October, 2012

October, 2012
October 2012

Monday, June 18, 2012


I like to write.  For me, it is cathartic.  I ramble on and on when something is on my mind and I have to get it out.  Today is one of those days.  A subject matter that I have had battles with for the past several years.  Bullying.  So today, as the saying goes, I have a bee in my bonnet...and it has to come out.  

I slept with the TV on last night.  That happens many nights if I forget to set the sleep timer to turn it off once I have fallen asleep.  So this morning the first thing I heard as I was in between asleep and awake was a story on Good Morning America.  The gist of the story was that a teacher has lost her job over how she decided to handle a bullying situation in her classroom.  She apparently lined her kindergartners up and allowed each of them to hit the bully. I imagine most people would react with disgust at the teacher.  What I am about to say may finally verify that I am crazy, but my first thought was more along the lines of "bless her heart".  Yes, I feel sorry for the teacher. Maybe I should clarify before anyone signs off on my insanity paperwork...

As far back as I can remember in my life, I have known bullies.  I feel fairly certain we can all say that.  Growing up it was the kids who seemed to get pleasure out of doing things that would get another kid laughed at.  Kids who picked on weaker kids until they had them in tears.  Although it is hard for me to say, I can also admit now there were times I was the bully.  Back then we didn't we didn't call it bullying.  In fact, I can't remember it having a specific name at all.  What I do remember though is if you bullied or were a bully and you got in trouble for it, you would REALLY be in trouble for it.  Getting in trouble meant something totally different 35 years ago.  I didn't want to get spanked or grounded and I was afraid of disappointing my parents.  That was the worst...disappointing my parents.  

Now we have given bullying a platform.  We hear about it on the news, there are laws, beautiful anti-bullying posters hanging in schools, school boards and law makers who spend hours developing and debating policies which will deal with the "issue" of bullying.  Yet for all of that does anyone actually know what happens to a child who is found to be a bully to others at school?  What exactly are the consequences?  Are there consequences for repeat offenders?  In fact how do schools define which behaviors are considered bullying behaviors?  As a parent of children who have been bullied and having taught and seen bullying in the classroom and how it was handled by the school, I can tell you it is ambiguous at best.  This is why my first reaction to the story this morning was bless her heart.  As with most things in life, we arrive at the feelings and opinions we have because of our own life experiences.  For me, bullying, and especially how bullying is handled in the schools, touches a chord because of the pain I have watched my own children go through.  

When Ashley was around 2, she had a friend that bit her ALL OF THE TIME. This went on for over a year. There was no reason for it.  In fact, she would smile when she did it.  Now you might think the solution was simple....keep her away from that child. The problem was I was good friends with her mother. We spent a lot of time together. Beyond the biting, the girls actually played together really well. I began to notice that it mostly happened when her mother wasn't watching and one particular day, I had enough.  We were eating outside and her mom went in the house for something and she reached over and bit Ashley.  No reason.  I snapped and told Ashley to bite her back.  Ashley wouldn't do it, so I did.  I didn't bite down hard, but enough that she looked at me with huge eyes. She didn't cry. Of course my next thought was I have probably just lost my friend and Ashley has probably lost hers. Funny thing though...when her mom came back out, the little girl didn't say a thing.  It was as if nothing had happened.  She never bit Ashley again.  Was I right in what I did?  No.  I was a bully. To this day though, I can't tell you what a solution would have been other than severing the friendship and I didn't want that. 

Fast forward about 15 years and Ashley is a senior at Danville High School.  We had moved here halfway through Ashley's junior year.  Not the best time to move a teenager.  Can be difficult to fit into a new school at any age, but doing the move during the turbulent teenage years and at this particular school proved to be really emotionally difficult for Ashley.  It wasn't that Ashley was picked on, it just that ever lingering feeling that she didn't fit into this group of kids who for the most part had been together all of their school years.  The time for prom came and Ashley didn't have a date yet.  One day, a couple of boys got a really brilliant idea.  They would make a flyer to get her a prom date.  The flyer stated something to the effect of "Ashley Arms will put out for a date to the prom".  As I said, brilliant idea.  These boys then, with the permission of the teacher, went to make copies.  I would like to think the teacher didn't look at what was being copied, instead just trusted that these fine young men weren't up to no good and gave them the code to use the copier.  After the copies were made, they distributed them by throwing them over the balcony into the lobby of the school at about the time school was letting out.  

Ashley came home in tears.  I went to the school and talked to the assistant principal.  Here is the point in the story where I formed my opinion that there are no clear cut rules on how to deal with bullying behaviors in the schools no matter how much lip service they give to the anti-bullying platforms.  He actually said to me "Oh, that is what those flyers were.  I saw them on the floor but didn't read them."  I knew who had done this but when I told him his response was "Really.  I can't believe those boys would do that.  They are good kids."  He said he would TALK to them about it.  Nothing ever happened.  No consequence. What happened that day was the very heart of why bullying is wrong.  No one should ever feel the way she did that day. As parents we are falsely led to believe that sending our child to a school with an anti-bullying platform provides some form of protection.  I thought that.  I walked out that day thinking the boys would have a consequence.  What I actually ended up feeling was that they are providing lip service to a cause for which they have no plan of action.  My daughter was humiliated in a way that no child should be humiliated.  My heart broke with hers.  To this day, it hurts me to think about it and I know it still bothers her. The one positive that may have come from that day actually came from the boy who did the deed.  He called Ashley before I even knew what had happened and apologized.  He did that on his own when he realized, a little to late to take it back, how much he had hurt her. I believe that what the assistant principal said about him was correct.  He probably was a good kid.  That didn't mean there shouldn't have been a consequence for his actions.  

Same school system...different child.  When Brooke was in the 3rd grade there was a girl who picked on Brooke.  I think I should preface this story with a little info about Brooke herself.  My tender hearted girl, whom I love more than life, can't take a joke.  A little teasing between sisters or friends can send her into a tantrum.  I believe this is how the problem began.  Another girl, who was picking at her because she knew that she could get Brooke going.  There was this back and forth of her picking and Brooke reacting.  Frustrating to me and to her teacher.  I also spoke to the principal about it and I believe her teacher did as well. Still though, Brooke would come home crying and as usual I would ask her what she was doing to exasperate the problem.  I would talk to her about not reacting.  I was in a sense, discounting her feelings....blaming the victim basically. I now, several years later, realize that this is one of the cores of bullying that make it so hard to clearly define for many people. The "she's asking for it" way of thinking. Nothing changed and I was feeling the frustration of wanting the school to stop the girl from picking on Brooke.  Problem was, I was a teacher in the school.  I couldn't say with 100% certainty that was the reason nothing was done, but it sure felt that way.  So, in my usual not thinking sort of way, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Brooke came up to me in the lunchroom one day crying.  Same story different day.  I walked over to the girl who was standing in line with her class and told her that I had had enough.  That I wanted her to stop picking on Brooke.  Although I was acting like a parent, I didn't say anything to her I wouldn't have said to my own students if they were picking on a classmate.  I wasn't yelling or even being any louder than usual. I am sure you can guess what happened next.  I got reprimanded.  Even though this had gone on for a couple of months with no resolution, I was in trouble for acting like a parent during school hours.  Did I make the wrong decision, and again, like with the biting story, was I being a bully?  Probably.  Did the behavior stop.  Yes.  I didn't hear about any problems from Brooke and the little girl for the rest of the year. Why though, was nothing done at the school level?  Why did I feel the need to wear the parent hat that day?  Well, that takes me back to school policy.  Do they clearly know what constitutes bullying? Yes, maybe I have a child who seems to ask for it with some of her behaviors but isn't the essence of bullying based on how the person being bullied feels and not our perception of how they feel? Again,consequences. Are they applied across the board no matter who you are or who your parents are?  Very similar to Ashley's situation in that who the child was played a role in how it was handled.  Who I was played a role in how it was handled for Brooke.  I should also add in an interesting twist that just last year Brooke came to me and said that the girl had "friended" her on Facebook and she had accepted.  I had a split second of "that's probably not a good idea" run through my head, and then dismissed it.  Well, it was only a few days later that Brooke came back to me and said the girl was being mean on Facebook for no reason.  I looked at what had been posted and checked Brooke's messages to make sure she hadn't provoked or anything and she hadn't.  I felt a bit vindicated....the girl is a bully plain and simple.  She always was.  This time I could act like a parent with no repercussions.  I made Brooke delete her.

I had other bad experiences in the classroom where I realized sending them to the office was getting me nowhere.  I had a known bully push a child that was standing at the urinal.  It scared him and he soaked the front of his pants.  He didn't come out of the bathroom but my bully was already out and back in line.  I called in for him and when he got to where I could see him he was crying and completely embarrassed.  I asked him if he had an accident and that is when he told me his version of what happened.  I got the kids back in the classroom and then talked to my bully.  By now he had figured out that being truthful with me was his best bet and he gave me the same version of the story.  When I asked him why he said he thought it was funny.  I sent him to the office thinking he would have a consequence....he was a repeat, repeat, repeat offender after all.  When he came back I asked him what the principal wanted him to do.  Nothing he said.  He didn't have a consequence.  Surprising?  Not really.  It wasn't even recorded in the electronic system where behavior problems are recorded. My own children have lost recess for things less offensive.

This brings me back to the teacher in Texas who has now lost her job and possibly her teaching career over a bad decision.  Of course there is always more to a story than what we know. I said "bless her heart" because I wonder how much support the school had given her with the bully in her classroom.  Had she experienced what I had?  You ask for and expect help but don't get it. I think you don't have to think too hard to realize this came at the end of the school year and she had probably dealt with it all year.  Did the school have a CLEAR policy.  Had they implemented that policy?  How did she end up in a situation where she made such a disastrous choice? The article mentioned that she was a young teacher.  As a young teacher was she given the support and CLEAR answers on how to deal with the situation?  I feel for her. I hope it is an opportunity for the school to reflect on what they could have done differently as well and not pretend it was solely her fault.  

I want to make one more point before I go.  I am not putting this all on the schools exactly.  Parents play a role as well.    In fact, parents may just be the roadblock to solving the problem.  I know having taught, that teachers often fear parents.  We don't quite know how to tell them like it really is without fear of getting our heads bitten off.  I have to wonder in the case of Ashley's prom incident if they were afraid of the boy's parents. Maybe we as parents stand in the way of schools implementing clearer consequences for student's actions. It is just as important for parents to have a clear understanding of bullying as it is for schools to have better ways of handling it. I want to be able to teach my children what bullying really is and the correct way to handle it and how to make sure they don't become bullies themselves.  How they treat others will be just as important to the development of their moral character as how they are treated.  I have started calling it out in my own home and even with their friends.  We aren't going to pick at people for our own satisfaction without consequences.    

The bee is out of my bonnet now!


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

The kids started working on my Mother's Day present several weeks ago.  I wasn't allowed to peek and I wasn't supposed to be listening.  Of course a mother is always listening.  For me the memory of this Mother's Day gift will not be the gift itself but the memories of listening as they talked about each page and laughed together.  Oh, and the usual sibling arguments. I hope one day when they are older and going through things from their childhood, they will come across this and remember not what was said on paper, but the time they spent together.  That is what I will remember and treasure. They are my greatest gift.  

Friday, March 30, 2012

God's Grace? Me?

You ever wonder why it seems that some people seem to come out of something ok and others don't.  You often hear "Therefore but by the grace of God go I".  Is it the grace of God that one life will be blessed and another isn't?  Does that mean that God didn't grace that person?  

Truthfully, I had never really put the words "God's grace" and "Laura's life" in the same realm until about a week ago.  I was at church to pick Brooke up from youth group and I got to talking to the youth minister and associate pastor.  Kristi knows a lot of my life story and so through the course of conversation she was telling me that I should really share my story.  She said my life had been touched by God's grace in many ways and it would be a good story to share with youth.  She went on to say that youth really struggle with their identity and don't often see the gifts they have. They can get stuck in their uncertainty and miss the doors that God is opening for them.   The initial reaction in my head was that I definitely do not need to talk to youth...she must be crazy.  I said that I didn't mind sharing my story one on one with people or here in the "privacy" of this blog....but talking in front of a group of people about it would feel odd.  Yes, my life has somewhat been a story of survival....born to an unwed mother, given up for adoption, sexual abuse survivor,  young unmarried mother, etc. I am hesitant to speak to in a group setting because I don't want people to think my life has been sad. I have never seen my life that way. It doesn't require people to feel sorry for me. Yet, as I drove home I couldn't get what she said to me out of my head.  God's grace?  I always thought I was just stubborn and unwilling to let life get me down. 

As usual, I have spent the last week obsessing over this thought. My mind can't rest until I figure it out.  I even googled "God's grace".  I mean if you want to understand something you Google it, right?   Here is some of what I found:

Grace is God showing His love to you even though you MAY THINK you don't deserve it.
Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live.

“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue. -Eugene Gladstone O'Neill (1888-1953)  

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” -Anne Lamott

The more I read, the more I understood what Kristi had meant, but it left me with a new set of questions to ponder.  Why is it then that my life has been touched by grace, when others with similar stories have not turned out as well?  Aren't they touched by grace? 

To understand what I mean I want to tell you a story about a boy named Sammie.  

I never knew there was anyone in my Dad's family line named Sammie.  My dad is,  and has always been obsessed with family history and geneology...and yet I had never heard that name.  Then about 4 or 5 years ago, I was doing research on Ancestry.com.  I periodically search in vane for my birth father and also for more of my birth mother's history.  This particular day I thought I would look up my dad's census records from the early 1920's.  I thought it would be interesting....I got more than I ever bargained for.  There it was.  The last name listed for the household...Samie Arms.  Age 12.  Boy Baring. Hum.  What does "boy baring" mean?  So I asked my dad, not realizing this may be a problem.

"Dad, who is Samie Arms?"


"Samie Arms.  His name is listed on the census records from 1920 that he lived in your house.  He is listed as "boy baring" and I don't know what that means."

"Oh."   LONG PAUSE.  "Well, I believe my dad was married before my mother and that is his son."


WHAT?  There was another son?  I was so shocked I just changed the subject. My head was spinning a bit.  Why wasn't he called son on the records?  What was with this "boy baring " thing? My entire life all I have heard about is Arms family history.  My dad even wrote his memoirs, probably a hundred pages, and not one mention of anyone named Samie.  There are stories of the other siblings, cousins, neighbors.  Probably everyone in Clay County, Tennessee.  Nothing about Samie. No pictures.  No memories.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  As if he never existed.  

So it doesn't take a genius to figure out that something just didn't add up.  Maybe most people would think it isn't so shocking....there is probably a "mysterious birth" story in every family if you go back far enough.  Problem is, I am not just any person.  I myself am a "mysterious birth" story.  No one in my birth mother's family had ever heard of me either.  I kind of just "showed up" a few years ago.  I immediately connected with Samie in my mind.  I knew that some way, some how, I would find out his story. 

Here is what I know.  My grandfather was never married before my grandmother.  He had a son with a woman, whose name I still have not found.  For whatever reason, Samie (also spelled Sammie and Sammy as I have discovered in my search) ended up with his father.  He lived with them until he was around 18 years old.  Then no one ever saw him again. Amazingly though, my dad has no memories of him at all.  He was 8 years older than my dad.  No memories of where he slept, no memories of him at family meals, at church.  No memories of him going to school or working with the family on the farm.  As if he didn't exist.  The picture was becoming clearer to me.  An illegitimate child was a shame on the family.  He didn't count.  He didn't matter.  I believe without a doubt this was made very clear to him.

Information about his life is difficult to come by.  No birth records.  No church bible documentation to look at.  Believe me, I have looked.  Then finally I came across his death record and found where he was buried.  I ordered a copy of his death certificate.  He died of a heart attack in the Tompkinsville jail at the age of 45.  There is a name for his mother, but I haven't been able to find anything about her, or that a person with this name existed at all. I have also recently discovered through a message board on Ancestry that he never married or had children and that he was an alcoholic.  He lived for many years with a lady, 30 years his senior.  I do not know the connection between the two, but feel confident I will eventually find out.  I do know that although she had been widowed and had children pass away before she died in 1964, ten years after Sammy, she is buried next to him.  I take peace in that....for whatever reason, despite his trials, she loved him. 

So how is my story similar to Samie's?  Even though I too am a child born out of wedlock there are 50 years between our births.  That is a lot of time for views to change in the world.  Or did they?  Did beliefs within the mind change, or just the way these "sort of things" were handled.  Remember that memoir my dad wrote?  100 pages.  In that one hundred pages, my name is mentioned 1 time.  One sentence.  I can feel Sammy in myself.  He was one line on a census document.  I was one line in a book written by my father. A book about his family. When Brooke asks her Papa about memories of me when I was a child, he doesn't have any even though he can recant word for word conversations from 1945.  

Nothing for me though can connect me to Sammy any better than something that happened here a few months ago.  Christine, a cousin of my father's a daughter of a lady my dad had known in his young years came to visit with my parents.  When they got up to go, my dad asked Brooke to go get him "that box".  This box had belonged to my great (or great-great) grandfather and carried with him during the civil war.  Brooke brought him the box and he handed it to Christine.  He asked her to take that box and give it to someone in the Arms family.  He mentioned something about someone's children taking it.  I had never heard of these people.  Talk about an elephant in the room kind of moment.  Christine looked at me and at Brooke.  She asked Dad if he didn't want to give that to me or one of the grandchildren.  He adamantly said again that he wanted it to stay in the Arms family.  Christine looked at me again and I quietly told her not to worry, it was alright.  They left and a piece of Arms family history left with them.  

I was so angry.  I thought of Sammy again.  Wondered how much of his life had been spent hearing stories of the family history.  He even carried the family blood, but it wasn't enough.  That night I decided I would have to say something. I told Dad what he had done had hurt me.  He looked surprised and went on to explain that he had a problem because he was the end of the Arms line and he didn't know what to do about the Arms "stuff".  I pointed out that in his misplaced loyalty to the Arms name he had given "Arms" stuff to total strangers.  Strangers who have never heard the stories.  To them it might be just a box.  Then, not so nicely, I told him to look around.  I asked him who he sees.  I said "Dad, I may not carry your blood, but I am here.  I have always been here.  I know all of YOUR stories.  Brooke knows all of your stories."  I think I was a little harsh because he teared up.  Then he said he had loved me just like I was his.  Just like I was his.  Wow.  "Dad, I am yours.  I have been yours since March 6th, 1969 when you signed papers that gave me your name.  It is what goes on between us, not what flows through us Dad." 

So different, yet so similar, Sammy and I.  This brings me back to God's grace.
Sammy's story is what was bothering me about the whole idea of God's grace.  Despite trials and tribulation, I have a really great life. Why me and not him? So many similarities and yet our lives had turned out so differently.  There was one more qoute that I had found as I googled that brought it all together for me. 

God supplies all we need, but we must choose to accept His gifts, or to reject them.  We have the option of refusing to eat or drink.  We have the option of closing ourselves up in an air tight, waterproof and darkened room, but it will kill us.

You know something.....I was back to what I have thought about myself all along....I am stubborn and refuse to let life get me down.  Translation in Laura's terms means the best gift God may have given me was that stubbornness to not let life get me down.  I have wholeheartedly accepted that gift and many others. 
It isn't that God's grace touched one and not the other.  It is that one could see it and the other could not.  I believe God lays it all out there for us.  Our gifts, our shortcomings and trials.  The ability to handle both the trials and the gifts is inside us always.  Grace is almost like a secret until we figure out that it was there all along.  I believe without maybe being able to put the words to it....I recognized God's grace was within me.

I will never count the same as an Arms in my parents eyes.  Sammy never counted as an Arms in his father's eyes.  In the end, all pf that is ok because we both counted in God's eyes.  I just wish Sammy could have recognized the gifts God was offering him....he could have recognized it within himself.  There but for the grace of God go I.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Dog's Purpose

This was posted on my Facebook page, but it really touched me so I thought I would share it here as well.  

A Dog's Purpose?
(from a 6-year-old).

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa , and their little
boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker 's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ''I know why.''

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said,''People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?'' The Six-year-old continued,

''Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.''

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you're not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

There comes a time in life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh, forget the bad, and focus on the good. So, love the people who treat you right. Think good thoughts for the ones who don't. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of LIFE...Getting back up is LIVING...

Have a great life.
by: Ultima National Resources, LLC

Monday, February 27, 2012

Parents Are People....

I was watching an interview between Jonah Hill and Oprah Winfrey the other day and Jonah Hill was talking about his parents and how wonderful they were.  Then he made this statement-- "It was a long time before I realized that parents are people who just happened to have children." I have had that statement stuck in my head ever since.  

There is a lot of truth in that one little line.  It was only recently that I realized my Dad was just a man....not infallible as I thought for many years.  He had made mistakes just like any other parent.  Just like me.  

What makes a parent then, because honestly it would be quite enough to go through our lives and just deal with our own problems.  Taking on superhero status willingly seems plain crazy.  

One of the first things that came to mind as I was trying to answer this question in my own head was July 5th, 1989, 3 AM.  My water broke.  Now it isn't like I didn't know this was coming.  I had been waiting for it.  Waiting and it suddenly happening were two different realms of reality. Especially when you are twenty and completely alone.  Looking back on it, I must have been crazy. 

I lived by myself in a little apartment in the Shawneetown complex on the UK campus.  When my water broke, I didn't panic.  I called the doctor and he said to head to the hospital.  So, I picked up my suitcase and walked the short distance to Central Baptist Hospital.  I walked in the ER door and up to the desk.  The lady looked up at me and asked if she could help me.  Apparently from her position she couldn't see my extra large belly and the fact that I was abnormally calm for a woman "in labor" added to her confusion.  She stood up and looked at my stomach.  Then she called a guy over with a chair and he wheeled me up to the maternity ward and up to their desk.  Again, they asked if they could help me.  I told them my water had broken and that the doctor had told me to come on in to the hospital.  I thought my size kind of gave everything away, but apparently these people were going to need convincing.  I felt as though they didn't believe me.  I was asked if anyone was with me.  I answered no.  The nurse took me into a room and had me pee on a strip.  Only after she saw the strip did I start to feel like they really believed I was there to have a baby.  She handed me a gown.  The excitement was starting to set in.  In a few hours I would be a mother.  Then she asked me a question that stopped me in my tracks.  She asked if I was keeping "this baby" or giving it up for adoption.  I answered yes, I was keeping my baby.  

I know now all these years later, she didn't mean anything with that question.  I guess it is really odd to have a young pregnant woman show up alone to labor and delivery.  At the time though, it really rubbed me the wrong way.  In fact I spent the next 12 hours waiting for Ashley or Aaron (I didn't know yet) to arrive with her question swimming in my brain.  

What was I doing exactly?  I never one moment doubted I had made the right decision to have the baby, but did she ask me that question because I wasn't going to be a good mother?  Was I somehow not capable of what was before me and she knew that for sure?  What if I was making a mistake?  What if it turns out that I am a terrible mother?  How will I know what I am doing?

The truth is, even though the circumstances were different than those of most expectant parents, no one knows the answers to those questions until you live it. I was no different than anyone else.  I was, as Jonah Hill said, a person who happened to have a child.  A human being who would make plenty of mistakes.

So I am back to my original question.  What makes a parent?  If Jonah Hill's parents weren't superheros as he had thought when he was a child, what was it that made him gush about them now? Now that he knows they are mere mortals. 

I have at times wondered how I parented Ashley at all before the internet, when I couldn't find the answers to parenting dilemmas by using Google.  Must be something else guiding me, guiding all parents. Love of course is the easy answer.  There is nothing on earth that can ever compare to the truly undefinable love I feel for my children. I believe though that there is something even more complicated than love and there is one story about Benjamin that defines it for me.  

Ben was not quite two and doing a lot of the normal mischief that little boys do. One thing he hadn't tried yet was to open the doors to the house.  He hadn't shown one bit of interest in venturing outside.  Because of that we had made the mistake of not childproofing the front door.  I left Ben playing in the living room floor and went to finish up the dishes.  I probably wasn't out of his sight more than 10 minutes when I came back to find him gone.  We looked all over the house, but couldn't find him.  The front door was completely closed, but we went out and looked in the front and back yard.  Then we went through the house again.  Now I was scared.  I went back out the front door and yelled across the street to my neighbors that I couldn't find Ben.  We congregated on the front sidewalk momentarily.  We could go left or right. We all turned right and started to walk.  I stopped and told them I felt like I should go the other way.  They kept on in their direction and I turned to my left.  All I could think was that someone had kidnapped him.  The house next to mine had an alley that ran beside it and I took off down the alley.  I probably didn't get fifty steps down that alley when I saw him.  He was standing on the deck of our neighbors above ground pool looking down at the water.  

My gut instinct had told me to turn left instead of right.  That same gut instinct I know has guided a lot of my parenting.  It was definitely there with Ashley as we traveled together through those first nine years, just the two of us. Maybe instinct is what guides us all through the journey.  This doesn't mean that our instinct isn't wrong sometimes.  That we don't make mistakes, but I believe if we follow that instinct and give a lot of love even when it is difficult, we will raise a generation of people able to do the same for their own children someday. 

What I hope is that years from now if you ask my children what kind of parents they had, they will smile (maybe laugh) and say we were kind of crazy sometimes, but we always knew we were loved and that they were there for us even when we didn't want them to be.  Maybe they will tell stories about mistakes we made with an understanding that we were after all people who just happened to have children.  People just like them.  

Side note:

I asked Anna today as we were on the way home from her doctor in Lexington if she thought I ever made mistakes.  Didn't take her long to say "Yes!"  Uh-oh.  I asked her what she meant by that.  She went on to explain that sometimes I bought the wrong size jeans for them.  Ok.  This is good so far.  I told her that wasn't quite what I meant.  Did she know that sometimes I make mistakes as a human being.  "Yes....when you give me a time-out and I don't think I should have one.  That is a mistake."  I pushed a little more but she told me this conversation was kind of boring, leaned the seat back and fell asleep.  Well.....maybe 10 is too young to ponder the complexities of parents as people. That's ok.  I don't mind being a superhero for a few more years. 



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mothering My Mother

In August of 2010, Dad and I were leaving the hospital where we had been visiting my mother.  She had fallen several days before and broken her knee.  We both knew it was more than a broken knee.  She was about to be moved to the nursing home for extended stay rehab.  Although he didn't say it, Dad knew that Mom would probably not be coming back home ever again.  He cried every time he visited her. He cried each time on the way home, and I have no doubt there were many tears shed as he sat alone in his assisted living apartment. 

The day she was moved from the hospital to the nursing home he finally said the words he had been avoiding.  "Mom won't be coming home.  I won't be able to take care of her anymore."   He started to cry.  In that moment, I said the first of two statements that would forever change my entire family..."You know Dad, you can always come home with us."  He cried harder and then finally managed to say he needed to hear that.  

He came home about 3 weeks later and settled into the routine of life with my family. There were many visits back and forth to visit Mom in the nursing home.  These, as would be expected were difficult visits for Dad.  Difficult for me too, but mainly because I was the one who got the rundown about how she was behaving (not cooperating with therapy, not wanting to leave her room) and how they couldn't get her to eat.   I started to dread going to see her as much as he did, just for different reasons.

So it happened, as it is with my sometimes impulsive nature, I uttered the second statement that would once again change everything.  "Dad, I think we should bring Mom home."  

That was sixteen months ago. In the beginning I didn't know most days whether to laugh or cry.  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do this.  During those first days and weeks, she screamed at me, was uncooperative, and hit me more than once.  I found myself thinking....elder abuse?  What about caregiver abuse?  Then it hit me...I am in charge here and I don't have to be treated this way.  So one night when she started to throw a glass at me, I took it abruptly from  her hand.  She reached out and hit me.  I tapped her back, not hard, but to make a point.  She hit me again.  I tapped her again.  She kicked me.  I lightly kicked her back.  Then I looked at her and asked her how long we were going to do this.  She looked at me like she had something good to say, but instead shook her head.  We haven't had a problem since. 

It is day in and day out the same routine....if we are lucky.  Change in routine usually means someone is sick.  I have said to friends that life here is like the movie Groundhog Day where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again.  They eat the same breakfast and lunch everyday.  They get up and go to bed at the same time each day.  Mom says the exact same thing to me every morning when she wakes up.  I have started to find myself dreading growing old.  I have never feared aging before, but now I do. 

I come face to face with the future on a daily basis. Scary stuff.  My Dad is 93 and he can't hear even with hearing aids.  He can't see due to macular degeneration.  Mom, in the late stages of dementia, no longer consistently knows who we are, or who Dad is, and except for feeding herself, is completely dependent on someone else to care for her.  She sleeps probably 18 out of 24 hours and Dad is not far behind with his sleep. 

I finally realized that the only way I was going to make it through caring for my parents without becoming depressed by the sadness of life's cycle, was to start finding the humor. It is laugh or lose my mind. Let me tell you, some funny stuff goes on here.  It is all about perspective. Now I realize that some reading this may find what I am about to say offensive.  For that I apologize.  I know how terrible dementia is.  I also see that in some ways it is an odd sort of gift.  She doesn't have to be aware of growing old the way that my dad does. She is unaware of time and age.  She doesn't really know that she can't walk anymore or care for herself.  She is stuck in happy times. She is not suffering.  Mom as she once was is already gone.  My job now, truthfully, is to see to it that she has a dignified death.  Laughing about it along the way is a great coping mechanism for all of us.  Like I said it is all about perspective...

Here are a few of our funny moments....

--The day we picked Mom up bring her home from the nursing home she ran down this list in her head of all of the stuff in her room that she needed to take with her.  I agreed with her and told her Jason was on his way to pick everything up and take it to the house.  She looked at Dad and said, "Well, they are just making out like bandits."  I think she thought we were stealing her stuff. 

--The other day, my Dad had been to a NARFE meeting at Mallard's.  When he came in, Mom and I were in the bathroom.  He came to the door to see where Mom was.  When she saw him, she said, "Oh good, my Daddy's home."  I said, "That isn't your Daddy Mom it's your husband."  He started laughing and said it was ok...he wasn't quite sure who he was either.  

--Several nights ago, as I was taking Mom to bed, she told me I was going the wrong way.  I asked her where she wanted me to go and she pointed toward the garage and said they had been sleeping on a mattress on the floor in there.  No Mom, you and Dad sleep in here.  She told me I didn't know what I was talking about but she said she would sleep in the bedroom...this time.  The next morning she told Dad she really liked that bed. That it was better than the mattress on the floor.  He looked at me, then at her and back at me.  I shrugged my shoulders.  He chuckled, reached over and rubbed her hand.  

--Mom asked me the other day when the renovations on our house would be done.  When were we moving was what she wanted to know.  I said I hadn't been doing in renovations that maybe she was thinking about the girl who takes care of her on my days off.  She said no, it was me.  I was moving.  I just kind of dropped it and went on.  That night after Brooke had given them their dinner she came up and said that Mama was asking her about renovations and when we would be moving.  Brooke told her we weren't moving, that we all lived in this house together.  Mom's response was to tell her to be sure and clean up our mess when we left. (I think she wants to get rid of us!!!)

--They were watching a UK ballgame and I happened to be downstairs folding laundry.  I heard Dad ask mom what it said on the bottom of the screen. (the ticker of announcements/news that runs across the bottom of the screen) She read it out loud to him.  Then after about thirty seconds, she read it again.  Then again and again.  By the time I came out of the laundry room she had read it about six times and Dad was sitting with his head in his hands.  I didn't say anything and headed up the stairs.  Half way up, I heard her reading it again.  

--I take Mom to the bathroom several times throughout the day.  Once I get her situated, I try to give her privacy, but remain close so I can make sure she doesn't try to get up on her own and fall.  I came into the room and asked if she was ready to get up.  She responded by saying, "No.  I was in full bloom when you walked into the room."  I am still trying to figure that one out.  

--I have to be careful at night when I go down to put Mom to bed.  She and Dad have usually been snacking throughout the evening, but Dad doesn't pay any attention to what Mom does with her wrappers or food portions that she doesn't eat.  The other night she reached out her hand and told me to throw that away.  It felt warm and mushy and I was afraid to look.  She had chewed all of the juice out of orange pieces and then spit the pulp out in her hand.  That was gross.  She also sits on unwrapped chocolate bars to save them for later.  Dementia and saving a candy bar for later don't go together very well.  

There have been many of these moments.  Moments where I have to stop myself from laughing out loud.  I can't predict how the next months or years are going to go even though I know how they will end. Between now and then I will find the funny moments and hang on tight. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012


A friend of mine pointed out today that I hadn't written anything on my blog in a while and suggested that I should really write about all of the humorous stuff that goes on when you live with and take care of aging parents.  She is right, there is a lot I could say about that topic so I started planning out this blog entry in my head.  I didn't get far before I got stuck.  This is not because I don't have a lot of material to choose from. Believe me--there is plenty, but my thoughts kept being interrupted by thoughts of my husband.  So I am going to take a risk and instead talk to you about Jason.  Because as all wives know....our husbands provide all sorts of great story material also!  

I know what you are thinking already.  You are thinking that I might be getting ready to complain about all of things Jason does to annoy me.  All of the juicy (ok, juicy might be pushing it a little) details of my marriage and family.  Not at all.  Instead I want to tell you about risks, hope, growth, and love. Hum....sounds like a love story.  Laura and Jason?  Well....

First, the risk. 

Thirteen years ago I was a single mother working three jobs.  I was a part time secretary for a church, I cleaned houses and offices, and I worked as a cashier at Food Lion.  I was happy.  Ashley was happy.  Our life went along rather smoothly in fact.  Although I wasn't against the idea of dating and finding the "love of my life", I hadn't had a lot of luck in that area so it wasn't something I spent a lot of time thinking about.  

I met Jason at Food Lion where he worked too.  He had been there a year or two and to him I was probably just another cashier.  I don't think he gave me a lot of thought.  Truthfully, I didn't give him a lot of thought either.  The more I worked with him though, the more I started to think about him.  What did it for me was how he would laugh AT me.  Yes, that's right...AT me.  Not at my wonderful wit and charm....at my stupidity.  My blonde moments.  I am not sure what that says about my self esteem that I liked being laughed at, but I did.  Not by everyone, just Jason.  So it began.  The relationship that no one thought would last.  

We were more of a "what are they thinking" kind of couple.  Jason, you see, was 10 years younger.  So if I was being honest...I would have to admit I asked myself that same question on more than one occasion.  Yet, just as it would remain over the next thirteen years, there was something there that told me to follow my heart and not my brain. I took the biggest risk I had ever taken in my life.  I jumped in with both feet. 


Our first daughter together, Brooke, was born 20 months after we first met. Followed 14 months later by Anna.  At this point, Jason and I had already experienced many moments that made me think all of those people who said we didn't know what we were doing were right.  I didn't think we would make it.  I spent more time mad at him than I did liking him ...and although he has never said it, I am sure he felt the same way about me.  By this point Jason was a truck driver and gone more than he was home.  When he did come home, we spent a lot of that time mad. I could give those "juicy" details now to paint a clearer picture, but it wouldn't do any good.  Trust me, it was a bad cycle we were in. Yet that risk I had taken in the beginning to me was based on hope.  Every time we would have an argument and I would think about leaving, it was hope that kept me there.  It wasn't as if we didn't have any good times, we did.  A lot of great memories. I loved this man and we could do it So I would keep trying to make things change I think back now and realize my main thought was that I hoped I could change HIM. After all, the way I saw it, everything was his fault. I am perfect, right? 

Growth and Love

In 2004, I was pregnant again.  This is not what I wanted.  That sounds bad to say those words, because I love our son more than life itself, but at the time, having a fourth child was not a good idea.  Partly because I had been told by my doctor not to have any more children, and partly because Jason and I were still struggling.  Of course there are always those times when you bring a new life into the world where everything seems blissful and right.  We had those times when Ben was born just as we had with our other children.  Wouldn't take long though and all of the old problems would be back.  

I decided it had to end.  HE was never going to change.  I started planning my way out.  I went back to school and got my degree.  I got a job right after graduation.  I worked hard.  Then, I lost that job.  Suddenly, my world turned upside down.  I wanted to die.  

Jason picked me up. Jason.  This man I had discounted all of these years.  The one I had blamed everything on made me feel I had a reason to live.  

Sometimes we have light bulb moments.  I had one of those.  Maybe all of these years, it hadn't been all his fault.  Maybe I had gotten so caught up in myself and seeing things my way and having things my way that I hadn't seen the truth.  I was so busy trying to make him into the man I thought I wanted him to be, I didn't see the man he was all along.  In all of those years I had forgotten to look into his eyes and see that HE loved ME.  Now I could see it very clearly.  It was the same look I had seen in the beginning. Deep in his eyes he looked at me the way no one else had.  That was why the risk had been so worth taking in the beginning. Humbling times for me.  The way I had treated him at times.  The way we had treated each other.  I am surprised looking back that he didn't leave me. 

This Wednesday, February 1st, is our 10th wedding anniversary.  I can't tell you how happy that makes me.  Thirteen years together and ten officially.  We are doing what no one thought we could do.  I am so lucky to have Jason.  Lucky to have someone put up with me while I have grown up.  Lucky to have a person in this world who knows and puts up with all of my quirks and faults and still loves me like I am the most important person in the world.  I can no longer picture a world without him and while we will never be a perfect couple, that is ok too.  It is ok because individually, we are not perfect people. 

Oh, and the way he used to laugh AT me...he still does that and I still love it. 

Since I know you will be reading this Jason...I love you and I hope there are many years of laughing at each other ahead!   Happy Anniversary!