Tag Archives: sandwich generation

The Future of This Blog

Sometimes, I wish the Highway of Life were more clearly marked, but most of the time, I'm okay navigating without much signage.

Sometimes, I wish the Highway of Life were more clearly marked, but most of the time, I’m okay navigating without much signage.

I’m always happily surprised when people tell me that they read my blog. Even if you are just staring at a computer or a smart-phone because you are procrastinating, the choices of where you might spend your screen time are endless, and yet, you are here. I’m flattered. I’m humbled.

In the days that followed my mother-in-law’s death, I had several people tell that they have been following my blog and ask, “Will you keep writing?”

To be fair, not too many people know that I have been keeping a journal since my early twenties; I’ve started, but never finished several novels; I was published in my college literary magazine; my undergrad degree is in writing; and I made it all the way through graduate school with making at least an A- on every writing assignment. Please don’t ask me about my grades in Calculus.

I did most of the writing at most of the jobs I’ve held or that I had my own newspaper column for a year and a half. It’s just that my blog is the first thing I’ve ever written that anyone has ever read—besides Facebook statuses. And I will continue writing because I don’t know how not to write.

Perhaps the real question behind the inquiries has more to do with the fate of this specific blog. Will I continue writing in it? Yes.

I started this blog after my mother-in-law had been living with us for eight months. Our housekeeper had quit after months of transportation, communication, and child-care problems, and my mother-in-law had been hospitalized twice in the course of just two weeks. I was stuck at home, canceling plans, and feeling resentful—not towards my mother-in-law or anyone else. I was resenting the circumstances in which I had to tell my very young children that no, we weren’t going to a birthday party after all because we didn’t have anyone to watch Grandma. It’s a hard conversation to have.

During that same period of my life, I had a number of people tell me that being a part of the sandwich generation was a common thing. “People are living longer and having children later in life. So, there must be millions of families just like yours,” I was told. Yet, ours was the only household I knew of that had an age range of 85 years. Besides, I knew that most people in my mother-in-law’s condition were in nursing homes, and every time her health took a turn for the worse, I was wondering, “Is this it?” I’m sure it wasn’t a new experience for all of human-kind, but it was completely unfamiliar to me.

I went to monthly elder-care support group meetings where I was the youngest person participant. Everyone else was in their 60s or older and they were all caring for a parent who was in better shape than my mother-in-law. They had questions about how to convince dad to give up driving or when they should take over mom’s checkbook. Yeah, we skipped right over all that.

The next day, I might go to a playground and overhear two moms talking, and one would say, “My in-laws are watching the kids for the weekend, so we are going away for our anniversary.” Wow! Grandparents who can babysit? For an entire weekend? That, too, is so outside of my experiences.

So, sure, 1 in 8 Americans between 40 and 60 may be caring for an older relative, but still, I was—and remain—convinced that our situation was pretty extreme. It was extreme enough to give me something unique to write about. And so, a blog was born.

And, now?

I’m going to keep blogging and I’m keeping Peanut Butter on Rye, instead of starting over with a new blog. Obviously, I need to update the home page—new text and new picture—just so it will be more in keeping with who I am and where I am right now. I’m not in a hurry to make those changes, but I know they are coming. My only plan for this blog is to take my time and just be open to wherever inspiration takes me.

 

 

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The Longest Day of My Life. So Far.

My house. It's really a lovely place to live--or die.

My house. It’s really a lovely place to live–or die.

Yes. She finally passed.

Last Tuesday, I was home alone with my mother-in-law. Deborah had the day off. My husband was at work and both children were in school. My mother-in-law was difficult to wake and once awake, she was difficult to feed. She fell asleep between swallows of soup at lunch. Nothing about any of this was terribly unusual. In the past eighteen months, she has had several bouts in which she slept a lot and ate very little, and yet, I had that feeling that something was different.

That night, I gave her tomato-carrot-sausage soup for supper—it was one of her favorites– and followed it with a bowl of ice cream. Chocolate. I spoon-fed her, and she continued to nod off between swallows. Once she was done with the ice cream, I wheeled her back into her bathroom where I washed her hands and face, brushed her teeth and changed her into her best pajamas.

Pajamas hardly seem worth mentioning, but these pajamas! Oh, these pajamas were the softest, most luxurious pajamas ever made and they were relatively new—a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, her daughter.

Looking back, I’m happy I gave her ice cream and dressed her in her best pajamas—I take a certain comfort in these details–even though pudding is good desserts, too, and all of her pajamas are really pretty nice.

I believe the choices made on Tuesday reflect that change that I wrote about in my last blog entry. “Something has changed, something has turned,” I wrote. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but now, I know—it was peace. Her soul was peaceful. There was an absence of anger and fear, and I believe I was responding to that.

So, I put her in bed, said a quick prayer, and turned out the light.

On Wednesday morning, Deborah arrived and got her meds and breakfast ready and then went into her bedroom to wake her. A moment later, Deborah called out to me. I came downstairs and she discreetly and calmly said, “She’s passed.” We hugged and I went into my mother-in-law’s room. It looked like she was sleeping in the same position I had left her in the night before.

I called my husband. He had already left for work. I said, “You need to come home now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Um, your mom has gone to join your dad.” I couldn’t say, “She died” over the phone.

Then, I had to decide what to tell my children. I figured I had to say something to them right away because I didn’t want to send my daughter to school and then have her come home to discover that Grandma was just gone. Although they are only six and four, my children are two of the most grounded, caring individuals I know. They can handle this, I told myself and then, I took them both into my son’s bedroom and said, “Grandma died last night. She went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Her body is still in her bed, but her soul is in Heaven.”

“Just like Hutch,” my son said referencing a very old rabbit that went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

“Yes,” I said. “Like Hutch.”

I also asked them if they remembered attending their grandfather’s viewing. It was less than two years ago, and they had seen his body in the casket. They had knelt next to it and said a prayer of thanksgiving. “Thank you, God, for all the happy times we had with Grandpa and all the happy memories that will live in our hearts.”

“I don’t think we will have the same kind of opportunity to say good-bye to Grandma,” I told them knowing that my mother-in-law didn’t want an open-casket viewing. “Would you like to go into her room now? It just looks like she is sleeping, and you could see her one last time.”

They nodded. The three of us went into her bedroom and stood by her bed holding hands.

“Good-bye, Grandma. I love you,” my daughter said.

“Good-bye, Grandma. I love you,” my son echoed.

“Dear God,” I prayed, “We thank you for Grandma and all of our happy memories of her. She will live in our hearts forever. Amen.”

Then, I asked my daughter if she wanted to go to school. Yes, she did. “Please understand that if you want to talk about this while at school, you are to go to your teacher or another adult. You are not to discuss Grandma dying with your classmates.” Cuz’ there’s no sense in upsetting kids whose grandmothers may only be a year or two older than Mama.

“The second rule,” I continued, “is that if you want to come home at any point during the day, you are to tell your teacher and I will come get you right away. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

And then, I took her to school. I called the school, too—just to give them a heads-up.

This is the part where I brag about how awesome my children are–again. Honestly, even if they weren’t related to me, I would still want to know them. They are caring, smart, and grounded. Not much rattles them. I love these qualities. I can’t say that I’ve done anything to make them this way. It’s not due to my influence or my parenting skills. I’m just lucky. I won the kid-lottery. I suspect most parents feel that way.

My husband came home. We hugged. We exchanged those meaningful glances—the kind that takes the place of words when there are no words to accurately describe the thoughts and feelings. He went into her room, stayed there a few minutes, and once he came out, I said, “We need to call someone to come get her. Do you want to use the same funeral home we used for your dad?”

He nodded.

I called the funeral home because I thought I remembered being told that you call a funeral home directly when someone dies in your home. As it turns out, however, you must first call the police so that they can issue a case number giving the funeral home permission to move the body. “Use the non-emergency number,” the funeral home employee advised me.

And so I did. I looked up the non-emergency police number and called. I explained the situation to the person who answered that phone, and she put me through to the dispatcher—the emergency services dispatcher. Yes, this is the same person you get when you dial 9-1-1, but I didn’t know that.

“Fire, police, EMS?”

“Excuse me?” I said because this really caught me off-guard. This was not an emergency as far as I was concerned.

“What emergency service do you require? Fire, police, EMS?” he repeated.

“Um, medical examiner?” I answered. “My mother-in-law died in her sleep last night.”

“Have you tried to revive her with CPR?”

“No. I suspect she has been dead for several hours. She died in her sleep.”

“Okay, I am dispatching.”

Within minutes, three police cruisers AND a fire-truck AND an EMS arrived at my house. I had already told my son that some people would be coming to get Grandma, and he had excused himself up-stairs to play quietly in his room. Again, this is how I know I won the kid-lottery. Now, however, there was a fire-truck in front of our house. What 4-year-old boy isn’t going to be excited about this? And what adult isn’t going to think, “Really?!?! Is this the best use of our tax money?”

The fire-fighters and the EMTs carried their equipment into the house, took one look at my mother-in-law, and carried equipment back out. They were very nice about it. Very respectful. They left because there really wasn’t anything for them to do here. It wasn’t an emergency.

The police, however, took a report. Who was the last person to see her alive? What time did she go to sleep? Was she on any medication? How old is she? What did she eat the day before? How long has she lived with us? How was her overall health? Who found her this morning?

The officers taking the report were young. One might have been 30, and the other was maybe 23 or 24. One had just become a father, and the other was engaged to be married. One had been born in Anne Arundel County and had rarely left the state of Maryland, and the other was trying to convince him to travel “before it’s too late.” They were pleasant and patient with us as we answered their questions with more information than they needed. I told them that my mother-in-law was from Ecuador and had visited Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. I told them that she had worked for the Ecuadorian Embassy and the Organization of the American States and had volunteered at the White House. It was like having a small wake in my kitchen over coffee.

Then, they called the medical examiner who, to my knowledge, listened to the details of the police report and decided to “sign off” on the phone versus launching an investigation. Phone calls, emails, faxes, whatever were exchanged between the medical examiner and my mother-in-law’s doctor, and eventually, the younger, un-travelled police officer handed my husband a card with a case number on it. At last, we could call the funeral home.

This time a different person answered the phone at the funeral home and for the sixth time, I had to tell someone that my mother-in-law had died in her sleep. The funeral home person asked me questions about the arrangements and for the first time, I began to feel the stress of the day, the magnitude of what had happened.

“We aren’t ready to make arrangements. You handled my father-in-law’s funeral a year and a half ago and so I am asking you to handle hers. Other than that, I’m not in a position to make decisions. Just come get her body. Now.” I was a bit curt, but damn it, I had a dead body in my house and I desperately wanted this day to be over.

The funeral home sent two middle-aged men in suits. They, like everyone else who had been in and out of my house that day, were very nice, very sensitive to the fact that the situation is rare and awkward. They counseled us briefly and advised my husband to have her embalmed because we didn’t know how long it would take us to get in touch with other family members who may want to see her before she was cremated.

Then, they lifted her onto the gurney and zipped the body bag before rolling her out the door to their van.

From the moment Deborah discovered her lifeless body to the time when the van pulled out of our drive way was only five hours, and yet, to me, it felt like fifty. “This has been the longest day of my life,” I said to my husband.

He disagreed. “Really? It’s like a blur to me. It’s all happened so fast.” We had had a similar discussion in the hospital after his heart attack.

Now, I would describe that afternoon, evening and the next few days as a blur. I can’t tell you what we ate that night, but I’m sure I served the children something for dinner. I don’t remember meeting my daughter at the bus stop after school, but I’m sure I did. A mind-numbing blur. I can’t say that I felt sad or even relieved for the first few days.

I think I was just in a state of shock, and yet, there is nothing shocking about an old person in ill health dying in her sleep. The words “So, this is it,” kept coming into my mind just as they had at every other big moment of my life. My first kiss, my high school graduation, going into labor with my first child…yes, at every big moment in my life, my thoughts have been the same. “So, this is it,” and “It happened. I knew it would happen, and yet, I am surprised it happened. I can’t believe it happened.” No doubt, this is what I will be thinking as I am dying.

Now, some time has passed and it’s been a flood of emotions. I’m over the shock. Yes. It finally happened.

 

 

 

What I Write When No One Is Looking

“Your blog must be very therapeutic for you.” I hear that often, and it is, but perhaps not for the reason people might think. For me, it has been an exercise in writing for an audience. It forces me to take whatever is on my mind or happening in my life and mold it into something cohesive—a main idea with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yep, just like we all learned to do in school. My goal with the blog is always to keep it very honest while being mindful of the reader—and so, it’s all true, but it is also filtered. Poorly edited, but always filtered.

Writing in a blog or anything else that will be read by others can be tricky because I am just so used to writing for no one but myself. That personal writing is the truly “therapeutic” stuff. If you want to know what I really feel and think, please, go through the mountain of 70-page, college-rule, spiral-bound notebooks I have accumulated over the past 30 years. Actually, it’s some pretty boring stuff—a lot of time-lines, plans for the day ahead, to-do lists…a lot of fragmented, incomplete thoughts. And yet, this type of writing is so important to me that I am frequently stunned when other people tell me they don’t write. It’s like saying, “I don’t breathe.” Really? How is that possible? I don’t know I could get through a full week without my journal. Actually, have you ever been around a runner who can’t run—maybe due to an injury? Yeah, I get like that when I can’t write.

It's been a long time since I wrote the words "Dear Diary" or dotted an i with a circle--or a heart or a flower or a smiley-face.

It’s been a long time since I wrote the words “Dear Diary” or dotted an i with a circle–or a heart or a flower or a smiley-face.

The following is an actual journal entry that I wrote recently. I’m sharing it because—what the hell? I’ve written over 100 blog entries now and I’ve had over 7000 hits. Why not show you what my real writing looks like?

“Since last night, I’ve been uncomfortably obsessed with H dying. Yes, more than usual and different from what is usual, too.

Normally when I think of her dying, I anticipate how relieved I will feel when it happens. I anticipate a sense of freedom and I mentally make plans to move on. I hope that death will come quickly with no physical pain even though I suspect she is always in some sort of pain now.

Last night and even now as I write, I’m not focused on her pain or my freedom, but really just a sense that it could happen tonight. We could be in her final days. Then, I stop myself and think, “Is that just wishful thinking?” Um, no. I don’t think that it is. I’m really not wishing anything right now.

Over the past few days, H has been out of it. And yes, we have been there before—repeatedly. Somehow, this out-of-it is different, more peaceful. I’d be surprised if she weighs more than 80 lbs. and she has lost all desire to eat. Still, no matter what I write here, I don’t think I can fully explain what I mean. Something has turned here. Something has changed.

Will I be disappointed if H is still alive a week from now? If she made it through the night? I don’t know. I say I experience disappointment daily when I go into her room and discover she is still breathing. What?!?! No visit from the Grim Reaper last night?

And I’ve been trying to remember her in happier times. She came to my graduation ceremony. She threw us an engagement party. She was at the hospital when both of my children were born. She threw us a rehearsal dinner—although I suspect that and the engagement party were really the work of Alex.

I remember her holding E on her first birthday and taking pictures on the front porch. I remember our trip to Williamsburg. We played putt-putt and she made a hole-in-one.

I used to worry that my children’s happy memories of Grandma would be obscured by the memory of how she is now. Now, I realize that my own memories are in the same kind of danger. I keep replaying the memory of when she first moved in with us. There was this one time when she was lucid, but not pissed off and I was helping her in the bathroom. She said, “Thank you.” She told me that I was good to her and she didn’t know how I could be so good and that she was sorry that she couldn’t take care of herself. That had to be September or October of 2012. I don’t know that she has really spoken to me since then. Or at least she hasn’t said much to me since then. We did have that one conversation about not being afraid to die and another one about her wedding china and she laughed at something E said. When was that? Last month? No, around Christmas. I remember telling A that she laughed and I’m not sure he believed me.

I remember holding her hand in the hospital while she was still in ICU and she recognized me. Isn’t that weird? She’s been calling me “Isabelle” so long that I had almost forgotten that she still knew my name right after she fell. The nurses kept saying that she was pulling out her IV at night and trying to get out of bed, and I told them that I would expect no less from her. Who in the hell wants to stay in the hospital, right? She “fired” my father-in-law when he refused to take her home and we all laughed. It was the kind of little inside joke she was always making. We were optimistic back then. We all thought that she and Bob would recover enough to have more happy memories in the making.

Of course, by the time she came home, it was all pretty clear that the level of care she would require…that’s hard, isn’t it? Knowing how quickly it all changed? And how nothing has been the same since then. Nothing. You see a picture of a person all smiles, dressed up and happy and think, “She will stay this way” and then something happens and everything changes.

And so last night I tossed and turned and I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking about her and wondering if we have done her a disservice by bringing her into our home—as if we had a choice. Have we kept her alive artificially? I mean, I keep making soup. It’s all she eats—except watery oatmeal, fruit puree and yogurt and sometimes ice cream. If I hadn’t made the decision to make soup while she was in the hospital in May, if I had just put regular food in front of her and expected her to feed herself—like the hospital did—would she still be alive? Or would she have starved? And isn’t that a horrible thought? So little of what she was eating up until then was making it down. And of course, I will continue to make soup right up until she loses the ability to swallow. It would be cruel not to.

And when I thought of her dying in our home, I thought about the logistics, too. Who do you call when something like that happens? A funeral home? I think that’s right. I think that is what Greta told me. I know enough not to dial 9-1-1. And then what? I know she wants to be cremated. I guess we would just hold onto the ashes until Rich, Silje and Emil are here this summer.

I used to have a hard time understanding how or why a family would choose to have a private service at a later date, but now, I get it. Man, oh, man, I get it. I do. I’m pretty sure that is what we would do. Of course, ultimately, A and his sibs are going to be the ones making that decision and I will go along with whatever they want. I really can just remove myself from that whole decision making process.

But yes, I was up at night thinking about all this, and whether it happens today, next week or a year from now, there is a damn good chance H is going to die in my house. She won’t be the first. This is an old house and it’s seen a lot of life and death, and from time to time, I feel the house telling me that. Floor boards were creaking last night. I didn’t hear actual foot-steps this time, just the creaking of boards. I go back and forth as to whether I believe the house is haunted in the traditional sense. I thought about H being one more soul passing through. As morbid as it sounds, I have every intention of dying in this house, too, and so does A. Of course, if one of our children were to die here…well, I don’t know how anyone stays or leaves after something like that happens even if you know that death—everyone’s death—is just a part of life. Born to die, right?

Even when I went to sleep, I dreamt of H dying. Yes, this is what I mean by obsessed. Crazy, huh? And again, it wasn’t a big celebration of “Hooray, I get my life back!” It was more of a “what does it all really mean? Did we do our best?” Contemplative. Sad, but also happy or at least peaceful. Sad, but peaceful, but with an uneasy acceptance of our world falling into a new order.

I think I will always wonder if we handled this all the right way. What could we have done differently? And I suppose we all do the best we can with what we are given. I’m a very forgiving person when I believe that of myself and of others. We are all doing the best we can.

Really, I’ve got to move on. I’ve got to think of something else. For all I know, nothing extraordinary will happen this week. Deborah will be here Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I’ll be home with H on Tuesday and Thursday while both kids are in school.

T and I have a PMAH thing today. That’s if it is still on. I think we are looking at another really cold week. Where is spring? Snow is in the forecast for tomorrow. God, I do not want another day trapped in-doors with H and the kids. No, no, no.

And see? That’s the optimism. I don’t think I will be trapped in-doors with H and the children because I AM expecting something big to happen. I just don’t know what. I can’t shake that weird feeling of anticipation. I know. It’s crazy.”

The Gravity & The Levity

A minivan. I have nothing against them. I just doubt that having one would really make my life that much easier.

A minivan. I have nothing against them. I just doubt that having one would really make my life that much easier.

I spent days in a really bad mood, but it didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that my feelings towards my mother-in-law and her condition cycle. I go through periods in which I really resent having her live with us and that every day I have to take her care into consideration. Even on those days in which her care-giver is here, I have to race home by 2 pm, and someone—either my husband or me—will have to feed her, change her and put her to bed. It’s exhausting.

I resent that her care is the reason that we can’t get a teenage girl to babysit kids at only $10 an hour so that he and I can have time together.

I resent saying “no” to my kids when they want to go somewhere and we have no granny-care.

I resent that my house smells like a nursing home.

I resent that the biggest and best bathroom in this house is hers while I have to fish the bath-toys out of the tub that the rest of the family uses.

I resent that every morning when I walk into her bedroom and see her breathing, I think, “Oh, crap. Grim Reaper didn’t come last night either.” Yeah, I hate that, but on a daily basis, I am disappointed that she is still alive—and I feel that disappointment for her as much as for myself.

And when I am like this, I get terribly jealous of people who aren’t faced with my particular set of challenges. It’s all a part of self-pity—comparing oneself to others. It’s the quickest route to unhappiness. I know this and yet…

The other day, I saw a minivan commercial in which some cute, young mommy-person was talking about how her minivan makes “the job of being a mom” so much easier. “Oh, vomit!” I thought. “I bet she uses that van to drop her kids off at her mother-in-law’s house so that she can get a manicure before date-night. Women who whine about ‘how hard it is to be a mommy’ have no eff-ing idea!”

Yeah, I’m yelling at the TV in my head. Sane people do that all the time.

But you see the theme here, right? Resent, resent, resent…and it’s only made worse by the fact that no matter how kind I am to my mother-in-law, she is nasty to me. She glares at me. She waves the back of her hand at me. She refuses to speak to me.  I hear her converse with my husband and her care-giver writes “very verbal” in her notes, but for me—someone who is not a blood relative and not being paid to put up with her—she says nothing.

Remember how I wrote about treating others as if they were Christ? This is the challenging part. Other people don’t behave like Christ. Other people treat me like Christ. So, why haven’t I wheeled her to the top of the Bay Bridge and sent her sailing over the edge? Because it’s not about what others do, it’s about how I choose to respond. I know that. So, there you go, I’m not as crazy as one might think.

Besides, I also go through very sweet, serene periods in which I do not resent her, her care, or her behavior. I’m able to accept it all as just is and even see being with her as a gift—an opportunity to learn and grow. She has given me so much more to write about. My children have experienced life in a multi-generational home and I think they are kinder people for having had this experience. So, yeah, there’s an up-side, and I have weeks in which that little bit of up makes all the down worth it.

What’s interesting to me—and really very amusing—is that events that transition me from resentment to acceptance tend to be the more problematic moments of everyday life. It’s not the happy, good stuff you might think:

Friday, I woke in a vicious mood. I had spent Thursday trapped at home doing granny-care for the world’s most ungrateful old bat, and thinking how incredibly unfair it is that I’m the one whose life has changed the most as the result of her head-injury and just general dementia because she is old. Me—not someone who is paid to take care of her. Me—not some blood relative. Me! Me! Me!

And of course, I know this whole line of thinking—the expectation that anything in life be fair—is unrealistic. If you expect life to be fair, you are going to be disappointed a lot. I seem to say that daily to my children.

So, there I was in my witchy-bitchy mood when I got caught in traffic—the kind that doesn’t move at all unless the driver in front of you gives up and turns around. I was already running late and knew that my mother-in-law’s care-giver needed to leave by 2:30. I reached for my cell-phone. Oh, wait, I had taken it out of my purse and placed it on the nightstand the night before. Our power had gone out, and I had wanted my only link to the outside world in a place where I could easily find it. I guess I just forgot about it and left it there. And so, I turned my car around and re-routed my journey home.

On a narrow, hilly country road, I found myself in a second traffic jam. A truck had gone off road and was stuck on an embankment. A tow truck was pulling it to safety. The tow driver approached my vehicle and I rolled down the window. “If you are in a hurry, you might want to find another way to go. We are going to be a while. He’s stuck good.”

Okay. I couldn’t turn around on this narrow, hilly road and so I backed up to the nearest driveway and turned around there and I was on my way again…until I hit a third traffic jam? Yes. This time some drainage pipes had fallen off the back of a truck and two guys were scrambling to pick it up. Deep sigh.

I arrived home at almost 3:30. “I’ve been calling you and calling you, but you didn’t answer,” the care-giver said as she reached for her coat.

“I know. I left my phone here. Sorry about that.”

“I called my other job and told them I would be late.”

“Thank you.”

And because it was now 3:30, I had to head up to the bus stop to pick up my daughter. Because my son was still in the car and napping, I drove the half mile to the stop, instead of walking. And there, we waited and waited and waited and I began to wonder if I had missed her, but no, I knew I was at the stop earlier than usual. What was going on?

At around 4 pm, a bus—not my daughter’s—sped past me, and I realized that it was the first school bus I had seen. Usually, I get passed by four before my daughter’s bus arrives. Hmmm…odd.

A car flew past me, but then, stopped and backed up. The driver told me that traffic problems had caused a school bus shortage and that it would be at least on hour before all the kids were home, but we could go to the school to pick them up.

Okay, so I drove to the school—from the bus stop, I was half-way there anyway, but they wouldn’t release my daughter to me  because I didn’t have ID–I had left my wallet at home when I went to the corner to wait for her bus. So, I drove home. I got my wallet and headed back to the school.

When I got there, I was told she had just left on the bus. Because I wasn’t at the bus stop, the driver kept her on the bus and returned her to the school, but not until I raced back to the bus stop thinking I could catch her.

We finally arrived home at 5 pm. Upon getting out of the car, my son wet his pants–his first accident since announcing he would no longer wear diapers—that was back in January. But this is the sort of thing that happens when you expect for be gone 5 minutes, but you end up in a car for an hour and a half.

And this, of course, meant that my mother-in-law napped an hour and a half longer and needed to have her diaper changed. I didn’t realize that she was actively going when I stood her up and pulled down her pants–and so, I had to clean her, change her, shower, clean the floor–all before starting dinner. My son kept coming into the bathroom and telling me that he was hungry–while holding his nose. “Not now, Sweetheart. Mama’s got poop up to her elbows.”

My husband didn’t get home until around 8 pm, and he said, “The school called to say the buses were delayed. I guess you got that message.” Um, no, no, I did not. But then I checked–messages were left on my home phone, my email, and my cell phone…only I didn’t get them.

And at some point in the middle of this, I burnt supper. A neighbor had knocked on my door as I was setting the timer to ask about a trashcan that had blown into his yard. I guess I forgot to press “start” on the timer.

Had I been in a good mood when this comedy of errors began, I would have described this as a rough day, a day in which nothing went my way, but because I was already feeling the gravity of life when this series of mishaps began, I found it all amusing. Instead of plunging me deeper into a funk, the events of the day pulled me away from the abyss. I had to laugh. None of what happened was anyone’s fault. It was just a whole lot of life happening at once. It was definitely the kind of day that could happen to the chick in the minivan commercial—at least the burnt supper and the botched school bus run–and she might have laughed it off, too or maybe it would have sent her sobbing about “the worst day ever!”

As for me, I’m back in that serene place of compassion and understanding. Nice.

 

Ready or Not, Here We Come!

My son--scooping for salamander larvae at a nature center pre-school program. Notice how he is interacting with larvae, not people.

My son–scooping for salamander larvae at a nature center pre-school program. Notice how he is interacting with larvae, not people.

My daughter began her academic career when she was two-years-old. A local church had pre-school programs for three and four-year-olds and what they called “play-school” for the slightly younger set. It was only two days per week and it was only two and a half hours long.

Potty training was not pre-requisite for the play-school, but they followed the local school-system’s year, and so, students had to be two-years-old before September 1. My daughter has an October birthday. She started the two-year-old program and turned three a month later. When I ran into her teacher at the grocery store, she gushed over how smart my daughter was, “She can count and she knows the alphabet and the colors. There really isn’t anything left for us to teach her in the twos class.” As much as every parent wants to hear that her kid is a genius, I knew my daughter was ahead of the other students because she was almost a year older than some. There’s a big difference between being two and being three. Don’t we all know two-years-olds who aren’t yet speaking in full sentences and three-year-olds who can read? One is not necessarily delayed, and the other isn’t necessarily advanced.

Truthfully, I didn’t enroll her in play-school expecting her to learn much. I did so to give her a break from me—and from her little brother. She had always been a social child, and I knew she would love spending time with the other kids and with the teachers. On her first day, I dropped her off and there were no tears. She smiled and waved to me excitedly as I drove away. “So much for separation anxiety,” I thought. When I picked her up at 11 a.m., she proclaimed that “It was the best day ever!” Then, she hugged her baby brother and asked, “Did you miss me while I was away at school?”

So far, she has made it through three years of pre-school and ¾ of a kindergarten school-year loving everything about the educational experience—the teachers, the classroom, the students, the homework, the projects, the school bus. Just ask her, and she will tell you that it’s all good!

Now, it’s her brother’s turn. He starts a 4-year-old pre-K program on Tuesday. He will go two days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Despite his sister’s positive experiences, I am wrought with anxiety. He’s more than a year older than she was when she started pre-school, but he’s so baby-ish—and I mean that in the sweetest way.

Before he was born, moms of sons would tell me, “If you ever have a boy, get ready! They aren’t independent like girls. They want their mama to do everything for them. It’s exhausting, but boys are so sweet and affectionate.”  And how has that prophesy held up? Is my son unbelievably affectionate showering me with hugs, kisses, and snuggling? Yes! And does he expect me to do every little thing for him? Definitely.  Does he whine, pout and cry when I don’t? Uh-huh. So, would I describe him as clingy? Oh, yeah—especially when I compare him to his sister.

And yes, I know that you aren’t supposed to compare your children. I know that. But it is nearly impossible not to do so occasionally when you have only two kids and they are close in age. Still, I do my best not to label them. I try not to think of my daughter as the Independent, Confident One and my son as the Sensitive, Nurturing One because I don’t want her to ever feel she isn’t capable of sensitivity or for him to see himself as lacking confidence. Both are great kids with an equally valuable set of personality traits and their share of unique challenges. That they are siblings doesn’t mean that they are or even should be anything alike.

I have used my appreciation of their differences as part of my justification for not sending him to pre-school sooner. “She was ready at two. He’s not ready at three.” “She is the kind of kid who craves the company of other children while he loves his one-on-one time with me.”

Of course, some, if not most, of my reasons for keeping him home up until now were practical ones. The two-year-old play-school program at the church is expensive and he was eligible for the enrollment there at a time when we were first coming to realize the financial impact that my mother-in-law’s care would have on us. The money just wasn’t there. I rationalized that I would just wait a year and send him to the three-year-old pre-school at the rec center—the one his sister had attended at 3 and 4. When he was old enough for that program, he was not yet potty-trained.

Potty-training is the pre-requisition for almost every drop-off activity for pre-school aged children. I understand why some parents get stressed out about it and try to potty train as early as possible. I don’t judge them, but I don’t do it their way either—and I know I am risking harsh judgment for just sharing how I went about potty-training. With my children, I found it was best to just wait until they took off their own diaper and climbed up on the toilet on their own. My son did that shortly before his fourth birthday. He declared, “I will never wear a diaper again!” and he hasn’t. It didn’t take three weeks or even three days—it just happened without it being any extra work for me. The accidents have been very few. I’ve never had to clean out a little, un-flushable, toilet. I don’t have to ask, “Do you have to go? Are you sure? How ‘bout now? Do you have to go? Do you have to tinkle? Do ya? Do ya?”

Let’s be honest. If you have to carry around a plastic potty in the back of your car because your child isn’t ready to use a public restroom, how is that easier than keeping him/her in diapers? Sure, you may be saving money by not buying diapers and that is fantastic—I’m not belittling your methods or motives–but easier? I’m not seeing it.

So, my son could have/should have started pre-school in late August when all the other kids went back to school, but he wasn’t potty-trained. He could have/should have started in January after the Christmas break and at the beginning of a new semester, but he missed the potty-training deadline there, too. In fact, he made his famous “I will never wear diapers again!” declaration two days after the deadline! Two days!

And so, we waited for the spring quarter. March. He is transferring in in March.  I cringe when I think about the late start. That alone is the source of my ambivalence. These other kids have been together since late August, and my baby will be the new kid. For some, this would be no big deal, but for a sensitive soul who hasn’t had that much recent experience with his peer group, I am worried that it is going to feel awkward for him. I keep asking myself, “How much of a social disadvantage is this?”  and answering, “I don’t know. I guess we will find out.”

So, given my anxiety—and I am not by nature an anxious perso, why did I enroll him in the spring quarter? Why not just wait until fall? Wouldn’t that have been the best thing to do? Maybe, but I have my reasons.

I suspect that one of the reasons my son doesn’t take to a group setting is that socially he hasn’t had many outlets. Our weekly playgroup fell apart at the start of the school year because his friends were all going to different pre-schools and had different schedules. I’m still church-searching and so he doesn’t go to Sunday School with any regularity. We don’t live in a neighborhood with an abundance of kids, and this winter really hasn’t been one for playground meet-ups. Basically, he has spent months with me as his primary playmate and companion, and he needs a break from me.

I have been taking him to pre-school programs at the library, museums, and nature centers –when they weren’t cancelled due to inclement weather. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the United States, you have probably gotten used to calling the weather “inclement” this winter.

We both love the Mommy & Me pre-school programs—they are fun and educational. However, they don’t require that children really interact with a peer-group for a sustained period of time. Kids mostly do the activities independent of one another.  Each child is there with a parent, grandparent, or nanny who acts as a social safety net, and it’s a different group of people at each program even if the program is held at the same time and same place every week. You don’t really make friends. You don’t get to know anyone—unless you are especially out-going.

Besides, if I am honest with myself, pre-school may be a better parent than I am right now. Between the months of inclement weather and life in our sandwichy household, we have developed some pretty bad habits concerning how we spend our time. On those days in which my mother-in-law’s care-giver comes and I feel the pressure to vacate even when we have nowhere to go, we end up eating fast food and hanging out at the fast food indoor playground where he may or may not interact with other kids. On those days in which we are home and I am caring for his grandmother, he watches too much television—way more than I ever thought I would allow my children to watch. Sometimes, he just plays alone, and that’s fine. He has a great imagination, but I can tell he is lonely, too. I am so tired of him asking, “Mommy, will you play with me?” and me answering, “I have to feed your grandma first” or “Not until Grandma is done in the bathroom.”

So, that’s why I enrolled him in pre-school—even though neither of us is as ready as I would like us to be. I am looking for pre-school to provide him with two days of structured, quality, supervised activities because I am not capable of providing that on my own right now. I want him to eat a sit-down lunch that isn’t comprised of chicken nuggets and fries. I want something in his weekly routine to be consistent—or, um, routine. I could feel guilty because I know that I am not providing him with all that, but I know I’m doing the best I can under the circumstances. Sometimes, good parenting is handing your kid off to someone else.

I also see pre-school as an introduction to a whole lot of activities he will enjoy in the future. Because he is four and potty-trained, he could go to nature camp this summer. He could take swimming lessons. He just has to get used to me not always being at his side. Pre-school, in his case, is a gateway to more independence and that’s a good thing.

It starts tomorrow. I am praying that this will be a beneficial and smooth transition. And if it isn’t smooth, may it at least be beneficial in the long run.

Signs of Recovery

Sign of recovery? I'll call it that since it is the first sign I saw when I pulled into the parking lot ready to volunteer at Wee-Sale!

Sign of recovery? I’ll call it that since it is the first sign I saw when I pulled into the parking lot ready to volunteer at Wee-Sale!

At the start of this year, I said, “In 2012, we were hit by a meteor. In 2013, we regained consciousness. This year, we crawl out of the crater and discover we have super-human strength.” In fact, I said this more than once. I may have said it to anyone who would listen, and yes, of course, I was likening my mother-in-law’s fall and my father-in-law’s death to being hit by a meteor. A meteor may have killed the last dinosaurs. We aren’t dinosaurs. We are more like cockroaches or super-heros.

Because I prefer super-heros over roaches, I began imagining my husband, my children, and myself wearing capes and red and blue leotards and lifting cars. A family of super-heros! Maybe I can sell that to Disney…oh, wait…I’m a little late on that idea.

So, here we are in March and I’m asking myself, “Are we recovering? If so, what are the signs? What proof do I have that our family is crawling out of the crater?” and I’m finding some answer in unexpected, ordinary places.

It was on March 19, 2012 that my mother-in-law fell—so, almost two years ago. I remember exactly what I was doing when the phone rang. I was sitting on the dining room floor pulling china and crystal from a chest because I had decided that we would use our wedding china, and not theirs,  for our slightly-belated St. Patrick’s Day supper. I had corned beef and cabbage in the Crock-pot and Guinness in the refrigerator—nothing fancy, but that’s me. I am the girl who liked to break out the fancy-schmancy dishes for a very ordinary meal.

Besides, I had received the wedding china as a gift from my in-law’s just two months earlier. You see, for the first five years of my marriage, my mother-in-law would ask me what I wanted for Christmas, my birthday, Mother’s Day, and our wedding anniversary, and I never had an answer. Finally, it occurred to me that she would enjoy buying china for me. She loved nice dishes. So, I told her, “We received only four settings of our wedding china as gifts. You could give me a setting or a bowl or a platter.” I figured that one place setting or one serving piece per holiday, and basically, that would take care of gifts for the next several years, but that is not how my mother-in-law worked. No, she ordered eight place settings and four serving pieces and had them delivered to my home for my birthday in January.

And now, it was March and we were going to use the new china for our St. Patrick’s Day feast. I’m not Irish. My mother-in-law is not Irish, but my father-in-law was, and he was a man who appreciated hearty, uncomplicated comfort-foods. The corned beef and cabbage was for him and in honor of his heritage.

Earlier that day, I had moved boxes of children’s clothing out of my dining room. I had been prepping for Wee-Sale, a local children’s consignment event in which parents—mostly moms—sell their children’s outgrown clothing, toys, and baby equipment to other parents looking for a bargain. It’s a big deal. I consigned, shopped, and volunteered at Wee-Sale. As a middle-class, stay-at-home-mother of two, it was a part of my life.

To prepare for Wee-Sale, I had been taking a break from my contract work editing event listings. I needed to iron the clothes, secure them onto hangars, enter inventory into a data base, and print tags.

So, that’s a snap-shot of my life when the phone rang: St. Patrick’s Day meal, sorting china, prepping for Wee-Sale, and doing contract work—when I wasn’t running children to playdates and doctor’s appointments, coloring, cleaning, disciplining, and doing all those other things that all parents do.

Then, the phone rang. I expected to hear my father-in-law’s voice telling me that they were running late. When were they ever on time? Instead, he told me that my mother-in-law had fallen and he had called the EMS, and they were en route to the hospital. I ran into the front yard and flagged down my husband who was mowing the lawn—that’s how I know we had a very mild winter in 2012. Lawns don’t usually need mowing in March—not here. I told him the news. He changed clothes quickly and headed to the hospital.

At the time, I didn’t understand how injured she was. It wasn’t her first fall. So, I put the china away with the belief that I would be cooking corned beef and cabbage again next week and that is when we would have our very belated St. Patrick’s Day meal.

What happened, however, was that she went from ICU to a head trauma unit to a rehabilitation center and to the rehab wing of a nursing home before it was determined that she wasn’t making progress. She was no longer in need of medical attention, but long-term care. Weeks went by before she was returned to her own home, and by then, my father-in-law’s health began failing. We lost him in July.

As deep as our grief has been for my father-in-law, the event that radically altered our day-to-day existance is my mother-in-law falling and sustaining a catastrophic brain injury. From that point on, every aspect of our day-to-day lives has been about her and her care. “All-consuming” is the word that comes to mind because we haven’t had a day in which her care isn’t a consideration.

As trivial as it may seem to mention, I didn’t seek another contract after the one I was working on expired, I cancelled my Wee-Sale registration, and the wedding china went back into the chest. My children have had far fewer playdates and have attended fewer social functions, like birthday parties. We stopped having people over.  How we spend our time was radically changed. Yes, on the surface level, you might think I am whining about missing the most mundane and routine parts of my life, and that all that has changed for me seems insignificant when you compare it to what my mother-in-law has been through—her husband died, she’s in a wheelchair, she’s never returning to her former life of independence. I get that, and I am very empathetic to her ordeal, but the fact remains, my husband, my children, and I were hit by a meteor, too.

I’ve often heard it said that “God is in the details” and “the Devil is in the details.” I suspect that depending upon the circumstances, both statements are true. For me, quality of life is in the details—like having enough time to myself to tag items for Wee-Sale or enough freedom to volunteer at my daughter’s school. So, being able to do these things really is a sign of recovery for me, proof that we are crawling out of the crater–at last. We are settling back into normalcy with the fragments of freedom that allow us the opportunity to do the most usual, mundane, and routine activities. It makes me feel hopeful—like this summer might include swimming lessons, vacation Bible school, and day camp for my children– the activities that their friends enjoyed last year, but they were denied due to the lack of reliable granny-care.

I’ve also come to understand that my mother-in-law’s condition and her care altered our lifestyle in some pretty fundamental ways, but my life—all the really big and important things about me—hasn’t changed. I still believe in and give thanks to the same God. I still love all the same people. I am still me. That’s where the super-human strength lies. We all go through hardships in life, but you don’t let the hardships steal your faith or your ability to love. It’s who you are that carries you, and it’s who you are that gives you the ability to find God in the details of an ordinary life.

I participated in Wee-Sale over the weekend. I consigned 87 items and sold all but 20. I shopped—I spent a little over $80 and bought three pairs of shoes, two dresses, and multiple casual shirts. I volunteered and spent Saturday morning assisting other shoppers and straightening the racks. I believe doing this, having the freedom to just participate in a children’s consignment event, is definitely a sign of recovery.

And it makes me feel even more hopeful. I may have to cook a big St. Patrick’s Day meal and invite friends to join us. Or what about a St. Patrick’s Day campfire? The New Year’s Eve Campfire was a success, and it, too, was a sign that our lives are returning to normal because we have the ability to entertain.

Yeah, I know it sounds funny, but I’m ready to don a cape and lift a car, but instead, I think I will just plan stuff, like picnics for sunny days ahead.

Editorial Note: If you are curious about children’s consignment events, check out Wee-Sale and Treasure Hunting Mommies. Here’s the disclaimer: If you shop Wee-Sale, yes, it may benefit me because you may buy one of the items I am consigning, but probably not since it features thousands and thousands of items.  And while I have yet to participate in Treasure Hunting Mommies, I really want to see them succeed because my college roommate/friend extraordinaire is one of the founders!

What If I Treated People The Way I Would Treat Christ?

King Cake. Yum. I'm buying mine, not making it this year.

King Cake. Yum. I’m buying mine, not making it this year.

About 15 years ago, I was given the task of buying a King Cake for a Mardi Gras party, and so I called a bakery and inquired, “Do you carry King Cake?”

“You mean, Martin Luther King, Junior Cake?”

“No, ma’am. King Cake. For Mardi Gras.”

“No, no! We can’t do no Mardi Gras, no Lion King, none of that Disney stuff.”

That’s a true story, and the only reason I am sharing it is that it’s that time of year again–and it’s funny. We are coming up on Lent, one of the most interesting and individually interpreted seasons of the Church year. In these days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I am usually thinking, “Am I giving anything up this year? If so, what? Do I want to replace a bad habit with a good one? How will that bring me into a closer relationship with God? What do I need to change about my present life to make me a better human being?” I know others are asking themselves similar questions, but many find the very idea of Lent silly, unnecessary, or too Catholic.

When I was younger, I typically approached Lent with the idea that I should give something up because others around me were. So, I would give up chocolate, red meat, or alcohol, but doing so never strengthened my Faith or changed my life in any way.

Then, I was introduced to the idea of doing something for Lent instead of not doing something—I might read Dietrich Bonnhoeffer’s Meditations on the Cross or making a donation to a charity or developing the habit of a morning walk and outdoor prayer. One year, I committed myself to writing a daily, spiritual journal entry that I would share with others. Most of what I wrote during those 40 days wasn’t worth sharing. I can’t force myself to write daily and produce anything worth reading. The creative process just doesn’t work that way for me.

Three years ago, I came back around to giving up something in order to replace it with something better. I gave up Facebook and all other forms of social media. And did it work? Did I replace it with something better? Yes. And no.

Because I couldn’t contact people via social media, I had to make an effort to reach out with a phone call. I had to speak with them and genuinely enjoy their company beyond the two seconds it takes to read and like a status update. If I couldn’t call at that moment, I would offer up a prayer that they be abundantly blessed. So, yes, abstaining from social media made me feel more connected in my personal relationships and made me more prayerful.

Did I use that time I would have spent on Facebook to do great things? Did I contemplate what it means to live a Christ-centered life? Did I love more deeply? No. Mostly, I surfed the Internet reading celebrity “news” and not comment because if social interaction resulted from the comment, it might violate my No Social Media Rule.

So, I was thinking about giving up the Internet all together this year. Then, I heard a radio interview with recording artist Danny Gokey. Frankly, I had never heard of the guy, but apparently, he placed third on American Idol a few years ago, and now, has a hit country song. I listen to country music sometimes, but I pay little attention to the names of recording artists. I don’t know who sings what. That I don’t know who this guy is or what he sings is no reflection on his musical talent. Yeah, for someone who just admitted to reading celebrity “news,” you would be surprised how little I know of popular culture.

Besides, he was not on the radio talking about his music career or promoting his latest album. No, he was discussing Sophia’s Heart, a  foundation he created in the memory of his late wife. Among other things, Sophia’s Heart has a homeless shelter, and the interviewing DJ said the rooms at the shelter looked more like a luxury hotel than temporary, emergency housing.

Gokey responded by explaining that he feels called to treat other people as he would treat Christ. “If Jesus were coming to your hometown and you had to find a place for Him to stay, you would want it to be the best. You would put him up at the Ritz-Carlton. That’s our goal at our shelter, to treat our residents as we would treat Jesus.” Okay, I hope that I would invite Jesus to stay in my home with me, but I do get his point!

Wow. To treat other people as you would treat Christ. That’s a lofty goal and an inspiring message. I got a little teary-eyed hearing him say that.

And I think Gokey is spot-on! We ARE to treat other people as we would treat God-on-Earth. I truly believe that we are all created in God’s image and so every human being, no matter where they are in their own spiritual walk, has something divine within their soul that should be honored.

And even if I didn’t believe that, the Bible commands us to love one another. COMMANDS. Repeatedly. If love came naturally to all human beings, no one would have to command us to do it. Love is an easy thing to talk about, but a hard thing to live—at least, that has been my experience.

While kindness is an outward act of love, loving others is a little deeper. It’s going above and beyond to give, to sacrifice, and to serve in the most selfless ways—as if each human being on this planet were God-on-Earth. And this is regardless of what they have done in the past or may be doing right now—and human beings do some pretty despicable things. I know this. This is regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, character, sexual orientation, education, and income. This is regardless of their political affiliation and ideology—and man, oh, man, that’s the biggie in the United States today. We are a politically divided nation and every freakin’ issue is so polarized! Have you noticed that people say they “hate” each other because they disagree on politics? Yeah, that’s gotta make God really happy. Think about that on a Sunday morning instead of watching news programs that intentionally fan the flames of hate. Okay, I’m sounding a little preachy. I’ll stop.

Ironically, I say that it’s easier for me to be kind to strangers than to be kind to members of my own household, but obviously, I love my family. I loved my children the moment I knew they were growing inside me. I’ve loved my sisters for as long as I can remember. I love my husband so much that I want to live with him for the rest of my life.

I have to work at loving my mother-in-law, and frankly, it is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. When she fell almost two years ago, I didn’t have much of a relationship with her. We were never unkind to each other the way some mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are, but we didn’t have much in common and our conversations were never very deep. We were pleasant enough and cordial enough, but that’s about it.

Before I met my soon-to-be in-laws—and our relationship was so fast-paced that my husband and I were practically engaged before we met each other’s families—my husband told me his parents would love me. “My dad will love you because the two of you have a lot in common and I can see you getting along well. My mom will love you because (pause) she wants to see me married and you are an appropriate person for me to marry.” Um, yeah, “appropriate.” That sounds like a warm welcome to the family, doesn’t it?

He was right. His father and I became great friends right away. We enjoyed each other’s company and I genuinely looked forward to time spent with him. I hope he felt the same about me. I believe my mother-in-law does find me an appropriate mate for her son. I’m not too young or too old. My background isn’t too questionable. Her son seems happily married at last, and I’ve given her two more grandchildren, and so, that’s that.

No, it was never a warm-and-fuzzy relationship, and yet, I’ve been called to love her in a very personal way—even though it’s not what I want.

“I love my mother-in-law, but I could never care for her the way you care for yours.” Yeah, I’ve heard that about a gazillion times from a lot of very good-hearted, well-meaning, truly wonderful people. I always have two reactions to that statement: 1) Never say never. Believe me, I never expected to be in this position either. 2) You don’t really love your mother-in-law—at least not as you claim you do.

Take that sentence and replace the word “mother-in-law” with someone you really love.  Try “I love my children, but I could never care for them the way you care for yours.” Yeah, I’ve never heard anyone say that because most parents would run into a burning building for their own children. When you truly love someone you will do anything and everything to ensure their well-being. And when a stranger rushes into a burning building, jumps into a raging river, throws herself in front of a bullet, it’s a love so great and so rare that it makes the news, and we call that person a hero.

I have a friend whose son has allergies—the deadly kind. She watches what he eats, touches, and breathes with vigilance. Because of this, people say to her, “You are such a good mom.” And of course, she laughs it off because she knows that yes, she is a good mom, but really she’s just doing what is necessary to keep her kid alive. Keeping him away from peanuts is no different from feeding him, clothing him, or bathing him. It’s what she does because she is his mother, and part of being a parent is loving your child. Period. I liken her attention to her son’s allergies to my care of my mother-in-law. Sometimes, love means scooping the chewed food out of a person’s mouth—no matter what your relationship is to that person. It’s never a matter of being good.

So, what does any of this have to do with Lent? Well, if you are a Christian, Lent is the season leading up to what we celebrate and commemorate as the greatest act of love humankind has ever known—Christ dying on the Cross for us and our Salvation. As John 3:16 says, “God so LOVED the world…”

Most of us are never going to be called to give up our lives or even risk our lives in an act of love, and yet, we are commanded to love so that we would run into a burning building if that is what is asked of us. Jesus even said what we do to others—how we treat our fellow human beings—is ultimately how we are treating Him.

So, for my Lenten journey this year, I’m not going to give up Facebook or chocolate. I am not reading anything by Bonnhoeffer. I am going to follow Danny Gokey’s example and treat others as I would treat Christ. I don’t know that it will really change the way I behave towards other people because overall, I treat people well, but it will certainly be a change in attitude. Just think, if I am cooking a meal for my family and thinking, “I am preparing this meal for God-on-Earth,” am I not going to do it with a bit more enthusiasm? When I am dressing my mother-in-law and thinking of her body as the body of Christ, am I not going to do it with more care? When I hold a door open for someone I’ve never met and honor that sacred part of their soul that is Christ, can I possibly feel impatient should they move a little slower than I anticipated?

This commitment, although not something that will be obvious to the outside world, is huge to me. I have a long way to go in the attitude department, but it’s the little changes–the inward changes–that completely transform lives. So, I’m really going to work at treating others as I would treat Christ, and hopefully, it will take hold in a way that will continue beyond Easter 2014.