket. Phew. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, leading me safely back out to the street.

And then, disaster struck.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one circling the block for parking spots this morning. There was a spot just in front of the parking garage. One woman had passed the spot and was attempting to back in, while another woman had pulled up and tried to dive in head-first. They each had half of their car in the spot, and were in a total sudden death match. It felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode.

Normally I would have laughed and driven on by. But, lucky me, they were blocking the exit.

I was trapped.

I thought they would quickly resolve it themselves. That's what rational people do, right? But they didn't. They just sat there, staring at each other. The ultimate show down. The parking garage security dude was on lunch break. It was just the three of us.

So, I did what any Chicagoan would do.

I honked.

They didn't blink.

I honked again.

They honked at each other.

And then I had a meltdown.

It took every ounce of self-control to not get out of my car and start screaming at these women. Ever since I had Avram it seems I have an extra shot of courage (or as J might argue, stupidity). I yelled at the kids setting off fireworks outside our apartment. I yelled at the teenage punk in the basement for cranking his music at 1am. I am Mama Bear: hear me roar. And then go all Edward Scissorhands on your face.

I think it is effective. J tells me it is stupid and dangerous. It must be hormones.

I put my head on the steering wheel and kept praying that God would just hold off the pending earthquake of doom until I got out of the parking garage. Please God don't let me die in a parking garage. If you love, don't let me die in a parking garage. Oh God. You can't give us a miracle baby and then have us buried alive in a parking garage. Anything but the parking garage. Sharks, tornado, bubonic plague. Anything but the parking garage.

Five minutes passed. Then ten. Nothing.

Miraculously, just as I was about to grab Ave out of his car seat, abandon the Avalon, and run to the Panera across the street for safety, a police officer happened to drive by. Oh thank God, I thought. Some sanity. Let's get out of here.

He got out of his squad car to investigate the situation, and quickly decided that the woman backing in was farther in the spot than the woman who had tried to go in head-first. The second woman huffed and puffed and threw a fit, but eventually complied. After being trapped inside the parking garage for nearing 20 minutes, we narrowly escaped complete disaster and imminent death.

 As I drove home on Lake Shore I laughed at how ridiculous I had been. I mean, seriously. What are the odds of being trapped in a parking garage during an earthquake, considering I park in one 4, maybe 5 times a year? Buck up, Cassie girl.

Today the doctor told us that we should start occupational therapy to help Avram's hand coordination. This means that for the next 2-3 months, we will have weekly physical therapy, weekly occupational therapy, and bi-weekly helmet adjustments. As soon as she told me, the fears and doubts and worries started creeping in.

What if he always has to have therapy? What if it doesn't help? What if he can't do all the things little boys are supposed to do? Is it always going to be two steps forward and one step back? Will we ever have just one month doctor free?

I know I should be happy that he is getting even more help. I know I should be assured that we are getting some of the absolute best medical care in the country. I know it's what I prayed for. I know it is a good thing.

I'm just feeling a little trapped in the parking garage, and I want so badly to get him out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

{reasons i love my husband: #792}

Drill Sargent Debbie came for her weekly visit yesterday afternoon. Avram is having a little bit of a challenge doing certain things with the helmet on, so she gave us new exercises and some instruction in how to push him this week.

Just before she left, she mentioned that we might want to have Ave evaluated by an occupational therapist. She said she didn't see any problems or cause for concern, but since we are in the process of checking off a lot of doctors lately it just might be worth an evaluation.

And, of course, I immediately interpreted this as Avram never being able to tie his shoes or hold a pencil.

The rest of the evening all of these little worries and fears were bubbling just under the surface, and I kept wondering aloud to J if we should or should not look in to occupational therapy.

J put down his cider, looked me square in the eyes and said,

"Well, personally, I don't understand why he would need occupational therapy. I mean, he's unemployed. We should probably get him a job first."

I would have been committed long ago if it were not for this man.