A Different Kind of Father’s Day Gift

I had a craptastic Mother’s Day. Not because my husband didn’t buy me anything or my kids were climbing off the walls or the house was a mess. I spent the day (and the two following) in the hospital with gastritis due to an adverse reaction I had to pain medication. Nothing says Happy Mother’s Day like an endoscopy.

My husband, bless his heart, took my three daughters to my favorite store earlier that week to find the perfect gift, because you know if you can’t find me something I love at Tarjay, you don’t know me at all.

Unfortunately, in the whirl of holding my bed pan to catch projectile vomit,  transporting our kids to and from their activities, and trying to keep his job, somebody forgot to actually give me the  special gifts.

A few days later I returned from the hospital, feeling weak but ready to get back to the world of the living, or at least those not on a liquid diet. I noticed a Target bag sitting in our laundry room sink, but figured it was one of my kids’ dirty practice clothes. Because my mom is staying with us during my recovery, and had generously offered to do our laundry in my time of need, of course I left it there unchecked. If I looked and didn’t do anything with whatever disgustingness lie in there, then I’d really be a jerk.

What I did find later that night when I decided it was time to start eating again was a stash of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Three cardboard containers of Vermont’s finest just calling out to me from the freezer in the garage. The pint of Half-Baked seemed to shout “eat me”  the loudest, so my spoon and I nestled deep into my lazy-boy for some quality time.

A few days later, I saw the bag out of the corner of my eye again, this time with the gray slipper sticking its nose out of it. Of course I let it sit there again, thinking maybe my mom had bought something that needed to be returned.

Then one day, my mom finally yelled said to me, “Will you please take your freaking Mother’s Day present upstairs?”

And so I did. I unwrapped the bag to find pair of fancy pajamas and a sweet pair of coordinating slippers. As opposed to my normal boudoir attire of stained yoga pants and a t-shirt that usually has a hole in it, this was an outfit I could proudly wear to the mailbox  and not get heckled by the neighbors.

Now, one would think that being in the hospital would be the perfect time to give me those pajamas, right? Not so much.

It was only later that night when he saw me modeling them as I was brushing my teeth that he remembered. I thinks his exact words were, “Oh yeah, whoops!”

To rub his nose in my  gifting superiority, I asked if there was anything he wanted for Father’s Day.

“No, but you can leave my gift in the sink and then eat whatever else you get me that’s left in the freezer.”

That’s when I found out that he let each of my daughters pick out a Ben & Jerry’s flavor for me. And while I was a little bitter to find out he plowed through the entire carton of Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream, I decided to forgive him, but only because there was some Boom Chocolatta left over.

Truth be told, my husband gets a pass on this one. I’ve been sick for the past three months and he takes care of me, my kids and our home without a complaint.  He stays up late every night catching up on work he missed because he left early to take my daughter to horseback, soccer try outs, a birthday party, haircuts or whatever else they need that I used to take care of regularly. The pajamas were a present, but the real gift is his love and commitment, about the only things you can’t get at Super Target.

Although I did find some great gifts that I plan on having the kids present him on Father’s Day, I think the real win is I am forever indebted to him. When a man takes care of you for three months, I mean really honoring that in sickness and in health part,  you can’t really needle him for forgetting some of the details. Plus he can never un-see some of the things I’ve gone through the past few months and he still wants to share a bed with me.

That means he leaves the toilet seat up…..I’ma gonna let it go. Wants to watch a marathon of Ultimate Fighting Ridiculousness? Letting it go. Leaves his wine glass in the sink every night even though the entire kitchen is clean and the dishwasher is four inches away?  I’m going to take several deep breaths, and it’s gone.

But eat my ice cream again…dude, then it’s on like Donkey Kong. Even love has its limits.

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Doing his favorite thing in the whole world, with his three favorite ladies.

Happy Father’s Day to my number one, and to all those men out there taking care of kids. It’s an important job you have!

 

 

One Day, I Will Be Better Because of It

I’ve started writing nine blog posts in the past week. I’ve finished zero.  All of them had something to do with the “good” that has come from dealing with the debilitating eye disease I have faced the past three months. But the words just aren’t jumping onto my paper like they normally do. It feels forced and fake.

I keep trying to write about what I have learned through this experience, and how it has changed me for the better. I want to share how I now see the world clearer with a laser-like focus on what’s important.

But I believe in always writing with authenticity and with truth, and the truth is, I’m struggling to make sure this experience — this experience that was painful and scary and the lowest time in my life — doesn’t change me for the worse.

I have always been in awe of people who face adversity with courage and grace. The ones who can see the beauty in life through the pain, who don’t get angry for their bad fortune in life, who find a higher purpose despite the indignities they face.

I am not one of those people.

I was selfish.  I wondered why this — this awful illness that took half of my vision and kept me away from the people and life I loved — was happening to me.  As someone who believes deeply in karma, I wondered what bad deed I committed in my past that deserved this fate. I even started questioning my faith.

Then I got angry. Each day that passed seemed to be worse than the one before it, and doctors’ visits became slaps in the face instead of discussions of progress. The constant stream of bad news weighed heavily on my psyche, and hope became a four letter word. A bitterness I had not felt since facing infertility a decade before crept slowly up my soul like bile in my throat

So I cried. A lot. I cried like a baby in my husband’s tired arms, on my mom’s weary shoulders, or through the phone to dear friends who were trying to hide their fear. More tears stung my eyes as I heard my children leave through the door in the morning or when I knew they went to bed, knowing that their Mom couldn’t care for them, or sometimes even walk to their room to kiss them good night.

Shame came next, and came hard. Shame for losing my gratitude, losing my optimism, losing myself. This disease was not fatal, How selfish of me for complaining about my eyesight while I watched friends and family deal with cancer, traumatic brain injuries or unfathomable accidents.  I felt shame for wasting the grace and generosity so many people afforded me, shame for not seeing the beauty in the small moments I did have. How could I not see the painfully wonderful good that was coming out of this situation?

I wanted to be strong, courageous and grateful, but it was just too damn hard.

Then I would feel good for what felt like a second. One good moment when I felt something, anything, like the person I was before my world turned upside down. And you try to go on and believe that everything will, just maybe, be okay.

I have learned that there is no right way to handle adversity. When the shit hits the fan, all bets are off.

When I one day look back on this time, I hope that I see there is strength in vulnerability and courage in letting yourself break down during the tough times.  While this illness that shook me to my core did not always bring out the best in me, I certainly watched it bring out the best in others, like my husband, friends and family. That may be the good I am so desperately seeking.

What I do know is that every situation, every road bump in life, is different, and every — every single one of us who are suffering through our own battles no matter how large or how small — deserves compassion. It is okay to break down and it is okay to need help.

I’m not sure where I am in this chapter of my life story, but I I am thankful to once again be able to exchange my fear of the unknown with optimism that I will find my new normal. Each passing day my body gets stronger and my heart weighs less. I no longer need to rationalize the why’s of this, and can focus more on the what’s next.

How has this changed me? What have I learned from this experience?  It may be too early to tell, but this I know:

I am broken.

I am human.

I am a survivor.

And, one day, whenever that may be, I will be better person because of it.

On April 17, three and a half weeks after my first symptoms, I was diagnosed with acanthomoeba keratitis. Acanthomoeba is an amoeba that invades the cornea of the eye and may result in visual impairment or in some cases, blindness. In the United States, it is often associated with contact lens use. 

Learning How to Live Life

“This is why we say vows.”

Those words lightened my heart as my husband uttered them softly in the dimly lit emergency room. The doctor had just informed us that I was going to be admitted for a series of gastrointestinal tests while I dry heaved into a pink plastic bed pan.

When the doctor left the room, I could not hold the tears back. After dealing with a rare, debilitating eye disease for the past month that rendered me useless, a second trip to the emergency room crushed my spirit and my resolve. I looked up at my tired husband who had been carrying a heavy load the past four weeks and apologized: “I’m sorry this is happening, I am sorry you have to take care of me.”

“Stop,” he said firmly. “This is why we say vows. In sickness and in health and all that other stuff.”

I always knew my husband would be there for me when I needed him most, but to see it in action, to see him honoring the words we said fifteen years ago. It is like viewing at a beautiful piece of art that speaks to your soul.

It also makes me wonder if I could be there for him as he has for me. But then I remember, that is why I said those vows.

This is why you have friends.”

One of my dearest sister-friends said this to me when I told her I felt guilty that so many people were taking care of my family. Unable to drive and relegated to my darkened bedroom due to extreme light sensitivity and pain due to enlarged cornea nerves, a community we only have been a part of for the past 18 months banded together to support us in our time of need. Carpools were organized, meals were coordinated, and people I had never met stepped in to fill in for my commitments. A day didn’t go by where someone didn’t text, email, or call to check in on me.

I was having a particularly tough day when I begrudgingly answered the phone knowing my sweet friend was worried about me. I couldn’t hold the tears back when she asked if my kids were doing okay through all of this. When I choked through telling her how supportive my friends — and people I had never even met— were to our family, she finally interrupted.

“Stop,” she said. “This is why you have friends, to help you through the tough times. You would be the first to be there for another family, so take the help and just say thank you. People want to feel like they can do something. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to do it.”

And so we did — we are — taking the help, knowing it is the only way we could get through this time.

“This is just part of being a mother.”

A day after her 73rd birthday, my mom hopped on a plane from Ohio to Chicago to temporarily move in with my family.  Since she arrived in April, she has packed lunches, washed clothes, helped with homework and cooked meals. She has administered my medicine and accompanied me to doctors’ appointments.  She works tirelessly and without complaint.

One particularly bad day when I was in a lot of pain, I broke down. As I watched my mom finish the breakfast dishes, I felt overwhelming guilt and sadness for forcing my mom — a woman who sacrificed so much of her life to care for others — to now take care of me. It should be the other way around, yet I had lost all control of my life.

My mom came around the counter and wrapped her arm around my slouched shoulders.

“Stop,” she said. “This is just part of being a mom. I want to be here for you and the girls. I would be worried sick if I was at home.”

There was no bitterness, no resentment. It was unconditional mom-love at its finest.

Now that I am past the hardest part of my illness, I still feel overwhelmed by the generosity people have shown my family. I have tried to live my life full of gratitude; yet I do not think I fully understood how lucky I am for the life that I have until it was suddenly taken away.

This. This is how to live life.

In a world where there seems to be more to fear than to hope for; in a world that moves so fast we sometimes lose sight of what is important; in a world that always tells us that we are not enough; I have been shown by good people how to live life.

We say vows — we make promises —that we need to remember when times get tough. Not just in our marriages, but in all our partnerships.

We include people in our lives — we become part of a community — and we must lift each other up in our darkest times.

We need to forget the competition, the Mommy wars, the insecurities, and we must focus on what is important in raising our kids, including demonstrating first-hand how to give more of yourself than you at times receive.

I will always remember this time in my life as dark, painful and difficult. A time when my optimism was lost and fear smacked down my hope, and even caused me to question my faith.

But these past few months have also restored my belief that people are good — genuinely good, if you let them be a part of your journey.

Life is still uncertain for me. I have cleared several hurdles in fighting this disease, but I do not know if my vision will ever return in my left eye. I have options, but we won’t be able to pursue them for several months.

The old me would find this prospect — this undetermined destiny — overwhelming.

But this me. This woman who has been shown so much grace and so much generosity. This me knows I can live through anything.

Because I have been shown how to live life. And I intend to do just that.

On April 17, three and a half weeks after my first symptoms, I was diagnosed with acanthomoeba keratitis. Acanthomoeba is an amoeba that invades the cornea of the eye and may result in visual impairment or in some cases, blindness. In the United States, it is often associated with contact lens use. 

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