Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Behold the Sacred Objects of Our Youth

On my way to bed tonight, I walked past this black bowl. Since it sits on the corner of our piano, walking past it is something I do approximately 40 times a day. Today, though, when I looked inside the bowl, I had the most unexpected flashback to the day 20 or so years ago, when a friend and I wended our way through the back alleys of  Bangkok in search of the "monk bowl" district.

I don't know why we'd decided so resolutely that we needed to find the place where these alms bowls were being made or how we managed to purchase them without a phrase of passable Thai between us. I do remember that it wasn't easy to locate the street so far off the beaten path and that it took us hours of frustrated wandering to find what we were looking for. What sticks with me most, though, is the intricate hammering of the artisans, crouched over low tables in open-air store fronts, sealing the seams of the bowls with copper and creating impossibly smooth surfaces made black and shiny by the flames of the fire.

That trip to Thailand, far outside of my comfort zone so many years ago, is largely lost to my memory now--except for this smooth, black begging bowl sitting on the corner of our piano.

Bowl on Tapa Cloth
To be honest, what strikes me now about this bowl--and the Tapa Cloth from Fiji that it sits on, for that matter--is that there is no going back to that moment in my youth when a pilgrimage for a handmade alms bowl seemed so very important. Life just keeps moving forward, even if in not-always-perfect fits and starts. I am sure that my 20-something year old self could have never, not in a million years, imagined that the handmade alms bowl she spent hours searching for in the tangled streets of the seemingly forgotten neighborhoods of Bangkok would become the repository for the mismatched pieces of forgotten kids' toys. The bowl, it turns out, makes a pretty decent junk drawer.

"Junk bowl"
What does it mean when the sacred object of one's youth becomes a catch-all for ribbons and pens and sundry knickknacks? I don't know, really, but, somehow, this bowl full of toys strikes me as the perfect metaphor for what it's like to become a parent.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Meanwhile, Sky....

The siege of 2016 continues as we wait for Tuesday to come and for Ren to have his follow-up appointment with the spine surgeon. Of course, it only feels like everything has ground to a halt. For the past two weeks, life as been full-steam ahead with work and school even if we are all still spending more time than usual cooped up together. 

All this togetherness continues to teach me stuff. A few days ago, I posted this to the Facebook page:

Something amazing happened last night. Sky barged into our room and interrupted a conversation Ren and I were having (happens all. the. time.)
Me: Wait. 
Sky: Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom. 
Me: (holds hand up to remind him he has to wait) 
Sky: (fidgeting, dying to talk, but still waiting) 
Me: (stopping my conversation because he's too distracting even if he is technically waiting) What do you want, Honey? 
Sky: Ok. First, you know when frogs are babies...? 
Me (interrupting him, exasperated): Sky, do you really need to interrupt the conversation I'm trying to have with Daddy to talk about frogs right now? (What the heck?!?! He was playing cars with Stow when I left him five minutes ago. How in the world did he get on frogs so quickly?) 
Sky (pauses, then says half to himself under his breath): Okay, that one I can save for later. (Then, looks at me, and says): Second, can we watch the fourth Harry Potter movie tonight? 
Me: (dumbfounded)
I mean, sure, he didn't need to interrupt our conversation to ask about watching a movie, either, but HE WAS ABLE TO REFRAIN FROM TELLING ME SOMETHING DESPITE THE FACT HE HAD ALREADY STARTED TO TELL ME AND HE CLEARLY WANTED TO TELL ME.

He's 11. That's the first time this has ever happened.

At the risk of going on too long in a Facebook post, I didn't describe the singing of the heavenly hosts that echoed through my head in that moment when Sky actually restrained himself. I also didn't go into excruciating detail about all the times he starts any conversation as soon as he steps into the room never taking a moment to assess whether people there are busy or talking or sleeping. He is getting better at things we've been working on, and we do have a long way to go. But, I wrote that post because I realized that with the chaos of parenting three kids while also nursing a spouse through his fifth spine surgery, I sometimes forget to celebrate these moments that highlight how Sky is slowly but surely coming into his own.

Sky (b. 2004 -   )
"Untitled," 2015
Mixed media
Courtesy of the artist (found under the seat of the car. And, for what it's worth, the egg fell from the carton....)

A few days before this post, as I wrote an e-mail to a mom with a recently diagnosed three year-old, I realized that it's getting harder and harder to remember just how much we didn't know five years ago when Sky was first diagnosed. Don't get me wrong. It can still be a challenge to manage some of the sensory and social skill challenges that are a part of our everyday lives. But, as I was explaining to this mom about OT, PT, speech, ABA, IEPs, and the benefits some folks experience with dietary changes, I suddenly felt very grateful for just how far we've come and for all the many people who've walked with us on this journey.

I ended my e-mail with this reminder. It's something I've told myself a lot over the past five years, but I'm not sure I really believed my own advice until recently: 

I know this is all probably overwhelming, but my biggest advice is this: Don't panic. Take it one step at a time. Gradually implement therapies and/or dietary changes as you are able to handle them. Never feel bad about not doing enough soon enough. You'll keep learning and figuring things out as you go. Do what you can when you can. You are your child's biggest and most important advocate. That can feel like a lot of pressure, but as long as you are taking care of yourself and doing what you can as you can, you will get there.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


We're at the end of week three post-op, and, really, it's going fine. We are grateful for friends who have brought food and for my parents and Big Sissy who were able to come and help for several days. Thanks to these things and to the fact the surgery was timed to happen between my semesters, this recovery has gone smoother than those before it (*knocking on wood*).

Still, recovery is an awful lot of this:

Healing after such a major surgery is painful. Ren can't bend, twist, or lift for at least 6 weeks, and he can only just barely walk. He can't go anywhere, and since he can't bend, twist, lift or walk, he also can't be left home alone for very long.

In other words, we're kind of stuck. Recovering from major spine surgery, especially when it's not the first (and probably won't be the last) can be pretty frustrating. Nothing can speed things up, and we won't really know how "successful" the surgery was for at least a couple of more months. All we can do is wait.

My lack of control over this situation was starting to get me down, so I decided to look for the bright spots. There are, it turns out, a few positives amidst the drudgery. For one thing, we've saved a lot of money this holiday since we haven't traveled, shopped, or really even eaten out. We've also had plenty of down time to just kinda hang out, so the kids are super chill. Chill kids who entertain themselves are always a bonus!

The best unintended consequence to this winter of being stuck, though, is that I am learning how to just be present for my family like never before. Ever since I became a mom, I feel like I have been running at breakneck speed--to finish my PhD, to move, to get therapies for Sky, to land a tenure-track job, to move again (and again and again), to figure out the kids' allergies, to teach and research well, to write this blog, to get Ren the treatments he needs. These past few weeks feel like the first time I've just had to stop. I've spent hours sitting with Ren and the kids. We've talked. We've watched movies. We've played board games. We've painted pictures. We've done nothing. It's been incredibly frustrating at times, but this new pace makes me realize just how hectic my normal pace really is. I'm starting to realize that learning how to "be" is a pretty important lesson for me and that maybe being stuck isn't such a bad thing after all.