Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Go Away"

No matter how many times you hear it, the words never lose their bite.

As the mother of a sometimes-temperamental five-year old, I've heard it more than once.

"Go away."

Those words always are rooted in hurt and shame.  She lost the game.  Fell off her bike. Or maybe I found something valuable, mangled beneath her bed, and asked her to tell me how it happened.  Could be I found her doing something I'd asked her not to, and yet she just could not resist the temptation.  She's mad... not so much at me (other than the fact I've put a dent in her fun), but really at herself, thinking she's disappointed me.

She simply does not realize yet that no matter what she might do, even if it hurts or disappoints me, I love her... completely.  That everyone, no matter how good they are (and she really is a very good girl) messes up, gets embarrassed, gets hurt.  And that my job is to be there to hold her, support and encourage her, and lovingly establish and enforce boundaries (for my sake, yes... but especially for hers). To show her that regardless of the transgression, I will always forgive her and always, always love her.

The thing is... I love to see her test the boundaries.  Her curiosity, sense of fun and zest for life are second to none, and there is so much for me to learn from her.  But since I care about my daughter, her well-being and the person she will be when she grows up as well as those whose lives she will touch... sometimes I have to be the bad guy... er, gal.  I cannot look the other way, no matter how easy it may be.  Its difficult to address issues with her at times; she is who she is and I know she will sometimes have a melt-down because she is hurt, embarrassed, sick, tired, or sugared... and tell me to "go away".  It would be so much easier, in the short-term, to look the other way... but in the long-term, it would be doing her a grave injustice.

Even though I'm her mom and know that what she really is saying is, "I feel bad, please just give me a little space to pull myself together", it still cuts to the core.  Sometimes I will just hold on to her real tight; that's my instinct.  But I'm learning that it usually doesn't take too long for her to want Mom again, to feel the safety, acceptance and love in my open arms.  So lately, what I do is say, "Okay.  I'll be right here if you need me.  I love you forever."  And then I make absolutely certain to keep that promise.

We always have two voices in our heads.  One says, "You messed up, you're worthless, you've done too many bad things, hurt too many people, you'll never be any good... who do you think you are, anyway? You don't deserve forgiveness, or love, or happiness".

The other voice is God's. It says, "You messed up... you feel bad... but there is nothing I can't forgive and I forgive you.  I love you.  I created you.  You are My child, let Me comfort you and bless you. Come here."

My job, as her mother, is to teach my daughter to listen to the second voice... the voice of Truth.

The best way to do that is to show her I listen to it myself.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mending Fences

"Just then I saw a young hawk flyin' 
And my soul began to rise 
And pretty soon 
My heart was singin'..." 
~Bob Seger

Today is the day for which I wait every year.  The last traces of snow have melted away, the ice on the lake is releasing its iron grip, corrals are drying out... and if I looked hard enough, could probably find thistles poking through the soil somewhere in the pasture.  It is the first day in months I find myself doing chores in a light jacket, and moving about the yard while giving no thought to mud or snow.

While out there today, I began to work on repairing the winter damage to my fences... they usually need quite a bit of attention after months of heavy snow, deer running through them, horses in closer confinement than usual and squabbling with one another as a result.  This was just busywork... when truly serious about the job I'll retrieve my bucket of fencing tools and supplies from the tack room and set aside the time to go over every inch of fence line.  Today it was more about enjoying the day, soaking up the sun and giving thanks for spring's arrival.

As I straightened wires and made adjustments, it made me laugh to look at my handiwork of years past.  In places there are knots and tangles; some lengths of fence have plenty of extra wire with which to make repair, and in other parts its a struggle to make the ends meet.  Different gauges of wire, different brands and ages of posts and insulators.  My fence is a cobbled-together arrangement in places, but serves its purpose in keeping my livestock contained, safe from harm, off the road and where they belong.

The term "mending fences" came to mind, how it it applies to fixing damaged relationships as much as it does to straightening and re-wrapping wire.  I can't remember a time that I've ever just given up on a fence because it was broken and needed repair.... fences are expensive for one. But there also is some pride in making the old one work... in carrying my bucket up and down the hill, mending what was broken, making it whole again.  

Oftentimes I pound my fingers with the hammer, get scratched by the thorns on the plum trees, trip over stumps hiding in the grass, slip in the sticky wet clay.  Sometimes I dread the fixing, the work, and wish for a brand new maintenance-free version (is there really such a thing?).  On a particularly trying day, one might even wonder what on earth compels me to this lifestyle and this work when I could be sitting in a nice suburban home somewhere, maybe blogging from my well-appointed sun room or taking my turn hosting the neighborhood mommy group.  But then, I am reminded of the fact I chose this life, and for good reason.  Its where my heart led me, I pursued it with a passion and did not take no for an answer.  

As for the fences... they can always be repaired. It may take some work, but is worth the effort.  I've built my fence, tended it, cursed at it and apologized and restored it time and again.  Its far from perfect or even picturesque, but it works, and well.  A new one might be prettier, more convenient, and less hassle than the old one comprised of mismatched wires and posts of all sizes... but that old fence? Its unique, I know and appreciate its idiosyncrasies, and its all mine.  

So I pick up my bucket and move on to repair the next broken wire or replace another missing insulator, looking around for evidence that I did, indeed, make the right choice... and God always provides it.  Today, on this first real day of spring, it was the first robin.  Not just one robin... but an entire flock, merrily hopping around beneath my favorite tree, a grand old ash which stands watch over our farm.  Those robins were congregated in the special place where I often retreat to think and just be, when necessary.  

I followed them and sat beneath that big old tree for awhile.  Just then I saw a young hawk flyin'... my soul began to rise... and pretty soon, my heart was singin'.

Spring is here.  It always returns.  No matter how long the winter, no matter how dark the night... the sun always rises, spring always comes again... and with it, the chance to mend fences.

Sunday, March 28, 2010


"I'm not a smart man... but I know what love is." ~Forrest Gump 

While sitting in a smoky bar, years ago, someone once asked me, "What is love... really?"

It was a rare instance in which a definition completely escaped me.  I was speechless, and always regretted my lack of an answer. As a result, I've spent a whole lot of time in the many years since, thinking about love and what it really means.  Much as I would like to sit here and give a concise definition... I still cannot.  What I can do, however, is tell you what love means to me, and what it does not.

Love is not hearts, gifts and flowers, cards and cake.  Those things can represent love, or offer a show of affection, and are often appreciated by the recipient, but none are the nuts and bolts of the emotion.  To equate a bunch of flowers or a card to love, is to diminish it in a profound way.

Love is not what makes babies and brings new life into the world... its what nurtures that life; before, during and long after the birth.  Its what walks the floor at 2am with that colicky baby, cleans vomit out of the carpeting, changes the nasty diapers, waits up past curfew for rebellious teenagers to arrive home safe and works the third shift to pay for it all.  Love is working overtime and setting that money aside to put those babies through college.

Love is not words. All the fancy words in the world cannot express it, without the action to back it up.  Love is action; its about being there, standing by and supporting someone you believe in, even when they don't always believe in themselves.  Love is about going farther, reaching higher, working harder, dreaming bigger and digging deeper than you ever thought possible... not for yourself, but for another.  Love is about giving of yourself, and your time.

Love is not always pretty. Its about weathering storms and standing firm in the face of adversity.  Its about taking the pain with the pleasure, the sorrow with the joy, the mundane chores with the wild adventures.  Love is as much about sickness, loss and sacrifice, about blood and pain, about hardship and arguments, as it is about the happy times, prosperity, fun and romance.  Its about taking the bad with the good... which makes the good times even better.

Love is not about youth and beauty.  It is about acceptance and forgiveness.  Its about making accommodation for age and idiosyncrasies, looking the other way when things aren't perfectly pretty, about forgetting the angry and derisive words and remembering the supportive, encouraging and affectionate ones.

Love is not a silent doormat.  Sometimes, love says what needs to be said, stands up for itself regardless of the consequence, points out the wrong in an effort to make it right.  Love is not politically correct or cowardly.  Love is about hanging in there, about fighting for what you believe in... and sometimes, about letting go.  One thing is certain, and that is the fact that human love is never, ever, perfect.

I am so abundantly, profoundly blessed with love in many forms, as a mother, daughter, wife, sister, and friend... and to have borne witness to so much of it, even in ways I will never personally experience.  Love is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and what lulls me to sleep at night.  Love is what drives everything I do throughout each day... whether cooking or cleaning or writing or shoveling out the barn.  Its what focuses my passions and sparks my dreams, makes the tough decisions and allows me to give just a little more each time.  I will never be perfect at it, and will always fall far short of the goal... but I will always try.  Even when it hurts.  Especially when it hurts.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." 1 Corinthians 13 v.1-2

Saturday, March 20, 2010


For whatever reason, we have been invaded.

By shrews.  The Northern, short-tailed variety, I believe.

They are ugly, and sneaky, and squeal and chatter like tiny disembodied spirits.

On my blind, half-asleep jaunt to the coffee pot this morning, I noticed the cat seemed rather... um, active... in the downstairs bathroom.  Upon hearing the squeak and chatter of her prey, I knew she wasn't just doing her morning calisthenics.

So I did what every self-respecting woman in pajamas does when faced with a home invader...

I woke my husband.  (For what its worth, he needed to get up anyway.)

Nice guy he is, he set the nasty vermin free in the forest.  Thankfully, our dogs are not quite so compassionate.  They have been honing their shrew-hunting skills all winter (we seem to have a bumper crop), and proudly displaying their trophies on my front porch for all to see.

I am forever beholden to them.  Good dogs.  (Okay, the husband gets some credit, too.)

Maybe I should be more compassionate, but just really hate when I'm watching a good movie from my favorite chair and wonder, "What's that smell? Honey, is there a propane leak or something?"... then have to push around all the heavy furniture to find the dead shrew.  And then remove the dead shrew and clean the carpet.

It sort of hoses up my evening.

Though I will admit to preferring that over, say, a bat flying around my bedroom at midnight. Bats in my bedroom make me scream like a little girl and hide beneath the covers.

Just sayin'.

Ah, the joys of living in a 96-year-old farmhouse.

Just A Mom

As I sit here this morning sipping my coffee, watching the news and waiting for my precious daughters to awaken, a great sense of foreboding overshadows the beautiful sunrise.

1,330 miles from here, politicians gather in our nation's capitol to cast their votes on a bill which would forever change America, mortgage my children's future and, most frightening of all, give the government control over one of our most basic needs: healthcare.

While not a scholar, a politician, a pundit or a medical professional, I do have a vested interest in what happens in that Capitol Building today. I am a mother.  And I have experienced what happens when the government gets involved in health care.

Back in October, and as many of you already know, my twelve-year-old daughter contracted the H1N1 flu, which weakened her defenses and allowed all sorts of infections to run rampant throughout her body.  She fought strep, pneumonia, thrush... the most life-threatening of which was the pneumonia.  The staff at the Children's Hospital saved her life by inserting a chest tube which drained nearly two liters of fluid from her chest cavity. I am filled with profound gratitude that my daughter's life was spared, each and every day.

The problem is, she never should have fallen so ill in the first place.  A drug exists which would have saved her before the flu weakened her immune system to the point of such acute susceptibility.  Its called Tamiflu and is readily available.  From the moment my daughter spiked a fever, the very first day she was ill, I fought like a tiger to get her a prescription for Tamiflu. I called every hotline, every clinic, every emergency room around, in an attempt to acquire treatment for my daughter.  Maternal instinct drove me to pursue every possible option in a desperate effort to get the anti-viral drug my daughter needed.

What kept the Tamiflu out of my hands?  Was it a greedy, giant insurance company?  A selfish, profit-driven pharmaceutical giant?  Some rich doctor who didn't care about my child?

No.  We have excellent health insurance and skilled, compassionate doctors.  It was our own government standing in the way of my daughter's treatment.  At every single turn, I was told, "Ma'am, we need to follow CDC guidelines, and your daughter is not eligible for Tamiflu.  She is not in the right age group, and she does not have an underlying medical condition which qualifies her.  I'm sorry, but its just the flu.  Do not bring her in, we will not do anything.  Give her fluids and Tylenol."   My daughter was denied treatment because she was in the wrong demographic.  The government, in its infinite wisdom, had instructed the healthcare industry to ration the drug, for fear of a shortage.  It instructed them to tell people to stay home, for fear of hospitals being overrun.  It was the RATIONING of healthcare, and it was only the beginning.  I shudder to think of the children who died as a result.

Tamiflu is most effective in the first 48 hours.  I knew that, and therefore fought like hell as soon as my daughter fell ill to get my hands on some.  Instinct drove me nearly to the point of taking hostages.  Had there been a black market for the stuff, I'd have sold my soul to get it.  But hey... I'm just a mom.

This mom sat here four days, watching my daughter's previously vibrant health fail, bathing her with cool water to reduce the fever, pushing fluids and Tylenol and Motrin.  I spent countless hours on the phone with nurses, seeking advice.  We took her to the emergency room once, and she was sent home (with a high fever, full-body rash, deep wet cough...).  When we took her back the next day, she was in excruciating pain (a couple liters of fluid crushing your heart and lungs will do that), covered from her neck to her ankles with a bright red rash, fighting for breath, rapid heartbeat, dangerously low blood pressure.  When she was finally admitted to a local hospital, she stayed there for three days, failing further, until she was rushed by ambulance to the Children's Hospital which saved her life and where she stayed for three weeks.

We found it ironic that while in the hospital, she was finally given enough Tamiflu (and other antivirals) to choke a horse.  Ironic, too, that when my parents contracted the same flu, I went through the same fight to find Tamiflu for them... this time, calling from my daughter's hospital room, working the phone for hours.  A compassionate nurse finally put me through to my personal doctor who, knowing our story, immediately asked where he should send the prescription and for whom he should write it.  My parents, both in their 70's, were better within 48 hours of taking the drug, though their initial symptoms were every bit as serious as my daughter's.

Tamiflu, administered immediately upon the onset of her symptoms when I asked for it, would have saved my daughter three weeks in the hospital, five weeks absence from school, endless suffering, numerous painful procedures, the failure of her kidneys due to the heavy doses of antibiotics, and a serious brush with death.  Our insurance company would gladly have paid for the drug... if not out of the kindness of their hearts, then for the fact it would have saved them the nearly $60,000 in hospital bills they did pay.  Oh, and by the way... they paid immediately.  Without question.  That big, bad, horrible insurance company.  Go figure.

The government, in its desperate need for control, and its bureaucrats, in all their arrogant self-importance, nearly cost my daughter her life.  In taking away the power of doctors to make the best decision for each individual patient, and in taking away the power of parents to decide what is best for their own children, they not only complicate healthcare... they prevent the immediate and instinctive care that most medical emergencies require.  When people sit around on their hands, waiting for some bureaucrat to make a decision regarding treatment for fear that if they make their own decision, they will lose funding and good graces from the powers that be, it cripples the system... and PEOPLE DIE.

Healthcare decisions need to be made by those passionate about the well-being of the patient... that patient, her family, and her doctors. As I sit here sipping my coffee and watching what goes on in Washington, it makes me sick to hear the politicians accuse the doctors and insurance companies and pharmaceutical giants of greed and callous disregard for life, while simultaneously selling their own votes to the highest bidder.  Its an absolute freak show... and yet they want to be in control of my body?  Or, God forbid, those of my children?

For Americans to willingly hand their very lives over to bureaucracy, believing they will be coddled and their best interests guarded by people who "care", is proof positive we are victims of the biggest snow job in the history of the planet.  NO ONE is going to care more about your health and well-being than YOU.  And none of us, save the veterans who have honorably served this country, the genuinely impoverished or the truly and permanently disabled, should expect the rest of the nation to pay for the care of it.  We've adopted an embarrassing sense of entitlement in this country...  we have the best healthcare on the planet, the most compassionate, dedicated and skilled doctors, the most advanced technology, the most progressive research, and the most generous philanthropists who help to fund it all... and yet, its not enough. We think everyone should have everything all the time, on demand.  For free.

Those misguided expectations will cost us our freedom... and possibly, our lives.  Our children and grandchildren will certainly pay dearly for our selfishness in countless ways.  Their tax burden will be overwhelming, and their choices and freedoms severely restricted compared to those we've known.

As a mother, I make every attempt to teach my children responsibility, generosity, selflessness, independence and empathy.  Today's antics in Washington  fly in the face of all that.  This is not about the care of our fellow human beings, not about putting others' needs above our own.  This is not about generosity nor about philanthropy.  It is all about greed, power, corruption and control... truly, a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing.  If what those politicians are doing were right, they would not need to be usurping the very Constitution our forefathers set in place to guard against such evil.  There would not be such a desperate push to "pass the bill so we can then see what's in it".  I've heard quite a few good lines in my time, but that one takes the cake.

I teach my children that when they are pushed to make an immediate decision, before they know all the facts and ramifications of that decision... it probably is best to step back away from the situation and take deeper look. Usually, its an attempt to get us to sign on the dotted line before we realize the full impact and the negative consequences of that decision.

But hey... I'm just a mom.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rubber Duckies Are Dangerous

A small rubber duck bathing.
While enjoying my coffee this morning, my sense of peace was shattered by some disturbing news:

Rubber duckies are dangerous.

One of the morning programs aired a segment regarding childrens bath toys, and unveiled the scary fact that dangerous bacteria grow and spread like wildfire amongst the rubber duckies and toy boats. One reporter sent her kid's toys to a lab, which swabbed for the treacherous bugs... lo and behold, it was contaminated with "fecal bacteria"!!!!!

I kept sipping my coffee.

Maybe its just me, but having survived the toddler years with my kids (twice over, as they are seven years apart), I've come to accept the truth that bacteria, fecal and otherwise, is a fact of life.  While its important to keep hot food, hot and cold food, cold...  to encourage hand-washing and cough-covering... to keep the kitchen and bathrooms acceptably sanitary (my standards for which vary, depending on the week)... one simply cannot live in fear of every nasty little bug lurking in the crevices of our homes. 

Seriously, no matter how vigilant you are about bubble-wrapping your kid and dunking them in bleach water, they will, at some point, play in the cat box (or the cat will use the sandbox), get french-kissed by a dog who just ate something dead and putrid, eat a bug, romp in a stagnant, scum-covered mud puddle.  The antidote always has been to toss my little one into a suds-filled bathtub and let her play (with those sewage-infested toys!) until the dirt from beneath her fingernails dissolved and her toes wrinkled like prunes.

Now, after all this time, some guy in a lab coat informs me that those baths were "bacteria soup"?

I don't think so.  Bacteria soup is the juice which collects in the bottom of the garbage bin while it waits for the truck to empty it on Monday morning.  Its the stuff that overflows the septic tank, or cultures in the Cool-Whip container of leftovers shoved to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten for... well, a long time. Bath water is soap and water... still proven to be the most effective kid-cleaning solution to date. 

In my opinion, its far more important to make sure the children are well-fed, get plenty of exercise, plenty of sleep and more than enough love.  No matter how vigilant you try to be, bacteria (and viruses, and fungi) are everywhere. They outnumber your kid a bajillion to one.  Common sense tells us that if your kid's bath toy is looking grungy or black furry stuff starts growing inside it, you toss it in the dishwasher or throw it away (when Precious Darling is otherwise distracted, if peace in the home is your preference).  Otherwise, rather than trying so hard to shelter the children by sanitizing and bubble-wrapping and forbidding them to play with bath toys... maybe we ought to lighten up a bit and focus on building healthy immune systems? 

The amazing thing about the immune system is that its automatic, its free, and works remarkably well.  The immune system is vigilant 24/7, even when Mom's back is turned.  It quietly does its job, destroying E. Coli and Staphylococcus and myriad other invaders on a daily basis, and we don't even hear about it or get a progress report from the battlefield.  We only get notified when the immune system is overwhelmed and needs to call in reinforcements.... a relatively rare occurrence, usually when it has been compromised by fatigue or poor nutrition.

Life is too short to be stressing about the bath toys and fearful about what lurks in the bathwater.  Hyper-vigilance is not only redundant, it is exhausting.  We need to relax a bit, enjoy our children, nurture and spend time with them, while placing just a little faith in the fact that we, and our children, are fearfully and wonderfully made.

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