Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grandpas Kyrie

From 2010-10-09

My Cute Butterfly

 
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When It Finally Pays to Live in An Apartment

 

Trick-or-Treating in the City, one of the few times life is way easier than when you live in the country. We spent 1 hour walking in a single batch of townhouses and came home with all of this loot!
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Halloween Costumes

 

This year the NICU experience was so hard, that I coped out of making All Saints Day costumes for the kids and bought regular Halloween costumes from Old Navy. That's a measure of how exhausted I was, because I LOVE making up Saints costumes.

The article by the English Catholic Bishops really encouraged me to do better. Hannah happily exchanged "Super Girl" to become "Saint Queen Mathilda" and Mimi moved from generic princess to St. Elizabeth of Hungry. Initally, Alex was going to trade "Batman" for a real superhero, St. Micheal. Five minutes before trick-or-treat time, he changed his mind. I decided not to fight him. I was so excited that he voluntarily carved Jesus on his pumpkin ("Complete with the blood and water coming out of his side, Mom!") that I caved on the Batman request.
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Little Tess stayed a butterfly because that's sort of Eastery right?

Finished Result

 
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Order of Business for the Day

 

Pumpkin Carving! (Thanks to the great suggestions of the English Bishops our pumpkins will all be smiling this year!)
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Friday, October 29, 2010

Dr. Emily

 

Dr. Emily, the resident who first gave us hope for a easily healed bunny, holding a completely healed Baby Tess the day after her heart surgery.
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He Says He Can Fix It

On Thursday, September 23, 2010, I woke up at 6 AM to a startling conversation over the phone with my husband Jon. (My husband was spending the night with our almost completely healed newborn in a local hospital room. I was spending the night at our house with our three older children.)

At 3 AM, my husband woke up to a frightening situation. An 18 inch piece of plastic tubing, called a PICC line, broke off of a special type of IV in our daughter's foot. In a normal situation, a broken PICC line would easily slide out of the body. In my newborn daughter's case the broken PICC line got immediately sucked up through her leg vein and through all four chambers of her heart.

A newborn's heart is the size of a walnut. In Tessy's x-ray that morning, the PICC line looked like a giant tangle of yarn looped through every crevice of her heart.

This type of complication is beyond rare. The doctors at our community hospital had never seen it before. My brave husband stood by my daughter's bedside for four hours hearing more and more frightened doctors tell him "I don't know what to tell you. I've never heard of this happening before."

That's not reassuring information to hear when a foreign object is now lodged inside your newborn daughter's heart.

My daughter got transferred back to Children's Hospital.

When I called Tess' NICU resident at Children's Hospital, she seemed uncharistically vague and unsure. "We know the PICC line is in her heart. We're going to wait until we take another x-ray and then assess the options for treatment."

"What are the options?" I asked.

"I don't know yet. I've never heard of this happening before, it's very rare. We'll wait and see how the surgeons recommend removing the PICC line from her heart."

At 6:30 AM on a Thursday morning, I became convinced that my newborn baby would need emergency open heart surgery.

I made the long trek down to Children's Hospital alone on the Metro. I held a rosary in one hand (my link to my Blessed Mother) and my cellphone in the other (my link to my husband.)

When I got to the NICU, I met my husband who had come down hours earlier in the same ambulance as our baby. Our baby looked fine. Her heart rhythms were completely normal. She was squalling for food. Since no one knew what was going to happen to Tess that day, she was denied food in case she needed emergency surgery. (The poor dear ended up going 15 HOURS without food- my baby's first Fast).

My husband was trying to shush the baby in her crib while holding one of her leg's still.

"Can't we pick her up?" I asked.

"I hadn't thought to ask," my husband said. "She's so hungry. She's been crying for hours."

"I'm picking my baby up!" I announced loudly to her nurse. I had the baby up and in my arms. I rocked her slowly. Tess was disappointed the Mom wasn't providing any food either, but quickly fell asleep. I place the baby back into her crib. I suggested that my husband and I go take a walk to regroup.

The NICU in Children's Hospital is totally gorgeous. Its brand-new, completely expensive looking with dynamic views of downtown Washington D.C. through large plate-glass windows.

I stood in the "quiet room" which overlooks the Washington Monument and asked my husband dozens of questions about our baby.

Then young Doctor Emily came into the room. "I can't believe you guys are back here!" she said.

"There's a PICC line in Baby Tess' heart" I said.

Doctor Emily's wide open eyes met mine and seemed to say said "YEAH and it's 18 inches LONG!" But Dr. Emily's measured professional voice said "They say they can fix it."

"What?" I said.

"We don't know what to do in the NICU, but one of the Heart Cath Lab guys said this happens all the time and he can fix it easily," Doctor Emily answered.

For the first time all morning, Jon and I felt some relief.

Over and over again, throughout the day--more and more doctors came to examine our little Tess. Each one said "I don't know what to do, but the Heart Cath guy says he can fix it 'no problem.'"

We eventually met Mr. Fix-It Guy, Dr. Kanter.

Dr. Kanter tells us that he can have the foreign object out of our bunny's heart, quickly, "without a problem."

As we left the hospital the night before my Bunny's surgery, I told my husband that I wanted to spend the night at Dr. Kanter's house. "I believe he can fix our girl," I told Jon. "I just want to sleep over at his house tonight so that every time I get scared in the middle of the night I can hear him reassure me that 'he can fix it, no problem."

I spent the night in my own bed, of course, and woke up scared at 4 AM. I got out of bed and started to pray.

It was so strange to have a heart operation that was so clearly, hands up or hands down. Either Dr. Kanter could easily fish out a PICC line from my bunny's heart, or not.

It hit me in the middle of bunny's operation that her PICC line in the heart episode was the perfect example in real life of the grace of the Confessional. We have hearts that are made to love God. Yet through sin all kinds of "foreign objects" get sucked into our hearts and stop them from working properly. Sin can lead to all sorts of disaster. But there is one guy, Jesus, who says "He can fix it." I don't know how the mystery of the sacrament of Confession works, I only know that it works.

Bunny's PICC line got fixed easily in an operation that lasted under an hour. Dr. Kanter took a tiny lasso and went up through a vein in her leg. She left the lab with an incision so small it was covered up with a band aid. "It was a good thing it was so big," Dr. Kanter told us. "A big piece is much easier to remove from the heart."

When Dr. Kanter showed me the giant PICC line piece, I almost fainted! (We've got it curled up now in memory box at home.)

Dr. Kanter was right. He said he could fix it, and he did.

It makes me hope that I can worry less about the effects of sin on the world and instead point more people calmly to the Confessional Box. Just like Dr. Emily told us about Dr. Kanter, "He says he can fix it," that calm belief applies to Jesus the great physician as well.

When we leave the Confessional, and our penance seems so small. A few Hail Marys. A few Our Fathers. It's hard to believe that such tiny acts of penance can really heal a sin-stained heart. That remaining acts of penance after a standard Confession is as small as the single band aid that was left on my baby's leg.

Make no mistake, however, the miracle of "spiritual" heart surgery happens in a the Confessional in your local parish church is even more dramatic than the life-saving heart procedure my baby experienced at Children's Hospital.

The MovieGoer: Blindsight



This documentary traces how the first blind man who summited Mount Everest (an American) helps six blind Tibetan teenagers climb a nearby peak. The Tibetan culture looks on these blinds kids as total outcasts. It shocking to see how terribly they are treated and beautifully rewarding to see how these kids find hope in their friendships with each other.

When I was in college, the "Free Tibet" movement was huge. This movie shocked me with the ugly side of Buddhism: hatred of the disabled. Under the theory of reincarnation, if you're blind then you must have been a giant sinner in a previous lifetime.

It was totally chilling to hear a blind teenage from Tibet calmly explain "I must have done something really bad in my past life to merit becoming blind in this life, but I don't think I killed anyone. Killing someone would be a heinous crime and for that I would have been born again as a non-human."

We live in a pluralistic American society where Buddhism is hip and Catholicism is not. I listened to that Tibetan boy's statement in utter shock. It does matter what faith we teach our children! Non-truths spread in the name of religion are not harmless. Can you imagine my poor daughter Tess as a teenager saying "Man, I wish I hadn't sinned so much in an earlier life to merit getting a birth defect in this one!"

This week my Archdiocese celebrated "White Mass" the Mass for people with special needs. I'm reminded again and again that Christ had a special love for the disabled. Treating the suffering with compassion and seeing them as equal brothers in Christ is a unique marker of the Christian heart.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Losing My Last Five Minutes of Me Time

When Tess was in the NICU, I lost my last five minutes of selfish "Me" time.

The NICU is an intense, emotionally draining drama that is 24/7. Quitting time doesn't come at 6 PM. There is no let down during weekends. You can't say to your sick newborn, "Honey, could you please keep your oxygen saturation levels up over 98% tonight because I'd really like to enjoy a relaxing night out with your Dad?"

The paradox was that I actually took the best self-care after post-childbirth with Tess, than I had with any other baby. I left Tessy's hospital room to eat regular meals at the hospital cafeteria. I showered every morning. I slept in my own bed almost every night in long stretches of uninterrupted sleep.

The difference was that all of these "self-care" items were entirely unselfish. I ate meals, so that I had fuel to keep a vigil by my sick daughter's bedside. I slept in a real bed, so that I kept up my milk supply to fed her after her abdominal surgery. I showered faithfully to prevent my c-section incision from becoming infected, so that I wouldn't lose days of seeing my precious little girl.

This mindset was a dramatic switch from my usual post-partum whine that my husband "OWED" me on Saturdays some serious "me"- time alone for a hot shower, time alone to read Tolstoy, time alone to eat my favorite Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Bars, since my life as the Mother of a newborn was so incredibly hard.

My life as the mother of a newborn in the NICU was incredibly hard, but I lost the selfish belief that my husband "owed" me anything in compensation for my daily struggle. Our daughter Tess was his sick baby, too.

Years ago, I remember hearing a beloved parish priest describe his conversion story. He joined the Josephite Order of Preachers and had to give away all his worldly goods. Father Grant said all he had left when he reached the seminary was $5.00 in change in a 7-11 cup inside his car. "It was so HARD to give up that last $5.00," he said.

I listened to that statement in total confusion. What's big deal about giving up $5.00? It's seminary. It's the priesthood. What's a couple of quarters compared to the glory of Holy Orders?

Sitting on my couch, holding my completely healed baby Tess, I finally got it. I'm not hoarding change in my life, but I am hoarding time. I made the big shift when I became a full time stay-at-home mother five years ago. I handed over most of my life to God's will for me.

But I'm still holding tightly onto selfish "me" time around the edges of my days.

My insistence that I've "earned" those last 5 minutes of "me" each day is making my miserable. If my husband doesn't get the kids down on time and I lose my happy Date Night time, I'm miserable. If I don't get to "catch up" on the chores I think are "must dos", then I'm miserable.

There is a paradox that I learned during the NICU. If I give every single moment away to God- to God's will for my day--then I receive time and energy and money and good cheer back in spades.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HomeSchooling Through a Family Crisis

 
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My kids learning Chemistry with Daddy with the "Dangerous Things for Boys Chemistry Set" that Alex received for his 6th Birthday.

My baby girl, Tess got super sick the first week back for public school kids around here. I had some shocked comments from neighbors that I was continuing to home-school my older kids after Tessy's illness. I wasn't thinking clearly in social situations during Tessy's time in the NICU--so I missed coming up with some snappy comebacks. (Such unintended meekness on my part was probably for the best!) Still, I wanted to share how amazing homeschooling worked for a family coping with a severe medical crisis.

First, with a newborn in the NICU, childcare was an immediate crisis. I was so thankful that I didn't have to coordinate multiple school drop off and picks up with three older children. Who ever was free for the day, could easily pick up all of my kids at one time and keep them together for the whole day. Eventually, my older kids ended up spending over 10 days with their grandparents in another state. This would have been impossible if they were in a traditional school setting.

Second, I think it was really important NOT to make my older kids sit still at a desk and do traditional learning tasks while their little sister was had a severe medical crisis. Before Tess, I would have followed conventional wisdom that said older kids need "structure" during a crisis. Going through it, however, I can't imagine asking my kids to sit in a new school classroom on concentrate on difficult material. This wasn't a time to stress phonics or multiplication tables. Instead, my kids needed to look forward to going to the Smithsonian with their beloved Aunt Emily.

Third, hanging out with relatives was a win/win situation for everyone. My parents and my siblings were freaked out by Tessy's medical condition. They weren't the type to sit still in a hospital waiting room praying the rosary during Tessy's multiple surgeries when her outcome was so uncertain. Caring for my older kids allowed my family to do something intensely practical to help me during a very scary time.

Fourth, my kids LEARNED stuff this Fall. I didn't expect that. I worked my older kids hard this summer because I thought we'd simply take off for a long "new baby break" this September. That's why I had absolutely zero guilt about my kids "missing school" during Tessy's time in the NICU.

Yet instead, my kids learned so much stuff during Tessy's NICU stay. The National Air and Space Museum is near Tessy's hospital room, so the kids took in multiple viewings of the planetarium. We now talk about "super novas" and "wormholes" at my house. Their grandparents took them spelunking. Aunt Emily taught them Geography and French. Of course, thanks to Baby Tess, everyone now has advance knowledge of the digestive and circulatory systems!

Now that Baby Tess is home, we're back to our more familiar routine of Reading, Writing and Chemistry. (We're science geeks in the Benjamin house!) I'm so grateful for the flexibility and family solidarity that homeschooling lent us during Tessy's NICU crisis.

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Life with the Sisters



This is Sister Andrea, a Dominican Sister who worked at my last parish. I can't stress how little I actually know this holy Spouse of Christ. Sister Andrea worked with the Spanish speaking families of my parish. She offered crisis assistance to immigrant families. I only chatted with Sister Andrea a few times outside of Hannah's CCD classroom in 2007.

Back then, I thought Nuns were regular people. I'd chat with them in line at a parish event and then I forget about our meeting within a few days. I didn't realize that Sisters have a very special thing called "spiritual motherhood" which means that once you meet a Nun, she pretty much has you on her prayer list for the rest of her life. Since a Nun is MARRIED to Jesus, her interest in your spiritual welfares means that you'll run into each other AGAIN and AGAIN in completely crazy "coincidences."

That's been the case with Sister Andrea.

I switched churches 2 1/2 years ago and haven't seen Sister Andrea in a long time.

One night this past September, I staggered onto the elevator at Children's Hospital feeling overwhelmed and depressed. My Tessy was not doing well for the second straight week after her abdominal surgery. My older kids were home, so I couldn't stay late at the NICU. I left my newborn alone in her hospital room and walked into the elevator at 7 PM with the rest of my family. My heart ached with pain.

"God, I don't know how much longer I can do this" I prayed.

I walked out of the elevator and guess who had parked her car three feet from me?

Sister Andrea!

Sister Andrea came over and started to hug Hannah. "You have such a beautiful family!" she said.

I started to cry, "Oh Sister, you don't even know the half of it. I've got a newborn daughter who is upstairs in the NICU. She's beautiful, but so sick. She's been here for two weeks and I can't get her out."

Sister Andrea kept her face completely calm and serene. It was so calm, I didn't even know if she heard me. "It's okay," she told me. "We'll pray. We'll get your baby home."

On Sunday after attending the special Mass for Sister Peace, guess who I ran into with a completely healed Tess in my arms? Sister Andrea! Sister's companion came over to me and started to coo over my pretty baby Tess. Sister Andrea called over her shoulder, "You remember Sister, that was the sick baby who was in the hospital. The one we prayed for?"

It felt overwhelming to remember the grief I felt in that hospital parking lot. Yet here I was, a few short weeks later and a few blocks away from that same parking lot. During this meeting with Sister Andrea, however, I had a completely healed daughter in my arms. I started crying happy tears this time.

Those amazing Sisters, they touch my heart every time.

This Pricked My Conscience Today

"At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how successfully we have spoken or preached, but how well we have labored." (Cf. The Imitation of Christ, Bk.1, Ch.3)

To bad we don't get judged on well-written blog posts, right dear readers? I'd much rather write a thrilling Catholic post at 3 AM than labor to feed a hungry newborn.

ht: St. Peter of Alcantara who advised that one of the enemies of a life of prayer is "the temptation which consists in an immoderate desire to study and to know" (pg 140 of his Treatise of Prayer and Meditation. St. Peter of Alcantara was the spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

City Kids: Life on the Subway



Sister Peace Part 2


Sister Mary, Our Lady of Peace making her three year temporary vows


Greeting each other after over a year apart outside of Mass (Sister Peace spent a year studying in Rome. Now she's working in at a mission house in Brooklyn, NY).



Fun at the Party

Oh Happy Day!

Today, we watched our beloved Sister Peace make her three year temporary vow of celibacy, poverty and obedience. Her Mass happened in the Crypt Church of the National Basilica, the same place that Pope Benedict sang Mass with all the American bishops in 2008. It felt amazing to be swaying in the back with Little Baby Tess happily inside her baby carrier.

Hope I can post some pictures soon!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

How to Celebrate Halloween As a Catholic

The Bishops of England and Wales have great advice for us Americans on how to celebrate Halloween as a Catholic.

ht: The Anchoress

One Month Out of the NICU

This is the first day that life finally feels normal again. There is a normal mess on the floor, there is food in the fridge, and the laundry is relatively caught up.

I even made gingerbread from scratch on Thursday morning and nearly cried with happiness. Between late pregnancy pains, child birth, and the NICU, I haven't baked anything in my kitchen "just for fun" in over five months!

Jon took Friday off of work. It was wonderful. Everyone stayed in their pj's until 2:00 PM. Then Jon rode his bike to the DMV to get his driver's license replaced.

(My husband and my sister both lost their drivers licenses at the NICU. You have to drop off your license to the Security Guard to get into Children's Hospital and it's easy under great stress to forget to ask the guard to return your license to you.)

Today we're going trick-or-treating at the shopping mall across our street. Then my sister is taking the older kids out to pick pumpkins at a local farm.

On Sunday, we are watching Hannah's dear friend, Sister Peace, make her last temporary vow at the Basilica.

I'd thought we'd make a corporal work of mercy to visit the sick at nearby Children's Hospital, but baby Joey is already HOME! The little guy looked so great that his doctors sent him home less than a week after major open heart surgery. God is good!

Post- NICU Breastfeeding Success

Baby Tess turned a corner and started breastfeeding normally. We're now at about 80% on the breast and 20% with formula. Who ever suggested the "nipple shield", thank you! The lactation consultant from Children's Hospital had mentioned that tip "as a last resort." Once I realized that it only cost $7, I ordered that sent to me via express mail from Target. That really helped us. I nicknamed it my "easy latch" system.

I didn't find any breastfeeding help posts which mentioned the problem Baby Tess had developed in the NICU- so I'll spell it out here. I had a kid who was breastfeeding normally at home, until she got sick. Each time I got her back on the breast, there would be a medical emergency which kept her from eating normally for a few days to a few weeks.

The last hospitalization really set my Tess over the edge. I had a "eating normally" kid, who suddenly was forced to fast for 15 HOURS. (During Tessy's heart problem episode no doctors wanted to okay bottle feeding until they were sure Baby Tess won't need emergency heart surgery for arrhythmia. God Bless Doctor K who finally said, "give that baby some food, her heartbeat rhythm is fine).

When I got my Baby home, breastfeeding was awful. My kid would wake herself up from a deep sleep- screaming for food. She wasn't interested in the breast. My baby wanted her food NOW --breastmilk from a bottle.

I didn't realize at the time how stressed out my kid was after her NICU stay. In the NICU, you feed on a regular schedule. The nurse doesn't look at you carefully each time you stick out your adorable little tongue and see if you "might" be extra hungry. Because my kid was one of the healthier babies in the NICU, she basically got ignored towards the end. We understand why a healthy Baby Tess got overlooked by her NICU nurse sometimes for the desperately ill baby next door. The downside, however, is that Baby Tess come home thinking that the only way she could summon food was to scream loudly for it.

I also hadn't realized how extremely stressed out I was after the NICU experience. Breastfeeding suddenly had an extra emotional take to it. My "failure" to reintroduce breastfeeding seemed like one more way that Baby Tess had her happy babymoon taken from her due to illness.

What really helped me was to break a bunch of La Leche rules. We ran out of "extra" frozen breastmilk within the first few days at home. For a week, I pumped before each and every feeding and fed Tess fresh breast milk I hated it. Pumping milk with a baby screaming for food was miserable. I introduced formula to Baby Tess to supplement the pure breastmilk bottle feedings. I still pumped as much as I could. Having my husband feed Tess a few bottles of formula a day, however, really took the edge of my pumping stress.

Mentally, I had to cross the line that we might not get breastfeeding back and that was okay. I stopped defining our lack of breastfeeding as a post-NICU failure. Instead, I reframed it as a "success." It was success that I could pump for a full month while my baby girl couldn't eat in the NICU. It was a success that my baby had breastmilk to eat after her abdominal surgery.

I started taking our breastfeeding journey one day at a time. "Today I fed Tess X number of breastmilk bottles." Each extra day of breastfeeding was a big success.

Sometime between week 2 and week 3 post-NICU, Baby Tess started feeling relaxed enough to breastfeed from the source instead of the bottle. My little "easy latch" system helped her immensely. If she could eat immediately, instead of fumble for a good latch, she was much happier.

I followed my lactation consultants recommendation to let a big 1 month old girl feed like a little newborn. Baby Tess got to eat solely from her favorite side. I tolerated really bad latches without making her "redo" them. Suddenly, my kid just 'got it.' She now prefers to eat the normal way, without the nipple shield.

Thank you for your prayers! My new slogan for breastfeeding and life in general is "Pure patience alone will get you 80% towards your goal."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"What She Said. . ."

Someone asked me recently "what is the Prayer of the Quiet?"

I just found a super, clear answer from St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (aka Edith Stein)

"Prayer is the communion of the soul with God. God is love, and love is goodness giving itself away. It is a fullness of being that does not want to remain enclosed in itself, but rather to share itself with others, to give itself to them, and to make them happy. All creation exists thanks to this divine love spending itself. However, the highest of all creatures are those endowed with spirit, able to receive God's love with understanding and to return it freely; angels and human souls. Prayer is the highest achievement of which the human spirit is capable. But it is not merely a human achievement. Prayer is a Jacob's ladder on which the human spirit ascends to God and God's grace descends to people. The stages of prayer are distinguished according to the measure in which the natural efforts of the soul and God's grace participate. When the soul is no longer active by virtue of its own efforts, but is simply a receptacle for grace, one speaks of a mystical life of prayer.

So-called vocal prayer is designated as the lowest stage, prayer remains within specifically designated spoken forms: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the rosary, the Divine Office. . .

Meditative Prayer is one stage higher. Here the spirit moves freely without being bound to specific words. It immerses itself, in the mystery of the birth of Jesus. The spirit's imagination transport it to the grotto in Bethlehem, seeing the child in the manger, the holy parents, the shepherds and the kings. The intellect ponders teh greatness of divine mercy, and the emotions are seized by love and thankfulness, the will decides to make itself more worthy of divine love. This is how mediative prayer involves all the soul's power and, when practiced with faithful persistence, can gradually remake the whole person. However, the Lord has yet another way of rewarding fidelity in meditation; by elevation to a higher manner of praying.

St. Teresa calls the next stage the prayer of quiet or simplicity. Various activities are replace by a recollection of spiritual energies. The soul is no longer in a position to reflect intellectually or make definite decisions; she is completely engaged by something she cannon avoid, the presence of God who is close to her and allows her to rest in him. While the lower prayer stages are accessible to every believer by human effort, albeit aided by the grace of God, we are now standing at the border of the mystical life of grace that cannot be entered by virtue of human energy, for here only God's special favor grants admission."

Love for Love: The Life and Works of St. Teresa of Avila by St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Part 1, Carmel Clarion April-June 2010 pg 10-11.

In a simple summary, in prayer of the quiet we "recollect ourselves" -we try to keep our mind still and silent- and then we let God do the rest.

How to be a Carmelite Prayer Warrior with Very Small Children

The short answer to this often asked question is . . .

I don't know.

I'm still working on it.

Right now I'm technically an "aspirant" to Carmel. (The formation process to become a Secular Carmelite is 6 years. My husband and I are currently at year 2 1/2). My Carmel prayer life is pretty much an "aspiration" rather than an establish pattern of daily life. I feel like I just get into my Carmel groove when events in my life conspire to kick me off my prayer routine. My job is then to scramble to get my prayer life back in order.

Life with a non-sleeping newborn totally qualifies as a time when I'm off my Carmel groove.

The daily prayer goal of a Secular Carmelite is (1) a half an hour of Prayer of the Quiet, (2) saying both Morning and Evening Prayers from the Daily Office, and (3) attending Daily Mass "when possible."

When I first started Carmel, my family attended Mass together at 6:30 AM every morning. It was me, my husband and 3 kids under the age of 4. It was pretty awesome. We totally stood out among the quiet group of adult commuters.

Other Catholic Moms told me I was completely nuts to attend a 6:30 AM Mass. I told them "Have you seen my son misbehave in church? Do you think I'm crazy for insisting that he sit on his father's lap each and every time I appear in front of the Blessed Sacrament? I'd be nuts for appearing at 12 PM Mass alone with my 3 active, and rather disobedient children. Give me both Jesus and my husband at an uncivilized time in the early morning any day!"

Then life changed. We lost our car and started taking the bus to another church that had Daily Mass at 7 AM. I got pregnant with Baby Tess. We gradually changed from a family that went every day to Mass to a family that went 1-2 times a week to Daily Mass. My daughter got her first Communion in the Spring. We parents took turns taking her alone to Mass. Then we found a candy store near church that was only open on weekdays. The candy store was a great bribe to get my 5 year old son to start willingly attend Daily Mass again.

Then I hit the hard last stage of pregnancy. I couldn't sleep at all during the night due to chronic rib pain. My husband couldn't sleep with his dear wife in such pain. With the exception of some NICU church days in September, we went from regular Daily Mass attendees to people that completely choose sleep over church every non-Sunday for the past 3 months.

When will I get my family back on a regular Daily Mass schedule? I don't know! It's not happening this week.

About the same thing happened to our daily Prayer of the Quiet time. I love this prayer time. It's the best! I'm a total night owl. Yet I took 3 months to completely retrain my sleep-wake cycle in order to get up and pray with my husband every morning at 5:30 AM. I'd pray silently next to my husband for 30 minutes and then say Morning Prayer out loud at 6 AM, before my little one woke up.

That schedule worked great. I kept it up all through my pregnancy and my baby's NICU stay. Then I got my baby home. Suddenly, I'm responsible for all those night-feedings. I have not gotten my eyes opened any time before 7:20 AM for the past 3 weeks. My prayer of the quiet is now a quick 5 minutes before my 3 year old bangs down my bedroom door demanding her breakfast cereal.

The only part of the Daily Office that is happening right now is "Evening Prayer" which happens at 8:30 PM when my husband comes stumbling out of the older kids bedroom after "bedtime."

Prayer life with very small children is a work in progress. The nice part of having all of these cute external distractions (i.e. my kids), is that the few minutes I get to spend listening to Jesus is so precious!*

*(Carmelite Saint Brother Lawrence felt no difference between praying directly to God alone in his cell and doing his work as cook in a busy monastery kitchen. I'm not there yet. Currently, my play dough filled kitchen with a newborn baby wailing for more breastmilk, feels very different from my quiet, early morning prayer time before a smiling picture of the Blessed Virgin. Yet having "my work be my prayer" is a distant goal for me.)

Waiting for Tess

 
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Up until age 32, I thought I belonged to the "super-fertile" club. I had 4 pregnancies in 4 years. I felt pretty cocky about the whole baby-making process. Quick conceptions, beautiful, healthy babies and easy c-section recoveries. I wasn't so confident about my mothering abilities once my little ones emerged from the womb, but the reproductive aspect of mothering seemed like it was "in the bag."

Then came a long and fearful drought.

For 2 and 1/2 years, I didn't have another baby.

For a long time, my monthly period coincided with my church's Women of Prayer meetings. Every third Saturday, I would wake up and find blood in my drawers. I would start to cry. From Mass at 9 AM to 1 PM, I would try not to cry in public. I'd listen to prayers and uplifting conversation meanwhile my insides were dying.

I asked everyone I knew to pray for me to have another child, yet I didn't talk much about this sudden, unexplained infertility. It hurt to much. And honestly, I felt pretty stupid. I had three beautiful young kids and a miscarriage I'd made peace with.

But this loss of being the "easily pregnant one" hurt. I got older- 33, 34, 35. I never knew if I'd ever have another baby. I felt like I finally fallen in love with motherhood only to have the dance suddenly stop without a warning or my consent.

At age 34, I went on my first overnight retreat since I became a Catholic. I went on the retreat with the intention of begging God for another child. On Day 2, I suddenly felt more peace about my pregnancy quest. I felt like God would give me another baby--once the time was right.

I went home and fell in love again with my hard to love, red-headed toddler. I still felt sad at every menstrual cycle-but I stopped sobbing out loud at Saturday Morning Mass.

On January 1, 2010, Our Lady's Day, I prayed my familiar prayer "Lord, please give me another baby."

This time there was an answer in my heart. "You're prayer has already been answered. Go take a pregnancy test today."

I'm still a poorly formed Catholic- so my first response was "Wow! That was a weird thought." Then one of my kids misbehaved next to me and I forgot the entire matter by the end of Mass.

Many hours later, my husband causally inquired "So it seems like it's been a long time since your last period..." We'd been married for 8 years. My husband had NEVER before kept track of my last period.

"That's really strange of you to mention that . . " I said. I describe what happened to me in the middle of Mass.

"Maybe you should take a pregnancy test now," my husband suggested.

I peed on that stick in total fear. I couldn't even sit still in the bathroom for the three minutes for the test result. I went to the living room and started praying intensely by the couch. "Lord, if I'm not pregnant again, it will still be okay. I will still love you."

I was in the middle of telling the Lord that I'd still love him even if I didn't get the gift of a new baby this month, when Jon nudged me. He didn't say anything. He handed me the electronic pregnancy test which said "Pregnant" in loud letters.

I started jumping around the living room screaming YEAH!

That was the beginning of my Baby Tess.

She was conceived on the Eve of St. Nicholas, a mere two weeks after my husband and I received our Brown Scapulars and became official members of the Carmelite community. I called her "Mary's Gift" and "the Carmel Baby." I asked everyone in my Third Order Carmelite Community to pray over my baby bump.

Then my baby got sick, so sick that she almost died. I spent 3 weeks by her crib in the NICU, thinking about my journey with her.

Infertility seemed less like a barren desert and more like a time of preparation. What if the long stretch of time between Maria and Tess had less to do with my aging body or my toddler's refusal to sleep through the night? What if I NEEDED that Brown Scapular before I conceived Baby Tess? What if I needed to become an establish Carmelite before I could gracefully cope with a child born with a severe birth defect?

Instead of waiting for Tess, what if God was waiting on me?

The Hidden Power of a Humble Life

One of the unexpected blessings of having a kid come out of the NICU is that suddenly I'm flooded with miracle healing stories. There are so many people who hear about Tessy's grace-filled sickness and instantly respond with tales of their own.

This week Rosa M., the mother of both a seminarian (a priest to be) and a novice (a nun to be), called me excitedly on the phone. "You're never gonna believe what happened to me . . ."

Two weeks ago, Rosa was sitting at her extremely lowly desk job in the administrative wing of our neighborhood Seventh Day Adventist Hospital. She heard someone screaming "HELP! HELP!"

Rosa said she knew instantly from the sound of the panicked voice that something very, very bad was happening.

A father of a newborn had just entered the wrong hospital door looking for the Emergency Room. In his hands he had a baby who was suffering from multiple strokes. The Dad hadn't realized how sick his baby was, and delayed seeking medical treatment for a long time.

Rosa rushed out of her cubicle and flagged down a Charge Nurse. "Someone is hurt! I don't know where!" Seconds later she saw the Charge Nurse running back down the hallway carrying a limp, blue baby.

A minute later the call come over the intercom announcing the baby had died.

Rosa said "I threw my head down on my desk and said 'NO! Baby Jesus, NO! I know that you still have the power to save that little baby even when all the doctors think he is dead. You save him, Baby Jesus! You save him just for me!"

Some time passed.

Then healed baby came back down Rosa's hallway- same Charge Nurse, same Father, and a reassuringly steady heartbeat on his isolette monitor- on his way to admission into the hospital's NICU.

Rosa said she was so overcome, she asked someone to watch her desk for a while.

"I went directly to the bathroom. I got down on my knees and I thanked Baby Jesus."

"It's a beautiful thing when you and God know something that nobody else know! The doctors, they think they saved that baby. But I know, Baby Jesus save that Baby."

I told Rosa that God put her in a humble hospital job just for moments like that. To save babies. "You're the most important person in that hospital. Not the surgeons. Not the doctors. Not the NICU nurses."

I believe that. My friend Rosa is important because she's got the direct pager number for "Baby Jesus", the divine physician who heals us all.

St. Rose of Lima, pray for us. Teach us to all be humble petitioners of the Baby Jesus for strangers in need.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Archbishop is Now a Cardinal!

"Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Wuerl to the College of Cardinals. This morning, Cardinal-designate Wuerl celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle and spoke about this honor for the priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Washington:
The gracious act of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in elevating me to the College of Cardinals is a recognition of the importance the Holy See places on the Archdiocese of Washington, the Church in the nation’s capital. I am humbled and grateful to our Holy Father for his trust in me as shepherd of this flock and I renew my pledge of fidelity, affection and loyalty to him.
Yesterday I learned of this announcement, the day the Church celebrates the North American martyrs. In the Church’s liturgy in memory of these missionaries, only two are recognized by name. The rest are simply listed as companions. That struck me as applicable to this honor today. In this wonderful Church, clergy, religious and lay faithful all work so hard on behalf of the Gospel, but since you cannot name everyone, the Church names the bishop.
My thoughts immediately turned to the Holy Father’s visit to Washington just over two years ago and the great privilege I had in welcoming him, the Chief Shepherd and Vicar of Christ, who came among us to strengthen us in our faith.
I had the joy of telling our Holy Father that not all that far from here in 1634 the first Catholics arrived in the colonies that later formed the United States. From those modest beginnings has come forth a Church truly representative of the Gospel’s message of hope. Today in his kindness to the Church of Washington, the Holy Father has renewed his support and love, and we in turn express again our bonds of faith and affection for him, the Vicar of Christ.
In accepting this honor, I renew my pledge, in the words of Pope Benedict, to “repropose the perennial truth of Christ’s Gospel” as this local Church carries out the New Evangelization in announcing the good news of Jesus Christ. Today as the Holy Spirit is urging the Church to rekindle in people’s daily lives a new awareness of and familiarity with Jesus, the Spirit is also charging me to deepen my commitment in my service as shepherd of this archdiocese."

--From an email sent by our Archdiocese today.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thank you Jesus!

Baby Rocky is doing fantastic! This newborn baby is sailing through super scary open heart surgery. Please continue to pray that this cute guy gets to return home soon.

In other NICU news, this former roommate of Baby Tess' wore her first Tutu today. Go Skylar go! I'm starting a campaign for St. Nicholas to send this cute premie princess home to her Mama by Christmas. Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Feast of St. Teresa of Avila



Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila.

I'm too tired to come up with a brilliant post about this special saint.

I love her!

She means the world to me.

I named my newborn daughter after her.

She is the flawed, flighty, overly-social butterfly who got herself into heaven through the pure miracle of God's grace.

She is the saint who gives me the greatest hope that I can get myself to heaven too.

St. Teresa of Avila, I love you!

A NICU Billing Notebook

By nature, I'm totally disorganized. Forgive me if this post seems like common sense. After handing me 4 young children in seven years, the Holy Spirit has acted as a professional organizer during this pregnancy. (One of the many reasons that my husband tells me "you are doing even better with 4 kids than you did with three!" God is very cool like that!)

Today, I invented a Hospital Billing Organizer Notebook that I think is the bees knees.

Supplies needed: three ring notebook, three ring hole punch, blank notebook paper, giant stack o' hospital bills, and a grouchy newborn. (Nothing counts in the Catholic life unless you can do with added penance. A grouchy newborns equal instant penance on any home-making task).

Take your giant stack of NICU medical bills and Insurance Statements. Throw away any duplicates. Order the actual medical bills in the front. Write notes in pencil on the bill itself (such as paid, or waiting for balance billing). Hole punch them and put them in chronological order in your notebook.

Then take your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) forms. Hole punch them and lay them in chronological order. Take a second to read the obscure billing notes on the side. Circle any notes that look odd or wrong. Check off the hospital bills that you've already received.

In the third section, save any important looking notices from your insurance company, such as "ambulance transfer approved."

In the front of your notebook, add some blank notebook paper. This is for you to take notes on during telephone conversations with your Insurance provider. Always note the date, time and person's name, if possible.

Today, I learned that if you have a mammoth Out of Pocket amount to be paid, don't pay any bill until you check with your insurance provider first. So far, I've come up with two billing mistakes, and this was only my first 30 minutes on the job.

Meanwhile, I'm currently in the midst of suffering reverse sticker shock. Only $17,000 for her total medical costs at Children's Hospital? $17,000 to save my baby's life? That's the price of a modest car! She's SO worth it! (Hope this gleefulness continues!)

Billing Update Day 2: Ugh! This billing process is going to take months to finish. A $17,000 bill from Children's Hospital was just the beginning. My insurance company got a second bill today from Children's Hospital for $140,000! Who knows how high the tally will be once all the bills are submitted.

(Under our insurance plan, our portion of Tess' medical bills shouldn't be more than $6,000.00. I'm trying to keep calm about repaying that amount. God provides!)

Good News

Hurrah! Baby Joey appears to be doing well after his open heart surgery this morning. Praise God!

Please continue to pray for him. The next 24-48 hours are a little touch and go. He's got a rough recovery ahead.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

They Might Be Giants - Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Inc...



My son's current favorite song. (The science geek "apple" doesn't fall far from the tree! Thanks for being so brilliant at home-schooling our kids, honey!)

Now We Are Six

 

Happy Birthday Alex!
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Monday, October 11, 2010

St. Jude, The Bicycle Thief, and Me

 
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This morning, my son's bike got stolen.

My husband came home from lunch and asked "Did Alex leave his bike somewhere?"

I glanced up from my latest domestic crisis-- mysterious green paint had appeared in the dryer and melted all over Alex's good church shorts and his beloved Spiderman pajamas--"No we haven't used the bikes yet today," I answered.

"Alex's bike is missing. I think it's been stolen."

I got a knot in my stomach. On Friday, Alex and Maria took their beloved bikes out for a spin with their new Halloween costumes. I got some great pictures of the event. I'm still a little off my Mama game, with a newborn daughter and all. I forgot to remind Alex to lock up his bike after our fun.

The kids bikes were all parked by our front door on Monday morning when Jon left for work. Now the bright yellow Mountain bike was missing.

We live in an urban neighborhood where professional bicycle thieves are on the prowl. My husband's bike was stolen off our front patio, while I was behind the patio door in our living room with my 3 loud, rowdy kids. That theft was a horrid loss, because my husband commutes to work on his bike. For a month, we missed having Dad home for lunch because Jon's quick 10 minute bike trek to work is actually a very long walk by foot.

This loss felt even worse. It was my son's bike. A handsome Trek mountain bike that my five year old son used to boast was for "a teenager!" Alex's bike was a free gift from Jesus. We could never afford to replace it.

A saddened father and depressed mother sat down together to eat some chili for lunch. "Maybe I can find it," my husband said. "If someone used it for a joy ride, they might ditch it close to the house."

"I don't think it was joy ride early on a Monday morning," I said. "It was a nice bike. I'm sure it's gone for good."

We lamented the loss. I kicked myself for forgetting to lock it up. Expecting myself to remember every detail with my current circumstances was a bit ridiculous. "I totally forgot, Jon. I usually remember. This forgetfulness is an outcome of having a Baby just come out of the NICU."

I felt scared. That bike was valuable because biking is a form of exercise I can do easily with four children. I'm a new mom without a lot of resources. "How am I going to exercise the kids this week if my son is missing a bike?"

"We can buy him a cheap bike at Target," Jon said.

"There is no way that can happen this month," I said. "Not with all Tess' NICU expenses."

After a sad lunch, my husband offered to ride around on his bike to look for Alex' missing bike. He was inches from giving that up as a futile exercise. "Go ahead and look," I said. "It can't hurt."

After my husband left, I went into our bedroom to comfort a crying son. "I loved my bike, Mom."

"I know. I think it's really gone forever," I said. "Let's stop and pray to St. Jude to help Daddy find it, just in case."

Ladies, I can't tell you how distracted and routine my prayer was to St. Jude. I was sure Alex's bike was gone. I didn't lock it up and it was stolen by a bicycle thief. I got what I deserved. I felt that my prayer to St. Jude was just a formality- just something my family did whenever we lost something of value.

I turned off the Netflix cartoon. I gathered my three young children around me and started to pray. "Dear St. Jude, we forgive the thief who stole Alex's bike. If there is anyway for you to help us, please help Daddy find Alex's bike."

I made the sign of the cross to close our prayer.

Before my fingers left my forehead, my husband walked back into our house. He found the bike!

Alex's bike was dropped in the middle of the street one block from our house. The bicycle lock, which was wrapped around the seat, fell down and stopped the pedals. It was a simple problem to fix. Yet the thief must have panicked and dropped the bike in the middle of the road. (Jon thinks it was a thief who panicked over getting caught since a neighborhood joy rider would have calmly fixed the jammed pedal and parked the bike on a sidewalk.) Because Alex's bike was left in the middle of our well traveled street, this incident must have happened moments before Jon came home from work and noticed it's missing presence.

What are the chances of that happening without a little help from heaven?

I'm always stunned when this happens. I'm stunned when a PICC line slides easily out of a baby's heart. I'm equally stunned when God takes care of the smaller things in life.

I'm a mother of a newborn. My brain is addled and sleep deprived. I forgot to lock up my son's nice bike in the middle of a large city. A thief stole it. Yet why do I mind when mean things happen to my family, if our great God can easily fix such problems in a second?

God is so good!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

He Says He Can Fix It

On Thursday, September 23, 2010, I woke up at 6 AM with a startling conversation over the phone with my husband Jon. My husband was spending the night with our almost completely healed newborn in a local hospital room. I was spending the night at our house with our three older children.

At 3 AM, that night my husband woke up to a frightening situation. An 18 inch piece of plastic tubing, called a PICC line, broke off of a special IV line in our daughter's foot. In a normal situation, a broken PICC line would easily slide out of the body. In my newborn daughter's case the broken PICC line got immediately sucked up through her leg vein and through all four chambers of her heart.

This type of complication is beyond rare. The doctors at our community hospital had never seen it before. My brave husband stood by my daughter's bedside for four hours hearing more and more frightened doctors tell him "I don't know what to tell you. I've never heard of this happening before."

That's not reassuring information to hear when a foreign object is now lodged inside your newborn daughter's heart.

My daughter got transferred back to Children's Hospital.

When I called Tess' NICU resident at Children's Hospital, she seemed uncharistically vague and unsure. "We know the PICC line is in her heart. We're going to wait until we take another x-ray and then assess the options for treatment."

"What are the options?" I asked.

"I don't know yet. I've never heard of this happening before, it's very rare. We'll wait and see how the surgeons recommend removing the PICC line from her heart."

At 6:30 AM on a Thursday morning, I became convinced that my newborn baby would need emergency open heart surgery.

I made the long trek down to Children's Hospital alone on the Metro. I held a rosary in one hand (my link to my Blessed Mother) and my cellphone in the other (my link to my husband.)

When I got to the NICU, I met my husband who had come down hours earlier in the same ambulance as our baby. Our baby looked fine. Her heart rhythms were completely normal. She was squalling for food. Since no one knew what was going to happen to Tess that day, she was denied food in case she needed emergency surgery. (The poor dear ended up going 15 HOURS without food- my baby's first Fast).

My husband was trying to shush the baby in her crib while holding one of her leg's still.

"Can't we pick her up?" I asked.

"I hadn't thought to ask," my husband said. "She's so hungry. She's been crying for hours."

"I'm picking my baby up!" I announced loudly to her nurse. I had the baby up and in my arms. I rocked her slowly. Tess was disappointed the Mom wasn't providing any food either, but quickly fell asleep. I place the baby back into her crib. I suggested that my husband and I go take a walk to regroup.

The NICU in Children's Hospital is totally gorgeous. Its brand-new, completely expensive looking with dynamic views of downtown Washington D.C. through large plate-glass windows.

I stood in the "quiet room" which overlooks the Washington Monument and asked my husband dozens of questions about our baby.

Then young Doctor Emily came into the room. "I can't believe you guys are back here!" she said.

"There's a PICC line in Baby Tess' heart" I said.

Doctor Emily's wide open eyes met mine and seemed to say said "YEAH and it's 18 inches LONG!" But Dr. Emily's measured professional voice said "They say they can fix it."

"What?" I said.

"We don't know what to do in the NICU, but one of the Heart Cath Lab guys said this happens all the time and he can fix it easily."

For the first time, Jon and I felt some relief.

Over and over again, throughout the day--more and more doctors came to examine our little Tess. Each one said "I don't know what to do, but the Heart Cath guy says he can fix it 'no problem.'"

We eventually met the fix-it guy, Dr. Kanter.

Dr. Kanter tells us that he can have the foreign object out of our bunny's heart, quickly, without a problem.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Healthy Tess

 
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I've got my happy, healthy, pretty baby girl back! Prayer works!

Why there should be at least one brother in the family

 

Instructing little sister on the important Transformer heros. Baby Tess looks so interested! Homeschooling starts early in my family!

A Happy Return Visit to the NICU

 


Baby Tess with one of her nurses, Anne Marie. Anne Marie was one of 11* children from a religious family in Jamaica. On an awful day in the NICU, Anne Marie had me heaving belly laughs over her Mom's home remedies, including her Mom's famous "baby enemas" which involved a small slice of Ivory soap--and you really don't want to know the remaining gory details.

I told my gal Tess that if she didn't start pooping immediately, I was going to put Anne Marie's Mom on her "allowed anytime" visitor list. I figured if Western Medicine wasn't going to work on my baby, then there was no harm in using some tried and true Jamacian home remedies.

Baby Tess started pooping at 12 AM that night, immediately after Anne Marie ended her shift. I think Baby Tess thought Anne Marie left the NICU simply to go get her Mama and a bar of Ivory soap.

*A huge percentage of our NICU nurses were from large families with more than 4 children.
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Sleepy

 
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Children's Hospital Visit

 


Proof that you can never have a dull time at Children's Hospital in D.C. We ran into some Clown Doctors in the elevator.
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The Amazing Dr. Q!

 

This is the doctor who saved my Bunny's life!

Our check-up visit last week with Dr. Q.
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The Secret is Out

I have just figured out how to leave the house with four very young children in tow.

If you dress the majority of children in their Halloween Costumes, then suddenly your big family becomes "adorable" instead of "annoying".

My kids may be wearing their new Princess and Batman costumes well into December!

Why I Love My Husband- Part II



I listened to Jon read endless hours of "Winnie the Pooh," to a sick Baby Tess during her three week NICU stay. His voice was always calm and patient and hopeful. After a while, I felt like he was reading more for us, than for our baby.

The doctors kept coming into our baby's room and saying more scary things about our newborn girl. As soon as a blue scrubbed person left our room, I'd tell Jon, "Please keep reading." He'd pick up his place in the witty English banter and I'd try to force air back into my lungs again. As long as Jon read Winne the Pooh, and I could rock Baby Tess in a rocking chair, then our life was slightly normal and comforting again. Jon's voice made our family a home inside an alien hospital room.



Jon and Sick Tess, with our worn copy of Winnie the Pooh on his lap

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why I Love My Husband . . .




Because tonight was one of those nights when I let the water for the rice boil completely out of the pot, TWICE, because I got so distracted by the need to provide a solid police presence to some unruly minors, and when I almost started crying about the no-dinner/no-groceries situation after my tired husband walk in the door at 6 PM- He saved the day!

My husband told me to take a hot shower while he made dinner. I'm telling you ladies, the grocery delivery guy forgot half my order this week, so when I left to take a shower there was NOTHING in my fridge. Yet somehow my amazing husband whipped up an Asparagus, Meatball, Chicken Gravy and Rice Casserole in under 22 minutes and it tasted great!

For more "Why I love my husband" posts, please check out the ever lovely, ever insightful More Like Mary-More Like Me.

(Now Miss K. Why does my icon looks so goofy in Blogger? I could only find the extra huge logo).