Moms

I am not a mother.

Yet, last night at a baby shower, I had a wonderful time chatting with mothers of all sorts. I still feel new to my church community, even though I’ve been attending faithfully since moving about two years ago. I love how the community is adjusting to the changes – they celebrate births, baptisms, marriages, chrismations. And they mourn together and help when someone of the community has a physical or spiritual need.

I am so thankful for the opportunity last night to talk with those moms and women of my community.

I started the evening talking with a mom adjusting to her high school freshman daughter. She’s asking herself, “How do I help her find her way, but let her do it?” She recognizes the talents, brains, and abilities and is excited to see how her daughter will use them. But is also wondering how to let go and give her daughter room.

Mom B is lively with three college-age and beyond kids. One is planning a wedding, one seriously dating, and one still trying to figure out life.

Mom C has 3 children under the age of 8. Her baby has multiple food allergies, and since she’s nursing, she has to cut those foods out. Her other two are a lively handful and she’s homeschooling. She was so vulnerable in sharing that some of the negative behaviors she sees in her children, she knows they got from her. Thus, to have her children change and nurture their spirit, she has to change.

Mom D was the guest of honor and will be a new mom after only one year of marriage. I’ve loved getting to know her these months; she’s so chill and relaxed with the perfect amount of sarcasm.

In this period of my life where I’m engaged and preparing for marriage and the possibility of motherhood, I am always struck with how open these and other women have been with their lives. I’m honored that they want to know me and my struggles in this time as well.  Some have shared the worst parts of their engagements and marriages with me. They shared their children’s delights and joy; they shared their struggles, fears, and what is at the heart of their prayers. This is not as a “WARNING: RUN NOW!” but rather an encouragement to build the good foundation and habits in my marriage and (eventual) parenting.

I guess this is a “fluffy” post where I can pinpoint the exact “meaning” of my experience. It’s amazing how going through drastic changes in my life allows people to feel confident in sharing their joyful and difficult experiences. And maybe that is the “glue” of a community.

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When The End Comes

Sorry that I’ve been absent for so long. There has been so much to juggle the past few months, and since I have a few people with whom I can verbally process my life, I guess blogging hasn’t been a top priority. I have plans to fill in some of my thoughts and experiences from the summer, but they will have to wait.

The reason for this entry, however, is that last night I received word from Stewie that The Brain finished his battle/war with ALS.

While I hate that a terrible disease has taken yet another person in such a cruel way, my emotion is not so much based on anger or depression or bitterness. I am actually relieved to know that he fought his battle in the only way he could and was able to let go. I am relieved to know that Stewie will have the opportunity to sleep through the night for the first time in over 2 years. I am relieved to know that The Brain was able to let go of this life and not give up hope.

I’m sure there will be more writings and musings of my grieving. But they will be dampened as I do not feel my life will make as much of an adjustment compared with others.

I have been struck the past few months in how complete the prayers of Orthodoxy are for the human experience. When we let go of our pride that says only extemporaneous or spontaneous prayers are best, we find a vast wealth of wisdom. So, I leave you with several of the prayers available in the Orthodox Prayer Book published by Holy Protection Monastery in Colorado (aka “The Blue Romanian Prayer Book”)

Oh good Lord, remember Your servant(s) _______ and forgive them all in which they have transgressed in their lives, for only You are without sin and can grant rest to the departed. In Your divine wisdom and love for mankind, You bestow all things and provide for all the needs of man. O Creator, rest the souls of Your servants _____ who have placed their hope in You, O Lord, the Fashioner, the Creator and our God. Amont the saints, O Christ, rest the souls of Your servants where there is neither pain nor grief nor sighing, but life everlasting.

In one of my conversations with The Brain before I left for nursing school, he expressed to me his fear of being forgotten after his death. So, I now can pray the words I reassured to him that day: Memory eternal.

 

When The End is Near

The past two weeks The Brain has been in rapid decline. I am thankful I was able to see him over Memorial Day when an hour-long conversation did not take all his energy for the day. Besides, since last Thanksgiving, I try to do most of the talking. He has recently consented to swapping out his usual king-sized mattress for a hospital bed and does not balk at any medication interventions to control secretions or pain. From what I read in updates, he is not uncomfortable but there is a huge battle with peripheral edema that refuses to go down. Edema, or swelling, is a sign that the kidneys are not motivated to keep filtering the extra water and usual waste products out of the body.

We talked about ALS our last day of lecture in Med-Surg 2 along with other “chronic neurological disorders.” I had to work hard to not dominate the discussion. The question was posed to the class, “What do you tell a patient who asks you if there is a cure for ALS?”

Under my breath I muttered, “You tell them to plan their last vacation.”

When going over some of the collaborative care for ALS, a group recommended Physical Therapy along with some other options. I spoke up and said that physical therapy is good, but the patient is not going to improve over time. Rather, massage therapy might be better as it had been beneficial for The Brain. Unused muscles cramp up and become rigid; if the patient will allow a massage therapist to work with the muscles early on, the later neuropathy due to muscle atrophy is greatly reduced. Having helped multiple people move or even roll in bed, those with loose muscles are MUCH easier than those with rigid and spastic muscles.

As I said earlier, hospice nursing is different. You know that your patient will not beat their disease or win the battle with their body. I knew when I first started working for The Brain and Stewie that there would be an end; I just didn’t know if I would be working for them when it came.

My prayer has not changed nor has my view of reality to the situation. Reality is merely coming into focus more clearly, along with the true reality that we are all given the gift of our lives, and we get to share those with others. I am continually thankful for Stewie and The Brain sharing theirs with me, even as ALS is sneaking around the back for its last hurrah.

Thus, as always, Lord have mercy.

Criticism and Failure

The past two months, I’ve had a multitude of opportunities to fail and/or receive criticism in various situations. Work, school, home…and on really good days, I have received it in more than one place!

failureI do wish I actually had some words of wisdom to pass along for those of you who feel down due to your professional or personal shortfalls. Wouldn’t it be lovely if, in the multitude of personality inventories, we were also given hints on how we best receive confrontation and others noticing our flaws.

The word “failure” seems so final. Maybe because it’s associated with tests and information that you’ll never see again. You have no other opportunity to prove yourself capable. Situations are eased if you can call something a flaw, short-coming, fault – but never failure.

Some things, such as burnt cookies, I can look at and say, “It’s fixable. No one got hurt.” But if I make a mistake at work, I might not be told about it in front of a patient, but I do have to make it right and go back in their room to do whatever is needed. Or I need to come back later and fix charting, etc.  And it always seems that all my mistakes happen with one patient or one nurse each shift.

Then there’s school. I have yet to “bomb” a test, but there have been many times that I did not process the material well enough to get the grade I wanted. Or I didn’t do my paperwork well enough. There’s definitely an internal pressure that I have to make nursing work. I should be a good nurse. Good nurses are good students. Well, I haven’t exactly felt like a stellar student this semester. I love the patient interaction. I loathe the books. But I need the books to improve my patient interaction.

And at home, when I’m forgetful of my jobs and duties, I want to make excuses or cower in my room, fearful of others’ disapproval until I can prove that I am responsible. Well, at least until the next time I royally screw up.

With both self-imposed and other-imposed expectations, it’s been rather rough. Then to top it off, my finals week coincided with Holy Week. Great. Now I’m academically and spiritually mediocre.

I needed Pascha. Not just so Lent and the fasting could end. Rather, I needed to reminder that everyone needs to come to Pascha. The point of Pascha is to celebrate our Hope that Christ has Risen, He has defeated Death. No one, not even the strictest of monastics “does Lent well.” Regardless of your short-comings, your faults, your lack of virtue or sense, your failures – you come and receive the light.

I fear how many times I will need this lesson re-taught to me. Yet, thankful that God’s grace and mercy will be a constant presence as I am criticized or as I fail. It won’t be pretty. It will never give me a feeling of “Joyous day that I am told how I let someone down!” But I’ll take what I need to the cross and rest in the Hope of Christ.

Still Going, Still Waiting

I woke up Saturday morning thinking about The Brain and Stewie. It has been a while since I wrote an update on his condition and life in their house. Stewie keeps me and a few other close friends posted on their daily activities and The Brain’s downward progress. Until medical research gives the world another picture of disease progression, there’s only one way for a person with ALS to progress  – downhill.

Saturday, shortly after I woke up, I thought of The Brain and all that has changed for him and Stewie since I left them in August. And I finally did something I’ve been needing to for about a month – I cried. The Brain is such a fighter, and if it weren’t for BiPAP machines that help him breathe, I am certain he would not still be alive. The news of this last week is that The Brain is losing more control over the last of his voluntary muscular functions (I’m toning this down for those of you more squeamish). He’s also battling over-production of saliva along with less ability to swallow. The risk of him falling out of equipment to help transfer him in and out of his wheelchair grows everyday. What he can eat without choking is a dwindling list. When he sleeps, his breathing pattern changes.

Someone asked me recently what I thought his timeline was, beings that The Brain has outlived every one of my guesses. I could only respond by saying the disease is a waiting game. Lungs with less than 10% of their usual function that are hardening will eventually stop oxygenating his body. For now, only one day at a time.

I’m heavily distracted tonight. Some of it is Lent (Remember, I’m Orthodox. Easter/Pascha hasn’t happened yet). Some of it is school – Oh, the guilt of my studying doused with heavy distractions never being enough. But I know part of my mind-wandering is The Brain and wondering how he is really doing.

How odd to be in the midst of Lent with The Brain and Stewie always in the back of my mind. This is a time of spiritual refocusing that culminates in the proclamation that “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD TRAMPLING DOWN DEATH BY DEATH. AND UPON THOSE IN THE TOMBS BESTOWING LIFE!” So, here I am to be celebrating the Risen Christ and the Hope he gives us over death, yet, each day greets The Brain with the reality that he is closer to death. While each of us is closer everyday, how much more sobering to see a person for whom it is a present reality rather than a passing thought.

During the Paschal service, we are reminded of the power of our Hope in Christ. “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory?”

It still doesn’t mean that while The Brain is alive I don’t feel the sting of his or Stewie’s suffering.

January Photo Shoot

Happy tax day. Well, I’m posting on the blog – this can mean one of two things.

  1. I have something on my mind that must be processed via online essay OR
  2. I’m avoiding homework.

Today, it’s the latter.

Since last summer I’ve had the urge to get an updated head shot and some fun photos. Part of this was a professional reason as I’m the Secretary and Education Director for the newly formed St. John of Damascus Society. The other professional reason was my career change to nursing; while not necessary now or even in the future, I thought one or two nurse-y head shots would be nice to have around if the need arose.

The third reason? Vanity. Sometimes, I need a boost that, yes, I can spend some time on my physical appearance and not feel guilty. I haven’t had a good picture since my senior year of high school; this is over a decade ago. In January, I made an appointment to spend a Saturday afternoon having fun. (Sorry, I’ve had the pics for a while. It’s been a busy semester.) I also mentioned getting good pics in a previous post.

Also, Lisa Berry is a dear friend and amazing photographer. Her professionalism and quality is outstanding, and plus – what a great way to get time with a friend AND see her use her gifts! Worth every dime and then some!

The Professional(ish) Photos:

The Music-oriented Pics:

Sometimes the world is black and white:

Sometimes the world is in color:

Let me know what you think!

My other projects

Some friends and I recently began another blog, and I finally wrote my first post!

More fun to come on TRS, but nursing school has been kicking my rear along with all the new orientation classes at my hospital job.

My 30s

The narcissist in me likes to see how people find TRS. It amazes me that months after I posted 100 Things to do in your Twenties, people still hop over here because they Google similar phrases.

Well, as of the middle of July 2012, I was 30. I pouted for a week or so before; I lamented that marriage and babies were not mine, yet. But I also feel as though I had some new things coming. A life that was not finished being lived. And an urge to tell those entering their 20s that birthdays are milestones, not grave markers.

So, while not as extensive, epic, or entertaining – here are some things to do in your 30s. Take them, leave them, tailor them to yourself. Whatever you do, live a rich life.

  1. Learn about insurance beyond your car. If you own a home, you probably have home owners insurance – great. For those who rent: renters’ insurance should run about $10-15 per month. $120/year is a small price to pay in the event your apartment or rental house goes up in flames. What about health insurance? Life insurance? Somehow, our generation will pay for extended warranties and insurance on our phones, stereos and other electronics, but we won’t pay a few bucks per month to cover our burial expenses if we die from an accident. Learn what insurance you need and is a good expense (disability, renters, etc.) and which is a scare tactic (mortgage).
  2. Build retirement savings. A little now turns into a lot later. I would like for Social Security (if my generation even gets that in 30 years!) to be my play money, not my utility bill money.
  3. Learn a language where you could survive a day of touring the country on your own – German and Greek are the front runners for me. Then again, Church Slavonic, Romanian, or Arabic wouldn’t hurt either. We’ll see.
  4. Go visit the United States (or other places in your country of residence). South Carolina is at the top of my list as my brother lives a block from the beach – tour guides and place to stay…Win! I also want to tour the West Coast. I keep meeting people from the PNW and California. I’d love to see Napa Valley, the Pacific Ocean, and ride a San Francisco trolley.
  5. Save a few thousand for future education endeavors. Whether it’s continuing education for your job, a nifty conference, or a class at a community college – put some money aside and deduct it from your taxes that year.
  6. Spend time with the next generation. This might be your own child(ren), niece(s)/nephew(s) or young child of a close friend or Godchild. Find something that lets said child know they are loved and appreciated. This doesn’t always have to be an expensive gift. A friend of mine always takes out her nieces on their birthday and buys them a classic book. Once, I took a friend’s daughter out to tea. I try to send my nieces and nephew a birthday card and Valentine’s day gifts. I’m still getting to know my Goddaughter, but if I see a little something that she might like or can carve out time to be at a school program, I oblige. There’s no way I can be the aunt/godmother that I would like to be with distance a big factor. But remember how awesome it was to get mail when you were little? Exactly.
  7. Learn to forgive.
  8. Seek out mentors – personal, professional, etc. Pursuing excellence is an accomplishment in and of itself.
  9. Read a book or two from high school English that you muddled through on the Cliff’s Notes. If you devoured everything from English, get a math book and work a few algebra problems or geometry proofs. Or grab a science book and work a chemistry conversion or rediscover the biology classifications (Kingdom, phyla, order, etc.)
  10. Budget. Save and pay cash for your next car. Work a plan to get out of debt and stay that way. (I recommend Dave Ramsey as a resource, but there are plenty of others out there.)
  11. Conquer a fear whether rational or irrational.
  12. Get some updated photos by a professional photographer. Find someone who goes with your personal style. If you’re like me and don’t have engagement or wedding photos, get some good head shots with a kick. I did this recently in January – partly because I needed some pictures for professional and outside interests, and also because it’s fun.
  13. Volunteer with an under-served population. TRS recommends finding an organization that serves those who are homeless, those who have a mental illness, or those who have a disability. Break your stereotypes surrounding a population with which you have nothing in common.
  14. Love others where they are at.

Any other suggestions, thirty-somethings?

We survived.

Dear officially single ladies/men,

Well, we made it through another Valentine’s Day.

Some of us tried to ignore the day all together. We didn’t wear red or pink. We limited our exposure to anything that eked of romance, love, or for that matter, kindness. It was just another day where everyone else was crazy, and we were the only neutral or sane party. The day is best spent in bed with vodka or other depressant drug of choice.

The bitter and jaded side is represented by those that tell others to, “Go f- yourself!” or other snarky responses that communicate, “I hate myself. I hate this day. I hate anyone who is remotely happy right now. Give me your chocolate.”

There is a combo of the bitter and jaded with an amicable personality. These are the people that share comics such as this one or these examples:

puritanvalentines

In the end, they wish others “Happy Valentine’s Day!” with a smile.

Then there is the attitude I’m working towards – enjoying the opportunity to appreciate those around you. While the world is in a chocolate coma, they still hand out the best candy options. No chalky message hearts for them. No Sponge Bob or Dora the Explorer valentines for them (unless consistent with their general personality).

It is hard to be ignored and single on a day that focuses on Cupid, St. Valentine, and Eros. Some years, “Girls’ Night” suffices. Sometime the guys in the college or singles groups would plan nice steak dinners. When I worked in a school, the student parties and fun of the day meant that kids dropped chocolate and cards at my feet. Even with cards, parties, and gifts, the loneliness still creeps in. For that I have no remedy.

But guess what? It’s February 15. The sun rose this morning. Whatever your adaptive or maladaptive coping mechanism was for yesterday, it’s done. Welcome to the rest of the year.

Mom Bombed

I don’t know if I just coined a phrase or not, but I like it, so I’m going to see if it sticks.

“Mom Bombed” = an unintentional turn in conversation when mothers start talking about baby and toddler life such as birth stories, cloth vs. disposable diapers, sleep schedules, potty training, etc.

Most of my friends are doing a good job of not randomly bringing up these topics; sometimes I am the one who asks. It’s hard to stray away from these topics entirely when 2012 was a busy year for labor and delivery amongst my female friends. Yet, there are times where you can be talking about other people, actual events in the world, sharing ideas, and then, the awkward silence followed by, “So, did you decide to go with cloth this time?”

I left.

Some women – and in my opinion, those who had children after 30 – are a little more conscious of these conversations. Some realize that their childless friends love their children, and that it is both an emotional uplift and depression to continually be around others’ children when you have none yourself. Other women are oblivious.

So…what are the childless women to do?

Some moms and older women tell us to put on our big girl panties and be content. Well, see, most of my unmarried-but-desiring-of-a-husband-and-children-someday friends ARE finding contentment in life. So, give us a little credit – we’re not completely unhappy – but being inundated with these conversations awakens the sleeping dragon.

There is always the option of politely or impolitely turning the conversation back to the pre-mom bomb topics, which would then make everything awkward.

Or you can leave the conversation and passive-aggressively write a blog post about it a month later.

Any other suggestions?

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