No Matter What Love

We are raising our kids in a difficult time, aren’t we? I have no comparison. I haven’t raised kids in any other era; however, as each headline pops up, the latest terrorist bombing on Quetta Hospital in Pakistan 8 days ago killing 70 and injuring 130; the shooting and killing of a black man in Milwaukee, WI, and the riots and police protests that have ensued, following the innumerable hate crimes against humanity that have already played out. With each attack, my heart aches for those suffering, and my eyes dart towards my three fortunate kids, playing soundly in the living room. I look at each one of them, and I am thankful they are here and that they are healthy. With each injustice I hear about or read about, my responsibility mounts, and I wonder how I will discuss these tragedies, these inequalities with my three children. These three children that play with their hearts filled with love and their lives filled with boundless energy and childhood adventures.

In two weeks, my two eldest will start kindergarten. I’ve been thinking a lot about what tools I want to equip them with as they begin this new endeavor. We’ve been doing a lot of role-playing. Sometimes, I will play the role of being the bully, one of them will play the friend being bullied, and the other will play the role of either the bully or the bullied. We take turns with these roles. Then we talk about what was said, how it made us feel, and what we could have said or how we can all help each other in these difficult encounters. We talk about why we think a bully would say the things that were said, and how we can help the bully so maybe next time he or she will be nicer. We’ve talked about how sometimes people bully others because they are different. Maybe because they don’t understand someone else that is different. For example, we’ve talked about how sometimes, the food we eat, is different than a lot of foods other people eat. We chat about how if someone makes a negative comment about what we are eating, we can respond, “That’s okay, it’s probably just something you haven’t tried, but this is something that I grew up eating and I really like it.” Except, interpreted and translated through their minds, it comes out something like, “It’s okay, this food is something I was born with.” We’re working out the details, but what’s important to me, is that they start to process this information and react to things in ways that convey tolerance, acceptance, and kindness. We are starting with food (because my son is obsessed with food) but I’m hoping to branch out from here.

I recently read an article that the discussion about race should start with your children now. There is not a time you should be waiting for; by not talking about it, we are allowing them to form their own prejudices and allowing that to be okay. I read on about how kids are noticing these differences and making their own assumptions and categorizations. I had never thought about this, and this was alarming to me. But as I thought about it, I thought back to conversations between my son and daughter. How they would talk about kids in their pre-school classes, and one of the things my son would ask my daughter at 4 years-old when trying to figure out who in her class she was talking about, was, “Well, was she wearing pants or a dress or tights today? Did she have a bow in her hair? What color was it? Is she white or brown?” I never thought much of it. It was a descriptor to him like any other descriptor. But if he was noticing this, then yes. Maybe it was time to start talking more openly about race and inequalities.

Max and Sofia. I want you to know that I love you no matter what. I have loved you since the day you were born. There are times when I may be disappointed or mad about your actions, but even at those times, I love you. I would love you if you were tall or short, had long hair or short hair, had white skin or brown skin, had brown eyes or green eyes. I would love you if you wanted to play soccer or football or no sports at all. I would love you if you wanted to dance or do gymnastics or sing or none of the above. I would love you if you loved to read or do math or crafts or science projects. It just wouldn’t matter. I would love you. No matter what. It is mom’s no-matter-what-love promise to you. I think a parent’s love is the best kind of love, because all you have to do is be born, and mom and dad will love you no matter what. It is really that simple.

I think it is at the core of being human that makes someone want to love others and be loved by others. Love is the most powerful of things and is at the core of it all. Let’s extend the love between a mom and her child to the love between other people. Every person is someone’s child. Mommy is A-ma and A-gong’s daughter. Daddy is Grandma and Grandpa’s son. And A-ma and A-gong love mommy not because my hair is black, not because I have brown eyes, not because I like to run and read and write, but they loved me even before they knew all that about me. When I had no hair, and all I did was eat, cry, and sleep. And that has never changed. Grandma and Grandpa love daddy not because his hair is blonde, not because he wears glasses, not because he likes to run and root for the Cubs in baseball, but because they have always loved him.

The best kind of love is this love. The no-matter-what love. Why is mommy telling you so much about this? Because, this is what I want you to look for in every single person you meet at school. I want you to see that every friend in your class is worthy of being loved by someone no-matter-what, just like you. It may be their mom and dad. Or maybe they don’t have a mom, or don’t have a dad. Then maybe their no-matter-what-love comes from their grandma or grandpa. Or maybe from their aunt or uncle. Or their brother or sister. Or maybe they have two moms or two dads and that’s where their no-matter-what-love comes from. Or maybe they have a mom and no dad or a dad and no mom. Every story of your friends’ families will be different. I want you to notice all these differences. And I want you to know that no matter if their skin color is white or brown, hair is black or blonde, eyes are brown or green, no matter if they are tall or short, like math or recess, science or music, they are just like you where it matters. You can be mad or disappointed or happy about their actions, but they are people that deserve no-matter-what love.

Sometimes, you might see other kids that don’t see this about others in your class, or maybe they don’t see this about you. They may bully others or make fun of others because of what they eat, because of what they wear, because of their skin color, because they believe in God or they don’t believe in God. It happens to kids and to grown-ups too! I think that is because they forget that we are all the same in the middle. That we all deserve to have someone love us no-matter-what.

It makes me panic that I cannot be at school with you every day, telling everyone that I love you, and that everything that makes you different is what I love about you, but this is a part of growing up, and this is what everyone else in your class is going through. You are going to learn about everyone’s differences, and I want you to notice them, I want you to think about how they are different from you and how they are like you and know that everyone is worthy of love. If you get nothing else from this year of school, focus on this. Focus on opening your eyes to all the differences and know that everyone is worthy of no-matter-what love.

 

Your Last 24

There are those 25 minutes before my work day begins that I either drive in silence, or blare the radio and jam out to pop hits priming myself for the unexpected hours ahead. When the music is loud and the tempo is upbeat, it transports me back to being 21 on a summer day in Chicago, before kids and bills, headed nowhere too important, definitely not too fast, stuck in traffic on Lake Shore Drive. But lately, I’ve trended more towards driving in silence. Calmed by the gentle hum of the engine, feeling the gentle pull of the turns in the road, letting my mind settle. And lately, my mind has been on you.

My heart settles into a dull ache. It pulls me in and hollows me out. I feel unjustified in feeling this way. These are not my feelings to feel. These are not my emotions to own and declare. There are people more deserving of telling this story. It is not me. But here I am. These emotions clinging onto me for the past 5 weeks now, and I don’t want it just to be in my mind. I don’t want this hollowness in my chest to go unidentified. It means too much. So, I’m going to talk about you.

I met you on a busy night in the emergency department. You were short of breath, you were sweaty, your heart rate was going too fast. I thought within seconds of meeting you, “He is sick.”

When emergency medicine providers say someone is sick, it doesn’t mean the usual sick.  We do not throw around the word “sick” haphazardly.  It does not mean you have the sniffles, or a bad cough, or fever, or appendicitis, or a broken leg. When we say “sick”, we are on high alert. Our heads turn.  Our focus shifts from everyone else in the emergency department to you. You are the one that needs us most. We will take care of everyone else, but you have taken priority over everything else that must be done. Bluntly put, when we say “sick”, we realize–perhaps before you do–that you are struggling for your life.  We are worried that you may get worse and die.

Everything had happened so suddenly, your wife told me. You had seemed fine. Maybe a little fever. Maybe a bit of body aches. Then tonight, you were suddenly short of breath. Sweating. Feeling your heart beat out of your chest.   You have no idea what suddenly changed. I don’t want to get into the medical specifics. Though I replay them over and over in my mind. I pour over your chart again and again. What more could I have done? I’ve talked to my closest colleagues. I’ve lay in bed at night and replayed everything.

I remember exactly how you looked when I walked in the room. I remember your wife sitting there on the edge of her seat.   I remember you said you have three kids. Two boys and a girl. I remember how old they are. I remember the name of your youngest. I remember the puzzled look your wife gave me, “What is going on?” I remember explaining to the both of you what was happening. How infection was taking over your body, taking over your organs, shutting down your body. You asked me how long you would be in the emergency department. I explained you needed to be admitted to the intensive care unit. You both were a bit puzzled. How could a healthy 43-year-old become sick so fast? I explained that I was worried about you.

I don’t worry about a lot in the emergency department. I can handle it. I can fix it. But you. I was worried about. I did everything my training had taught me to do.  You were getting better. I felt slight hope that maybe things would turn around. You were admitted to the intensive care unit.

The next day, I checked on your chart when I got to work. You had died.

You have a beautiful wife. You have three amazing kids. You are the nicest of people. You are hard working.

You are no longer with us.

My heart aches. My heart aches, but when it aches, it is an unworthy ache. Because the heart ache of those that love you, those that were your life: your wife, your children, your parents, your siblings, your nieces and nephews, those are the ones that are truly hurting. And this makes my heart ache more. I wish you were alive. They wish so more than my words can do justice.

I did everything I knew how to.  But it wasn’t enough to save your life.  I wish I could have done more. I am so, so sorry.

I was maybe one of the final ten people you met in your life. For you, I was only part of those last 24 hours. For me, you will be in my heart a lifetime. I can’t even say this without grimacing, because what you mean to me doesn’t even compare to those that love you most. But I just want you to know, you have affected me. You will stay with me. You will live on in every one you touched along the way. Even in your last 24 hours of life.

Grandpa

Making plans with other moms these days is somewhat of an exercise similar to that three-mile run I force myself to do after a two week . . . or six month . . . hiatus from running. It is sweaty, it is a brutal uphill challenge, but when you come out the other end and finish that run–or find that one perfect day where your schedules match up–it feels like the best, inconsequential accomplishment ever. There are nap schedules, there are doctors’ appointments, there is gymnastics and T-ball, there are work schedules, that day your friend is watching her sister’s kids, your child’s preschool friend’s birthday party . . . I’m not even sure how it all piles up, but there are piles, and piles of commitments to navigate. But that is life, and it is rich, and it is wonderful, and it was worth all the hectic mayhem. We are so lucky to have the ability to participate in all these amazing things. This is what makes a family full and alive.

But as we age, there is something else presenting itself and glaring us in the face. It is the aging of our parents. It is their doctor’s appointments, their unexpected emergency department visits. It may be a fall. It may be weakness. It may be feeling dizzy. It may be feeling short of breath. We find ourselves sitting in hospital rooms with our lifelong caretakers. In our visions for our futures, with our homes, with our careers, with our families, we never envisioned this. This is all very unexpected.

I met my father-in-law 14 Thanksgivings ago. I was so nervous to meet my boyfriend’s parents. I had no idea what to expect and even less of a clue how to act. I battled my nerves the whole three-hour drive from our little bubble of a world on our college campus to my boyfriend’s little hometown in Michigan. He told me not to be nervous, “there is nothing to be nervous about! They will love you!” Ah yes. What mother doesn’t love the girl her son brings home? Of course she will think I am good enough . . .

I remember pulling up to their home. I remember finding my now father-in-law in the midst of making lunch for us. I remember that big, hearty hug he gave me, and that gentle pat on the back with those kind eyes. I remember feeling welcome.

I learned in the years to come more and more about my father-in-law. I learned that he worked hard hours, never complained, and put his head and hands to his work to provide for his family. He was always a do-it-yourself, fix-it-yourself man. He worked with his hands. He built the kitchen in their home. He built their deck. He fixed the plumbing. He fixed the car. He built an extra bathroom. Sometimes by trial and error, but he got it done. He was a man of not too many words, but he showed his love and affection through his work. He was the builder, the fixer, the caretaker for his family, for his neighbors, for his friends. When we moved into our new home and the basement flooded, we waited patiently for my father-in-law to visit so he could teach my husband how to replace the base molding that was now water-logged and rotted. After I gave birth to the twins and was in a complete state of sleep deprivation and disarray, it was my father-in-law that, night after night, cooked us dinner without which, I am at a loss to know how we would have eaten or if we would even have remembered. This is how he provided. He was the strength, producing for his family.

As the years have passed, I know it has been a struggle for him. It has been a struggle for him because often times, the walk up those 8 steps leading from our garage to our home is a daunting challenge. It sometimes takes all he has to make it up those steps, feeling winded, feeling light-headed, feeling bewildered, trying to remember when his physical strength had been hijacked. It breaks my heart to imagine what this must be like. To be the strength, and now to find your body unable to keep up with your will and desires to provide as you have lived your lifetime doing.

I can’t imagine, but I want him to imagine what it is like for us. For us, it has never been about what he built, it has never been what he could fix, it has always been about his intentions, the vast amount of love and steadfast committment that went into every project. It has been his effort, it has been his heart.

It is his heart. Oh, it has always, always been his heart that is his greatest strength. It is those words he says when I’ve been working tirelessly all weekend, feeling so incredibly worn, those words of acknowledgement, “you must be tired.”  This is the strength that we see in those kind, always welcoming eyes that I met those 14 Thanksgivings ago. It is that heart that my five-year-olds so affectionately call Grampy and my two-year-old calls Babba.

So, today, on my father-in-law’s birthday, I just want him to know, we see him for who he is. He may not say much, but we hear every word.  Don’t let his sometimes gruff demeanor fool you.  He is full teddy bear.  He is full of heart, he is full of love, he is full of strength.

On your 78th Birthday, we love you Grampy, Babba, Byron. Happy, happy birthday.

Dinner Prep

11:19 pm. I am stirring butter and marshmallows in a pan making my kids rice krispie treats. Since my kids had these little morsels of sugary bliss at their grandma’s house last weekend, they have been asking and asking about rice krispie treats. So, I thought, might as well give it a gander. My first attempt at this delicious treat. Um, why was this my first attempt at making this delicious treat??? Prior to this, I had been cutting onions and carrots and setting up the Crockpot to dump beef stew contents into in the morning. 11:19 pm may be an odd time to start making dinner and treats for the next day, but you find time when you find time, and it turned out to be a glorious hour of uninterrupted, quiet, peaceful, no 2-year-olds-to-trip-over therapeutic cooking session.

Now. Don’t start thinking I am some modern-day Betty Crocker type. HA. Many days look more like Jimmy John’s drive-through windows or frozen chicken strips and frozen green beans. By the way, it truly does freak me out how fast Jimmy John’s can make a sub. Ironically, it equally irritates me when I am at the JJ drive-through and I am not getting freaked out because they are taking an absurdly “normal” amount of sub-making time.

I digress.

My point is that, like most, I fiercely love my family. And even when I am not there, even when I am working evenings or days or at meetings or interviews or with friends or out with my husband, I want them to know that my heart is always with them. Last week my daughter had dance camp. Every night, no matter if it was 10 pm or 3 am, I would pack her lunch for the next day. I could only be there one of the five days to pick her up and drop her off. She asked me yesterday, “Mommy, on the days you weren’t there, who packed my lunch?” “I did.” I told her. Her heart erupted into a smile that peaked through her almond brown-eyed, button-nosed face. It wasn’t so much that she was blown away that the amazing chef behind her ham and cheese sandwiches was me, I think it was more that every day, no matter if I was physically present or not, I was thinking about her, I was the loving hands behind her (sometimes soggy) lunch. I’m going to hold onto that smile. I’m going to hold on to that smile so freakin’ tight as I launch into another epic stretch of shifts.

I don’t know which is tougher. Days I am home or days I am not. Because, man, both can be seriously tough. I do know that the days I am gone, my heart aches. To damper that ache, I make dinner at 11 pm at night. I love knowing that tomorrow night when I am at work and not there, they will eat yummy beef stew with carrots and onions and potatoes that I prepared. I imagine their faces lighting up when they see they get an after dinner dessert of rice krispies with sprinkles. Yes, sprinkles. What the heck. They are not usually sugared up kids. And let’s be honest. I won’t be the one herding them to bed tomorrow night. (Sorry Husband, Love of my Life) I’ll only be the hero that put their all-time favorite sprinkles on an already sickly sugary treat. Winning.