Time Machines, Field Trips, and Another Anniversary

This week, my kids had a field trip with their homeschool group, Classical Conversations, to The Rock Ranch. It is just about their favorite place ever. It’s a working farm, with historical tours, reenactments, artifacts, and best of all- plenty of places for free play. They took advantage of a giant bubble in the ground- ok, I know I have phrased that completely incorrectly, but to me that’s what it looks like! They took their shoes off and bounced their heads off. Then, there was Tiny Town- a miniature version of an old west town complete with a jail, courthouse, church, school, and stores. That is the highlight of the trip! They chase each other around, and drag their friends to the jail. Oh- the laughter! I could have listen to it for hours.

rock sheet

 

 

On the way home, Aidan and Rose were talking about how this year compared with other years they had been- the weather, the food, the activities. It hit me that I have no memories of those adventures. None. I don’t even remember the days that they went. I don’t remember them coming home to tell me about it, nor the other experiences they shared with dear friends. While everyone else’s lives moved on, I was in a bubble for almost two years. My bedroom was the bubble most of the time, dark, and I was unable to talk or read or even listen most days. The sustained level of pain separated me from rational thought and conversation. I existed somewhere between reality and a dream world. I do remember it feeling endless- days turned into weeks, into months. One day exactly like the next with no progress for a very, very long time.

I told my children that I felt like I had just stepped out of a time machine. A little over two years ago, I stepped out of this reality, and I just emerged. I’ve been doing more and more with the kids, but this week I noticed the passage of time so much more than before. Here I am, driving the kids hours in the car for a full day of activity. I didn’t drive a car for over a year. It was almost as though the last couple of years were a dream. I went from 2016, to now. They have all of these memories that I am not a part of. I’m not bitter about that, rather I feel an immense gratitude that they were so loved and cared for. I get to wake up every day, like it’s Christmas morning. EVERY DAY. I get to drive! I get to eat! I get to walk around! Never gets old.

I’m by no means perfect- my health is an ongoing challenge. A couple of days ago, James and I had an emergency trip to see a neurologist for me. We used to have those nail-biting, jump in the car, desperate wild goose chase for answers, outings together all of the time. A lot of those long drives and longer appointments were dead ends. This one, however, was not. Another piece of the puzzle is being put back together. It’s amazing just how much can fall apart, like dominoes toppling one after the other. I’m playing catch-up, and most days I feel great about the progress but other days (like this week) I look at where I want to be and I get discouraged. When will I get there? There is no magic time machine to jump in, and fast forward. Getting to the destination sure would be nice, but this journey has made me endlessly grateful for each teeny, tiny blessing.

While my recovery was gradual- almost imperceptible for months, the major events that changed my life are pretty easy to identify. I passed another milestone this week- the two year anniversary of my surgery at Emory. It was on November 9th, a Wednesday morning right after the election. The nurse came in at 4:30am to wake me up and tell me that Donald Trump had won. I was so surprised I almost fell out of the bed. They wheeled me down to pre-op in the still-dark hours of dawn. I was blissfully unaware of how difficult the surgery would be, and I think my surgeon was as well. He estimated 1.5 hours, and it took 7. After waking up, there were some complications in the PACU, and I felt real, raw fear. I was free-wheeling (ok, literally because I had enough ketamine in me to kill a horse), and didn’t know where I would land. For the first time in my life, I considered the real possibility that everything would not be ok. The uncertainty was the worst part- moving forward after that with no clear path or guarantees. I know I’m not alone in that experience. While mine was health related, other people I know have faced total uncertainty with jobs, sick children, marriages crumbling, and finances changing. I think human beings have a natural tendency to seek control and structure of their own destinies. To be forced to let go of all control and realize it is a harsh lesson to learn. Control is, I’ve learned, all an illusion of course! Even when we think we are the navigators of all things in our lives, we really aren’t.

Two years ago, I woke up on November 9th and fully realized that I was not in control at all. The reality had been there all along, I just didn’t see it clearly. Now, I wake up every day and let life happen. Am I still a planner? By nature, yes. Do I cling to ideals, bitterly and relentlessly, not wanting to let go of “my” plans? Nope. Not any more. While I was in my “bubble” I changed, evolved and I’m still growing. A time machine would have saved me so much heartache, but then I wouldn’t see life through rose colored glasses like I do today. La vie en rose.

 

August 31- A Day to Celebrate Life

Today is the 2 year anniversary of my hernia surgery. I had been suffering from a right, femoral hernia for about two years and I kept thinking the pain would go away. The summer before my surgery, the pain got so bad that I had to use my grandmother’s old walkers to get around. I was READY to have the surgery. It was supposed to be no big deal, laparoscopic, the surgeon had done “hundreds of them.” Overall, my health was good, I was young, it was an uncomplicated procedure done by an experienced physician. I really didn’t think that much could go wrong. If anything, I figured a problem with anesthesia could be the only complication. As it happens, the anesthesia went very well. However, the moment I opened my eyes in the recovery room, I knew that something was wrong.

surgery Me, right before they wheeled me back 8-31-2016
Unfortunately, the searing, burning pain and the shocks of what felt like lightening through my core, are very much imprinted in my memory. I asked the nurse immediately to please call my doctor, something was WRONG. Hazily, I saw her make the phone call, shake her head, and hang up. She returned to my bedside and said that the doc wouldn’t be coming. I should take my Percocet and motrin and go home.

It’s a LONG ordeal to describe, so I’ll hit the highlights. I had urgent follow-up appointments, ct scans, drainage of a hematoma that they thought might be causing a problem (it wasn’t), in and out of the ER, admitted to the hospital multiple times, more procedures, work ups, etc. My surgeon said that my insurance wouldn’t cover anything in terms of a revision for at least 6 months. He couldn’t fix anything that went wrong, for half a year. He told me to go find my own pain specialist until the 6 month mark. That was it. I was curled in a ball, in the bed all day every day. Intermittent fever, couldn’t walk without crutches because of the pain, sit in a chair, go to the bathroom, or sleep. I knew I couldn’t make it 6 months.

Finally, I called the surgeon’s office and explained that something HAD to happen, he had to see me, DO something- I couldn’t live like that. They called me back and oh so benevolently, admitted me to the hospital- without decent orders for over the weekend. I lay in the bed, in a ball, shaking from pain. I had a fever. One young nurse cried and left the room- she wouldn’t take care of me any more because she couldn’t hold it together. An older male nurse came and stood by my side- I was in a haze, but at some point he stormed out saying “this just isn’t right!”. There was nothing that they could do to alleviate my pain- my physician was gone for the weekend and hadn’t left instructions for adequate care. They weren’t able to get an IV in, because I was so dehydrated from being denied water for so long. James was working, and I retreated into a bubble, mentally. I prayed over and over, nothing intelligible, just begging for mercy. Then, I heard voices- a song.

“Thank you for being a frieeeend!! Travel down the road and back again…”

Golden Girls

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Click the link to hear the song! You’re welcome.

My dear, wonderful friends from high school completely shocked me and all came to the hospital (one lived in New York, one in Miami, one in Atlanta) for a surprise visit. They were singing the theme song from the Golden Girls as they entered the room. My angels had arrived! They went to bat for me and very long story short-they got a wheelchair and busted me out of there like it was Alcatraz! One of them drove me to the hospital where James was on call and I was admitted there for the weekend, with the intention of getting a direct transfer to Emory on Monday. They took great care of me, and it took until Tuesday, but I made it up to Emory. I sat in a triage room for 13 hours. THIRTEEN. That’s not an exaggeration. My mom came up to meet me there, and I remember the immense relief we both felt when they finally got me to my room, at 4am.

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Me, in the wheelchair right after we got outside the hospital. I managed a real smile. Hard not to when surrounded by so much love. They were my answered prayer that day!

My prayers were answered when my dear, loyal friends came and helped me. I prayed that there would be no complications getting me admitted, and although it took FOREVER, I will never forget the feeling of relief when I fell asleep that first night. I was scared, but I felt like I was in the right place. Surely, they could fix me.

The rest of the story is to be continued… Sometimes, people have the privilege of hearing God answer their prayers in the moment and other times, it’s only evident what was happening in hindsight. Still in others, it doesn’t make sense at all on this side of Heaven. I can honestly say that all three have applied to me throughout this journey.

Today also happens to be the Feast of St. Aidan! August 31st was a day worth celebrating in our home, for the past decade. St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters, and my oldest son’s name means “fiery one.” It could not describe him more perfectly. St. Aidan was an Irish monk and missionary, who spread Christianity to all of northern England in the 7th century. He travelled without ceasing during his lifetime, spreading the Gospel to everyone from the upper classes, to children and slaves.

aidan  Recent pic of Aidan

We like to acknowledge and honor each one of the children’s saints- whether from their first name, middle, or birthday. It’s so sweet how each of them feels a kinship with these special souls throughout history, who loved our Lord. We tell stories about St. Rose of Lima, and St. Matthew the Apostle. Not gonna lie- St. Nicholas day might be everyone’s favorite because we do the traditional gifts, which include the all-important chocolate!!!

Earlier in the week, Aidan asked me what we were going to do for “our” special day. August 31 will always be significant to me. Best way I can think to describe it is, it’s a second birthday. The new “me” was born that day. My life changed, drastically, and I will never be the same. I’ve told friends and strangers alike that I feel like George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve been given a second chance to live my life- that seemed ordinary before, but now, everything is in Technicolor. EVERYTHING is brighter, sweeter, a privilege. I was driving to the grocery store with the kids in the car, and I had a migraine the other day. I thought “oh, I wish it would go away, I want to feel fine.” Then it hit me- I’m driving a car! Taking care of my own children with no help! Going to the grocery store to buy food to cook! I didn’t do ANY of those things for well over a year. Over. A. Year. I’m lucky enough to grocery shop with a migraine! All of a sudden, my mood lifted and I started to sing along with the radio with true joy.

 

friends 2
A picture of my high school friends in April 2018, Savannah girls!

My “bad” day was what I had only dreamed about a year ago. What a blessing a grocery trip can be. Cleaning up a spilled sippy cup isn’t a burden because my legs used to be so weak I couldn’t squat and then stand back up. I couldn’t hold my daughter in the bathtub, couldn’t rock her to sleep. Now, if she pops up at 2am, I relish the chance to hold her close and rock away. Yes, August 31 is a big day for us. My oldest son’s namesake, and my second birthday. It IS a wonderful life!

Hearts

Around here, we have decorated the house with heart streamers, artwork brought home from preschool, and homemade cards from the past couple of weeks.   This time last year, I was in a haze, bedridden, and barely functioning. This year, I am in a better place, but I am by no means “supermom.” There are no elaborate meal plans, homemade valentines for each classmate, rhyming hand-painted cards, etc. For Lent, I had the best of intentions. I wanted to make a Lenten calendar for the family, with cut out crosses or symbols for each day to mark our progress through this church season. I would have loved to have special Christian books for each child, to guide them in an age appropriate way. We have a tree, with ornaments that correspond to Bible verses, that lead up to Easter. It’s in the basement somewhere.

Comparison is the thief of joy, and unfortunately I let it steal my joy from time to time. It’s easy to look around at other families and think that they “do” more than I do. I can look back at my own life and compare where I am now, to where I was then. I had the energy to cook more, and buy the supplies for elaborate crafts for each season/holiday.  This year, I managed to get each child’s class some valentine’s from Oriental Trading Company. I got the sale items, and not the $8/child soft friends holding various flavors of chocolate! For Lent, I do not have anything special around the house- no calendar, special new books, or great plans to obtain either item.

This year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day a day early, on Shrove Tuesday. I wanted to start Lent on Ash Wednesday, and it wasn’t a stretch to tell the kids we were going to do something special a day early. They ended up eating pancakes for two meals that day! They got little trickets from James and me. The biggest hits were bracelets from The Mermaid Pillow Company. It wouldn’t be a holiday here without something from Star Wars! The three middle boys got little lightsabers, and Eli the Wildman got a Darth Vader hat.  As far as cards go, we save some money there and buy them in bulk. I got a 6-pack of identical generic cards, and James and I wrote each child a letter. Valentine’s Day for us, is a chance to celebrate as a family, have a little chocolate, talk about our love for each other and our heavenly father’s love for us.

 

I put more pressure on myself to make Lent an “event.” Gosh, I realize how stupid that sounds as I write it! What if I don’t teach the kids ENOUGH? What if they don’t grow up to appreciate the meaning of Lent, and it’s MY fault? Shouldn’t I have visual props around the house, intellectual reading material, and schedule of holy happenings for the next 6 weeks, that we can attend and check off of a list? Won’t that make me a better mother? I feel better than I did last year, so I should be DOING more to show everyone else what is inside my heart.

When I really dig deep, and look at these sentiments, I realize I haven’t learned as much as I should have this past year and a half! Did I not learn that a person’s worth isn’t defined by how much they accomplish in a day? As a wife and mother, my worth does not lie in what I make for dinner, what kind of Valentine’s I buy, or what I do/make/create for Lent for our home. It is so easy to get sucked back in to my old way of looking at the world and my life. It’s easy to compare myself with other people, who have never walked a mile, or even a few steps, in my shoes. Shoes that are more often than not, slippers, because I am home most of the time. I’m still not strong enough physically to run a lot of errands, go exploring the outdoors, or even drive a lot of carpools. Why am I so hard on myself? Why, before Lent even started, did I feel like I wasn’t doing it right?

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What did we do for Valentine’s Day? There wasn’t a fancy date for my husband and I, there were homemade pancakes. He made them for the whole family, while I laid on the couch, ice packs on my feet. We hugged and loved on the kids, turned off the tv (Olympics and news!) and played charades. We sat around the dinner table in the evening and talked about almsgiving, praying, and fasting. It wasn’t a memorable oration by any stretch. It was interrupted about 72 times by someone asking for water, a napkin, or more syrup. I hope, James and I got the point across, that Lent should be a time to open your heart to God. Open your heart and soul and let God in even more. What does that look like? I think it’s different for everyone. For small children, visual and tactile examples of sacrifice are helpful. We have two jars. Both start out empty. One, we put any money that we find, or they earn, inside. That is our “almsgiving” for the kids. The other, has a small basket full of beans next to it. For every extra good deed or sacrifice we make, we get to put a bean in the jar. I got that idea from another mom, here!

At the end of Lent, the unremarkable brown beans are switched for bright, colorful jelly beans on Easter morning! Our kids get to eat them- which might be the only part they actually remember? The point is supposed to be- your sacrifices, and kind deeds matter. We want to emulate Jesus, and on the day that he rose, they get to see the fruits of their labor turn in to something beautiful and edible!

beans

Valentine’s Day and Lent coincided this year. How fitting. Love. The most perfect example the world has ever known was Jesus, and that he gave his life for us. He gave His life, so that we would know just how loved we are by a heavenly father.  This Lent, my goal is to redirect my heart away from what I think I should be focusing on. I want to open my soul, my ears, and listen. That requires me to get out of the way, and let God do His work. It isn’t a 6-week diet, it isn’t a 6-week house purge and cleaning, although there’s nothing wrong with eating healthier and cleaning out clutter. God wants my soul and my heart. Much easier said than done. Clearly, the lessons he taught me were forgotten pretty quickly, when I started comparing myself to others and what I thought I should be doing.

My life is supposed to look like Amy- and no one else. In order to open up my heart more, one of my goals is to put away distractions- to recognize them for what they are, and put them away. I want to live in the moment more, be present. We started the season with attending church, all eight of us, and my parents met us at church. I brought a zero gravity chair, and sat in the back, because that’s the only way I can “sit” through a service.  Ashes and Holy Eucharist are an uplifting experience for the whole family. I vowed to listen more, notice. I am going to be reading more books, and I ordered a Lenten study guide from Blessed is She. I love Lent- I look forward to it every year. It’s the chance to start fresh, and punch the reset button! One other thing that helps me be present, is to give up shopping. We buy food, the essentials, but I do my best to stop shopping, completely, until Easter. It’s amazing how many little things I buy, that I think I “need”, but I could do without. What is essential to life? What am I filling my life with, that is because I saw someone else have it, I saw an ad for it, I thought it looked interesting? Yesterday, I thought, oh, I want to buy Aidan something that he doesn’t have, that other children have. It isn’t expensive. I paused and realized what I was doing. The need to consume, buy, fill our lives with clutter. Deep breath! I stopped myself. It’s harder than I think! Every year:)

I am so blessed. That doesn’t mean lucky, it doesn’t mean my life is easy. Even the difficult, painful days are a blessing. Why? I can think of a few reasons. Pain makes me hold still. Reflect. Stop trying to accomplish physical tasks, release my idea of a perfect house/homeschool/wardrobe/menu plan, etc. The difficult days make me clear my mind and just focus on being in the present moment. I pray more! I think of others, and their needs and I pray for them. See? See how a “bad” day can be used as a blessing? I repeat, that does not equal pleasant or necessarily enjoyable! A blessing is something that someone needs, that they might not even realize! But God does.

So, it’s time for me to get out of the way, clear my mind, and my heart, and let God do the work. He’s so much better at it than I am anyway.

My Idea of a “Good Time”

Last Monday, January 15th, we traveled as a family to Nashville, TN so that I could see a pelvic pain specialist. I have never taken a trip to see a doctor, with the kids before. I have traveled many, many times with my husband or one of my parents. I can’t drive myself, so they would drive me and I would recline the seat all the way back and lie flat as we drove hours and hours, in hopes of finding someone who could help me. I don’t pack light! I have a cooler with ice packs, bag of medicine, multiple pillows, and lots of warm clothes, because I am cold all of the time now. It’s stressful- leaving my comfort zone, traveling in pain, wondering if I will have a flare, be able to sleep, etc. I always get nervous ahead of time. I have left the kids so many times- I think I’ve been gone at least 4 months, out of the past 16 months. I miss them so much, and despite the stress of going places with them, James and I decided that this time, it was worth it to go together. That was huge for me. I felt strong enough to bring them along!

James had vacation this week, and the kids had Martin Luther King Jr. Day off from school. As it turns out, they had the whole week off, because of some snowflakes in Georgia, AGAIN! Yes, that marks twice in the same winter that we have gotten snow in GA. Woohoo! If you haven’t seen the Holderness family video about Southern families in the snow, you should! I’m not sure about copyrights and if I’m allowed to post it here? Please, google that one! Every word is true:) We told the kids that they were going to go to Tennessee, and stay at an airbnb place. Well, you would have thought that we were taking them to Paris or something. EVERYONE they saw heard “GUESS WHAT?!! We are going to TENNESSEE!!!!” It was the most exotic, fantastic place they had ever heard of! Haha. What made it so special, is that they had always been left behind when I went on another quest for medical care. To be included! Oh, boy was it a big deal! Team Whitaker was together and it was going to be an adventure, wherever we went!

I went to see Dr. Barry Jarnigan in Franklin, TN. We are acquainted with with him and his work, having spoken to him and seen him in person before. He offers amniotic allograft injections, which are sort of like stem cell injections. The ones he performs are made from donated amniotic fluid from full term pregnancies. A mother, somewhere, donated part of her body that nourished her baby for nine months. Some brilliant scientist figured out how to use this life-giving substance, and create a new substance that could enable nerves to regenerate faster and more completely. I did not feel comfortable receiving stem cells from embryos. That was offered to me, and I declined. It was touted as a “miracle” cure, and for people in pain, they will usually grasp as straws to find anything to alleviate their suffering. For me, having a clear conscience was more important. The amniotic allograft injections were an answered prayer. They take 6-8 weeks to work, and I received my first round last May. I am not cured, but they helped enough that I was able to discontinue several medications.

Our family was SO excited to be together, going on this adventure! I got nervous before we left, but I swallowed my nerves and pushed on. On the way up there, we stopped at a Shoney’s with a full buffet, and believe it or not, it was their first time at a big buffet. Oh my word. We may have broken some kind of record for trips up there. Everyone had to have at least 3 servings of jello. Yes, of all of the 97 differend kinds of food, the green jello was the most enticing. When we arrived, the house had an xbox360- which proved to be more entertaining than all of the Magic Kingdom. Wow. My kids don’t get to play video games so it was a real treat! We had tournaments and the laughter was constant! I have never played xbox before (no desire whatsoever), but my 4 year old wouldn’t play in front of his big brothers. I offered to be on his “team” so we held the controller together. In a shocking upset, we WON! His oldest brother, who happens to be the most competitive person on the planet, was flabbergasted! I was too! Nick, my 4 year old, could not have been prouder of an Olympic medal. He beat his brother! He talked about it for days.

It snowed a good bit, and with the windchill, it was -10 at the beginning of the week! My procedure had a small hiccup at the end, which required that I stay an extra couple of hours in recovery. My husband kept 5 kids in a surgery center waiting room for almost 6 hours! If that doesn’t qualify him for some kind of medal, I don’t know what does. James is my hero. He does so much for me, for everyone, and he does it with enthusiasm and joy (99% of the time!). He is so strong, that I have to remind myself not to lean too hard on him- he’s just human, and the amount of work and stress on his shoulders is enough to make anyone break at some point. He has been our rock in this crazy storm!

I was more sore than I anticipated during the recovery, but I was still so blessed to have the kiddos there. They laughed and had fierce competitions on xbox, ate an unreal amount of snacks and comfort food during the bitter cold winter storm, read books, laid beside me and cuddled, and generally made the pain more bearable, not more stressful. James took all of them to Biscuit Love and the Science Adventure Center on Wednesday, since we got stuck an extra day. No one in Georgia knows how to salt the roads, so there was no way for us to get home:) 8 hours later, after a calorie and science extravaganza, they arrived hom to tell me all about their adventure!

Y’all, I honestly had a good time! We were together again, and it felt so good to be a family. Tennessee meant SO much to them, it was exotic and they got to be included in mommy’s treatment trip. My mom kept my youngest, Lana, who hates cars with a passion. She would scream so hard as a newborn, that she would throw up in the carseat after a 10 minute ride. She just doesn’t do car trips yet! It was a gift, and a blessing, that we were able to be together, that the procedure went smoothly (for the most part), and that I was able to recover while James kept the wild ones occupied! Perspective. God has answered prayers in different ways than I expected and hoped, but he did it in His perfect way. Somehow, along the way when I didn’t notice, I got braver. It wasn’t a big, warm fuzzy whoosh of strength. Subtly, over time, the constant fear diminished. It creeps up from time to time, but I am able to push it back down. I trust that God is working this for good- my outlook is proof! I think going to Nashville to see a doctor, as a family, is a pretty good time!

Here are some pictures from our epic trip- my first one in two years with my children!

shoneys

Shoney’s!

IMG_1980   We tried to go to a cool, family friendly restaurant, but the wait was too long and the line was outside. So… we ended up in a bar! Eating pancakes:) On the bright side, it was really loud in there, so we blended right in.

IMG_1990 (1) Post op, feeling crummy, and guilty about James being in the waiting room for the whole day.

Recovery! I had wonderful company.