Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Break Perspective

Spring break at the mall.  Instead of Caribbean blue waters, a sea of St. Patrick's green flowed through the food court as Hannah chattered a stream of consciousness.  While we shared Chick-fil-A on formica that touted Route 66, a blonde tween sat at the next table with her twisty, pinned-up ponytail pointing at us. Soon the ponytail turned until two cerulean eyes aimed at my misshapen hands.

Keeping my focus on Hannah, I allowed ample time for our neighbor's adolescent curiosity.  After a minute--maybe two--I considered the little blue lasers intrusive and turned to stare directly at them.  It took a full five seconds before the eyes grew wide, I heard the tiniest gasp and the ponytail whipped itself back around.  Unaware, Hannah chattered throughout the entire incident, so I was confident I had made my point and thankful the unwanted attention was aimed at me and not Hannah.

I was wrong.

Less then five minutes later the ponytail made a 270 degree turn, meaning the tween had cranked herself around until her body faced mine so that the eyes focused on Hannah.  I waited to see what would happen.  The blue eyes stared.  Hannah chattered.  I waited some more.

Hannah's speech slowed and I watched recognition register on her face until she became silent.  She turned to the eyes and said, "Hi."

The ponytail swirled around to reply with silence.

A few minutes later the scene repeated:  270 degree turn, invasive eyes, Hannah's slow recognition, followed by her friendly hi and the stupidly silent ponytail.

This time Hannah looked at me and said, "That's weird."

I replied loudly, "She must just want to look and not talk."

Thankfully ponytail and her four-person family ate quickly and soon parted, two walking behind me and two behind Hannah.  As the younger brother squeezed behind Hannah, he gawked at her. Innocently, Hannah looked back at him and said (for the third time now), "Hi."

No response.

After they were gone Hannah said, "He was creepy."

"Why?" I asked.

"He just looked at me."

I shrugged and changed the subject.  Hannah easily returned to her steady stream of talk, but my internal dialogue rose above her voice, each thought a wave crashing:  "Had Hannah's peers started to perceive her as different?"  Crash.  "Wait.  Did her schoolmates treat her differently?"  Crash.  "Had Hannah finally reached the age where her classmates were mean?"  Crash.  "Ponytail mean?"

This was ridiculous.

I silenced the dialogue inside me and instead asked Hannah, "So, who is your best friend at school?" Her eyes clouded as I watched her consider this.  I couldn't tell if she was imagining mistreatment or trying to think of a single name.  Finally she answered with her own perfect perspective:


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Keyhole

For my lifelong blog reader(s)--smirk-- : I have decided to write a book about life with a Dandy-Walker child. Originally I thought this would be my first chapter, but now I'm considering making it a prologue. Please offer any constructive criticism, either in the comments or in a personal e-mail: solomongirls at yahoo dot com

That cold December Kansas morning I noticed it for the first time in my newborn’s eye: a keyhole where a perfect pupil should have been. Just a few weeks earlier I had made prep-for-the-new-baby lists, Thanksgiving travel lists, Christmas shopping lists, pack-for-the-hospital lists, remember-for-my-older-daughters’-school lists. Lists, lists, lists. My third child was due in late December and I knew that if I wrote everything down, I would somehow have control. However, control is an imaginary friend who disappears when real life arrives.

Few of those lists were completed because Hannah Savannah, baby number three, surprised us by arriving several weeks early, November 30, 2002, while we were in Wichita celebrating Thanksgiving. Other than her unexpected early arrival in an unfamiliar hospital with an unknown doctor, her birth went fairly smoothly and her first week of life was typical: the smell of baby shampoo, the softness of talcum powder, extra laundry, diapers and new schedules. As usual, my mom visited, bringing with her the white wicker bassinet in which she, her sisters, her children and each of her grandchildren had slept during their first weeks of life. Now it was Hannah’s turn.

All three of my daughters weighed between five and six pounds at birth, but Hannah was such a short, tiny bundle that my mom gently rested her in my eight-cup measuring cup, holding her in place while I took a picture. Because both Carl and I come from short-statured families with several immediate family members falling short of the five-foot mark, including both of our grandmothers, Hannah’s shortness didn’t seem anomalous, just a little quirky and useful for a fun photo op. We would save these pictures for future boyfriends.

Once mom filled our freezer with food, took an excess of photos, caught up the laundry and ensured that her daughter was settled into the new routines and responsibilities of caring for her newest granddaughter, she packed up her little Honda Civic. I waved goodbye until I could no longer see her, then settled into my stuffed green rocking chair, simultaneously exhausted and energized, to rock our newest family member.

Katie and Hailey were in school and Carl was at work, so I took the opportunity to rock and gaze into Hannah’s blue eyes, a blue that wouldn’t fade as it does for so many other children, a blue that surrounded…a keyhole. Was I imagining it? She was born three weeks early; did her eye simply need to finish developing? Maybe I was just a tired mom with an overactive imagination stimulated by sleep deprivation. I decided to ignore it until tomorrow, confident that sleep would bring about better mental and visual clarity. After all, my normal, perfect baby could be no less than that.

Little did I know that the tiny keyhole staring back at me from my child’s eyes, the windows to her baby soul, would portend a lifelong search for keys, keys to Hannah Savannah.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Balancing Act

As Hannah and I sat in the car after returning home from school, she asked, "Can I use your computer when we get inside?"

"No, not today."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I'm using it to balance my checkbook."

Immediately she put both hands and one foot in the air (like the original Karate Kid, only remaining seated) and said, "I can balance!"

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Making of One Hundred Snowmen

This morning we awoke to the first snow of winter, a light dusting on the ground with the promise of more to come. I need to get back into the habit of using my camera.

From the minute Hannah opened the front door and saw the snow, she didn't stop jabbering about making a snowman. Her entire school prep time was peppered with her description of the snowman making process and declarations of, "When I get home I'm going to put on my coat and go outside and build a snowman."

The minute I picked her up from school, she picked up right where she left off. It sounded something like this:

"When I get home I'm going to put on my boots and coat and go outside and build a snowman and I need two blueberries for its eyes but don't worry mom I'll save you some blueberries for smoothies in the morning." Breathe. "And a carrot for its nose and sticks for its arms and I'll wear my blue boots the ones with the orange inside." Momentary thought-gathering pause. Very momentary. Spreading her arms wide, she resumed her chattering, "I'm going to make a hundred snowmen. OK, Mom?"

"Hmm? Sure. Wow. A hundred, huh?" I asked, noticing the patchiness of the snow and the blades of grass sticking through it in every yard.

Hannah talked the entire drive home, and I'm not exaggerating. It's hard to believe there was once a day when we wondered if she would ever be able to speak.

The minute we arrived home, Hannah did her jobs (put away her backpack, unload her lunch box and put her shoes in the closet), dressed warmly and went outside for The Making of One Hundred Snowmen. I began putting things away in the kitchen.

Less than five minutes later Hannah barrelled through the front door, breathing heavily, and said, "I love the snow. I'm done!"

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The BEST Clam Chowder

This cold Saturday morning I'm still sitting in my jammies, drinking burnt coffee that Carl brewed two hours before I awoke. I'm drinking water from a dirty glass because we forgot to run the dishwasher before bed last night. Some things never change. While the sun shines on me through grungy windows and between the branches of my still-standing Christmas tree, I'm trying to make friends with my blog again. I'm not sure how. Do I try to fill in the blanks between my last post (May 18 of last year!)? Do I upload a bunch of photos? Do I publish a well-written post, or just post something?

I'll ramble on and see what develops...

While some things haven't changed, others have, like my new hip. Wait, "changed" is inadequate. Let's try: Transformed. Revolutionized. Those are much better.

For example, the other day I decided to make a double batch of clam chowder only to realize Hannah had peeled the last of my potatoes down to brown blobs and left them to soften on the kitchen chair. Prior to May 18, this lack of potatoes would have resulted in a series of questions: Did I have enough energy to bundle up, ride my power chair to the garage and drive to the store? Once there, would my hip allow me to hobble to the back, heft a bag of potatoes into a cart and push it the checkout? After returning home I could use my power chair to return to the kitchen with the bag of potatoes, but would I have any energy remaining to actually prepare the chowder? I could walk only with the aid of a cane, so every movement through the kitchen would have to be done one-handed or with the assistance of my children, effectively doubling the time required to complete tasks with two hands. The fatigue caused by arthritis was (and still is) a constant, unwelcome companion who not only followed me around, but often demanded a piggy-back ride. The hip pain added to that fatigue had caused every-day decisions to become monumental.

Like I said, that was pre-May 18. I was making clam chowder post-May 18. I walked (without a cane, I might add) to the garage and got in the car. Once I arrived at the store, I hurried (yes, hurried) to the back and grabbed a 10-pound bag of potatoes. Up to this point, my mind had remained in the kitchen, ordering the next steps required to get supper to the table on time, knowing it could be done, but only if done efficiently. However, the substance of the full ten pounds, once in my arms, pulled my mind back from the kitchen to the grocery store. I didn't have a cart. I hadn't thought about grabbing the largest bag of potatoes, I had just done it. My mind wasn't worrying about whether or not I could complete the chowder, it was planning the steps to do it, steps that would not be slowed by a cane.

I wish I could describe, without sounding sappy, the joy and gratitude that filled me.

It's one thing to experience joy and gratitude when given something, a real something, like a child. The wonder and awe are overwhelming; you don't even know you have the capacity for the emotions that come with something so new and beautiful.

Having something equally real, like your health, then having it taken away slowly, incrementally and constantly causes a never ending cycle through the grief process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. After twenty-plus years with arthritis, I had absorbed this cycle into my life so fully that I thought it was "normal."

Suddenly, with one move, my "normal" had changed. Having so much grief removed instantaneously (well, almost instantaneously--there was a recovery process) left a vacuum that could only be filled with an enormous gratitude and joy. Something I had lost so long ago that I had forgotten it like you slowly forget the facial features of a lost loved one had been returned to me. It was a gift I didn't even know I could be given, and I had received it.

The clam chowder I made that evening was the best batch of clam chowder ever. I made it with two hands and with energy left to spare since it hadn't all been given to pain.

And I made it with gratitude, which adds flavor to everything.