A Favor

August 10, 2016 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

Greg left home for a few days, so, as is our time-honored tradition, I had to decide which trouble to get into first. Options included a) using the three gallons of paint I bought to try to cover up the goo and grime somewhere (ANYWHERE) in my house, b) moving all the furniture in all the house and creating general havoc and upheaval from which it will take weeks to recover, c) getting the torso tattoo I’ve been plotting for years, and/or d) bringing home an English Springer Spaniel puppy.

The tattoo was out almost instantly because I would have had to make a phone call to make that happen, and, as everyone who’s tried to call me for the past month can attest, I’m not doing phone-talking right now. I don’t know why talking out loud using words feels patently impossible, but it does, so there goes that idea.

As much as I want the puppy, I decided against getting one while Greg is away, mostly because that simply isn’t how we make decisions in our marriage. Instead, I spend months — sometimes years — emotionally and psychologically torturing Greg with the concept of a puppy (or puppies, or, you know, an entire horse), resentfully enduring his pessimism and disdain, before eventually wearing him down to a mere shadow of his former self; a shadow that finally, in defeat, cedes to my wishes because a) the shadow is too tired and demoralized to divorce me, and b) I put out. I’m just totally doctrinally opposed to getting a puppy without Greg dying a thousand small deaths first; and, since I’m a person of conviction and tenacity, I need to follow my heart here, friends.

That left me with using 3 gallons of paint and moving all the furniture in all the house.

With the oldest boy away at camp this week (cross your fingers and say all the prayers), I decided to paint, clean and redecorate his room. He’s nearly 17, after all, and has been stuck with adorable cartoon airplanes on his walls for the past 10 years, which was rad when he was tiny and is less rad in his gargantuan, man-child state. “You know what would be cool?” I thought, “You know what would help this child see how very loved and valued he is?” If I spend time giving him a new space! A GROWN UP space. A space he can be proud to bring his friends. A space washed and vacuumed and painted and smelling less like hormones and feet. A space that’s ORGANIZED. And so I’ve cleaned and vacuumed and moved three beds from two rooms, and discarded broken chairs and broken toys, and created a going-to-the-dump pile, and removed twelve metric tons of trash, and found the computer bag that’s been missing for months, and done five hundred thousand loads of laundry, and run all those loads a second time but with bleach hoping that would eliminate the persistent smell of rotten cheese, and primed and trimmed and painted and painted and painted until the room looks and smells (!) clean and fresh and new.

And then it occurred to me when all the work was nearly complete that my kid, who relies on routine and known quantities is about to come home from camp to a totally reworked room that’s not at all familiar and smells different because, “SURPRISE! See how much Mommy love you??” So… that’s going to be awesome. Clearly. I mean, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

:/

I sat in the room last night and had a teeny, tiny panic attack.

Then I panicked more, because even though people will tell you panic and worry have never accomplished anything, I have panicked and worried A LOT and then most of the things I’ve panicked and worried about DO NOT COME TO PASS, which is clearly cause-and-effect and means panic and worry do, too, work, so HA! Joke’s on all you suckers who DON’T panic and worry.

IMG_1146Then Zoey and I brainstormed about what to do, and we decided, in addition to panicking and worrying, we would add one more decorative touch to Ian’s room.

See, Ian’s a guy whose love language is words of encouragement. He’s a sponge for kindness. And, as I looked at his new, blank walls, I remembered all of your tremendous kindness to him when he shared his own panic and worry with you. I wondered what it would be like to cover those walls with kind words.

Tonight, Zoey and I will begin writing on those new, clean walls with permanent markers. We’ll start with our own words — like we love you to the MOON — and we’ll move to yours, like “Thank you for being so brave, Ian” and “Thank you for sharing your real lives with others, it is a beautiful gift.”

The goal? That even though Ian will come home to a surprise new room, which may be hard and disconcerting at first, he will also arrive to walls of kindness and love. The kind of walls we ought to be building, you know?

So Zoey and I have a favor to ask. If you have words for the wall — your own or a quote or a poem or a song or a verse — that exude kindness and remind this kid of his tremendous value, would you put them below? I’d love it if we could collaborate on being his Village together.

With love, friends, and appreciation for you,

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P.S. Zoey says pretty please.

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The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

July 11, 2016 in But Seriously, Family, Special Needs, Uncategorized by Beth Woolsey

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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Christmas Came Early: Introducing Someone Very Special…

December 20, 2014 in But Seriously, Family, Special Needs by Beth Woolsey

The tentative whispers and the cautious what ifs — the quiet perhapses and the hesitant maybes — can change your life. 

I know they’ve changed mine.

Again and again, the what ifs and maybes changed mine.

Like, maybe I love him. And, what if I marry him? And, perhaps I should follow my heart.

Changed my life. 

They were toes in the water and the slow first steps, those perhapses of wondering which were born out of longing and transformed into hope. 

Hope for a future.

Hope for a family, because the what ifs of marriage turned into the perhapses of having a baby… and then two more perhapses and a couple of maybes after that, and, whew, five kids is a lot of kids, you know? Like any number of kids is a lot of kids. Any number of kids is a LOT of kids because kids are made out of human like the rest of us and, well, any number of humans is a LOT of humans because we’re all wild and weird and wonderful which is a LOT to take all at once.

Over time in our family, we’ve wound up and down that ladder of perhaps and maybe. A whole lifetime of ups and downs, and downs and ups, and a few more downs, and not all of them pretty. 

What if we never should’ve done this?

What if it was all a mistake?

What if I’m lost forever? What if I can never find myself again?

Maybe they’d be better off without me.

Perhaps I can’t fix this.

I’d be lying if I told you I’ve never wondered whether my kids and my partner got the worst end of the deal when they landed me as a mom and a wife. I’ve wondered that a thousand thousand times. And I’ve wondered it most of all for Ian, my kid with special needs who’s strong and kind and suffers all the time because the world is an anxious place and he’s unsure where to find safety and solace. 

Maybe if I was a better mother.

Maybe if I was a better comforter.

Maybe if I wasn’t so totally batshit crazy.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I know my son’s early years, without us there yet, were full of uncertainty and neglect.

Maybe if I’d gotten there sooner…

Maybe if I was more patient…

Maybe if I’d advocated better or got to the specialists faster…

But it turns out that one of the biggest challenges of my life this far is the act of forgiving myself for everything I cannot be and all the things I cannot fix and to embrace myself for being one of those wild, weird, wonderful humans, after all… and then choosing, somehow, to dip my toes into the hopeful side of perhaps again. Choosing, somehow, to believe in the good what ifs  and the magical maybes

We sat in the counseling office a few months ago with our son. We talked again about the panic attacks and the scariness of the night. We talked about the fight or flight of anxiety. We talked about watching our kid hurting. And we talked about hope and help, and the counselor had a what if.

What if… a service dog? What if… a warm companion? What if… affection, no strings attached? What if… she’s trained to help? What if… she can do for him something special? Something extraordinary? 

I said no. It’s too complicated. It’s Another Thing in our Busy Lives. It’s unmanageable and unrealistic. My husband won’t go for another dog – no way, no how. 

But my son’s whole face lit up, and his body relaxed, and my heart whispered maybe.

Zoey5And so I’d like to introduce you to our new Zoey… a maybe born out of longing, transformed into hope, and here in the flesh and the fur.

Christmas came early in our house, no question.

Christmas came early, and Love is made real. 

Again and again, Love is made real. In the form of a Baby. In the whisper of maybe. It’s just, this time, she came with floppy ears and a tail.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas… or a Happy Hannukah… or a Wonderful Kwanza… or whatever says Love and Light to you this season… and sending Joy and Hope because I have extra right now,

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P.S. Here are some pictures of a Dog and Her Boy.

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Pardon me while I use this entire box of tissues. 

And P.P.S., for those of you wondering who we went through to make this happen, we’re incredibly thrilled and grateful to be working with Aliesha Shepherd at Sit Spot Click Dog Training. Aliesha found Zoey for us and is training her and… the biggest challenge… training US. 

Parenting for the Win

October 26, 2013 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey

I’ve been parenting for the win a lot lately, and I just thought I’d share a couple things I’m doing exceptionally well so you can follow my example and better your parenting, too.

First, I accused my teenager of acting like a 5-year-old because she didn’t want to come out of her room for, you know, the whole weekend, so I was feeling rejected, hurt and powerless, and also the tiniest bit premenstrually enraged, and that’s always the best time to accuse others. That’s when she told me she was staying in her room because she was in a bad mood and didn’t want to take it out on others “since that’s what you say to do, Mom; if you can’t be kind, take some time alone until you can.”  

photo 2 (47)Ahhhh, crap.

And SHOOT.

This is also why I say to do what I say and not what I do. Because my ideas are WAY better than my execution, man.

So there was that for the parenting win.

And then my dad-in-law with his new bum shoulder needed some help moving boxes, and we happen to have a strapping 13 year old boy with excellent shoulders, a desperate need for activity and structure, and a frequently questionable work ethic. PERFECT. So Greg hollered down the stairs, “Hey, Ian?”

“What?” Ian hollered back, ’cause we’re one of those strict don’t-yell-in-the-house families.

“Grandpa’s gotta move some boxes toda…” and Greg didn’t even get through the sentence before that kid started yelling, “NOOOOOOOO! No! No! NOOOOOOOO!” And MAN that made me mad.

Spitting mad.

Minus the spitting because I’m not much of a spitter.

But brain-whirling mad, for sure.

I had so many thoughts in my brain, in fact, that they all backed up and I couldn’t figure out which one to yell first. Like, “Oh HELL no, kid. When someone in our family needs help, we do NOT start bellowing NO.” Or, “You get your little rear in gear right now, pal. And when you’re done helping Grandpa move boxes, I’ll give you some extra work so you can practice having a decent attitude about it.” Or, “GAH! WHY CAN’T YOU STOP BEING SUCH A TOTAL BUTT NUGGET?!”

You know, brain-whirling mad.

Which is when that same kid – the kid with expressive language disorder who takes some time to get his words out – finished his “NOOOOOOOO! No! No! NOOOOOOOO!” thought with, “NO! Grandpa should not do that! I’m strong. I go help him right now!”

Mm hm.

Misjudge your kids much, Beth?

Pffftttt.

In conclusion, I hate it when my children are more mature than me. It really bites, you know?

B

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Please feel free to join me this fine weekend and share your Parenting Wins, as well. Misery loves company. I swear.

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40DaysofGraceLogoYou can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

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Last-Last-Minute Halloween Costume

October 31, 2012 in Family by Beth Woolsey

Hey, thanks to all of you who came to my Halloween Eve rescue with great, find-stuff-at-home, last-minute costume ideas.

Ian, the only one of my kiddos who attends a school that allows costumes, decided this morning to be a troll.

You may be confused, as I was, about what exactly the difference is between a troll, a zombie and a vampire.

A troll, it turns out, has horns (thank you, gel and hairspray!) and clean but ragged clothes. Minus the horns, we seem to be a family of trolls. Who knew?

A zombie is filthy, shambles instead of walks, and brains drip from its mouth.

A vampire wears black (never brown – geez, Mom), has fangs, and there’s blood all over its clothes.

Vampires and zombies, I guess, are messy eaters; I’ll bet their mommies take them straight to the tub when dinner’s over.

As you can see, this is a troll.

Obviously.

I asked my troll if they all have eyes this pretty, deep brown and doe-like.

And my troll said, “Mom. Stop. I’m a mean troll. Not pretty.”

But then he smiled and wrecked everything.

Happy Halloween from my trollish family!
Here’s wishing you a safe and fun holiday.

Also, I don’t mean to ruin my nice holiday wishes by being competitive, but on the Massive Candy Acquisition Front? We’re gonna take you down, friends.

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Reflections on Back-to-School from a Both/And Mom

September 4, 2012 in Beth, But Seriously, Family by Beth Woolsey

It’s back-to-school Tuesday, and I’m just not sure. I’m a little lost. A touch uncertain. I’m not so much confused as I am, well, complicated. So I wonder…

Is today an OK day to be a Both/And mom?

Is it?

Because, you know, I read articles and blogs and Facebook posts and they’re kind of Either/Or about this whole back-to-school thing, and I admit, I’m a wallflower at the party, trying to stand quietly in the corner and not say too much, ’cause I’m not sure exactly where I fit, and I don’t know how to pick a side.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! some folks say. Kids are headed back to school. WOOHOO!

And I agree. Oh, I agree. I SO agree. I’ve said it myself.

The kids are headed back to school today, and I might get to go to the bathroom all by myself. I’m already gearing up, in fact, by doing no potty-planning at all. With kids in school, I won’t have to throw off-brand Lucky Charms at their feet or sit them in front of Dinosaur Train or bribe them with a pinata full of sugar to get three minutes alone, which means I can just get up spontaneously whenever nature calls and go. Back-to-school days are the miracle of time wrapped in a bathroom, and I am glad for them.

But I’m not glad without guilt. Or eager without embarrassment. Because just when I reach my back-to-school mama high (certain that this is the September I’ll finally get Caught Up), I read beautiful, aching messages from mamas who, with sorrow and angst, are sending their littles to their very first days of school in their carefully selected Very First Days of School outfits — or, with brave smiles and nervous tummies, they’re sending their bigs away again to face that scary schoolyard uncertainty.

As for me, my kiddos are off to school in their scuffed tennis shoes and same old clothes. We’re pinching pennies right now since I left my job to write, and we’re making financial trade-offs, hoping to travel this fall. New duds didn’t make the budget cuts, and the kids didn’t care. But I wonder, will they care today when they see their spiffy friends? Did I make a terrible, confidence-destroying mistake?

My baby boys start kindergarten this week — their first year of all-day school — and I’m a little bit lonely for them already. A little bit sad. A little bit torn that they’re leaving. They’re my tinies, after all, and they’ll be teenagers tomorrow, which I know is true because my teenager was in kindergarten just yesterday.

We sent our biggest boy off to middle school for the first time this morning.

Middle school. Middle school. Which we confidently told him he will boss, baby. But, well, you know, it’s middle school, so my breathing is a shade shallow and my smile is a touch forced and I’m waiting eagerly for 2:20pm so I can pick him up from school and hold him a little while he holds his mama and tells me it’s going to be OK.

But here’s the rub — the complication — the complexity: I’m mostly excited for my tinies and my bigs. Mostly eager to watch them learn and discover and become. Mostly ecstatic to have the bathroom and the kitchen and my room all to myself. Mostly thrilled that we’ve come so far and raised five kids so big. 

So here I sit at my computer this new, first day of school with my Both/And feelings — gah! — and I’m filled to overflowing with my longing for them, and the loss of them, and the lifting of them, and the letting them go. I’m both proud and pathetic. Confident and concerned. Mama and mess.

It’s back-to-school Tuesday, and I’m not quite sure. I’m a little lost. A touch uncertain.

Is today an OK day to be a Both/And mom?

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On Silence and Cacophony and Things That Soothe the Soul

July 2, 2012 in Beth, But Seriously, Family, Funny, Health by Beth Woolsey

I woke up yesterday morning to silence which happens to me exactly never and made me think that there was a strange and awesome aligning of the planets… or that kind, gentle faeries came in the night to cast magical, sleeping mommy spells… or that I suddenly went blessedly deaf… or that the Rapture happened and I didn’t make the cut and the apocalypse has been terribly misunderstood and only ever wanted to come in peace, after all.

It turns out, four out of five kids weren’t home yesterday morning which, in my book, was a miracle on par with the Second Coming of Christ. And the fifth kid? I discovered Aden (after I stopped for a leisurely cup of coffee) plugged into the television, wide-eyed and slack-jawed, and intent on charging her brain to Full Rot before she went away to camp for the week where there are – gasp – No Screens At All.

Early in the morning, Greg and my dad took our 12-year-old boy child to a major league ball game in Seattle, thanks to free tickets from a friend. Three hours by car each way to see the Mariners and the Red Sox duke it out and, most importantly, to eat processed, salty meat products and extra-garlicky garlic fries.

The dog and I were at loose ends in all the quiet, to be honest. There was no knock-knocking on the kitchen table or thump-thumping down the stairs or screeching at the siblings, and so we both forgot to bark for hours and hours, and we watched each other warily, unnerved by the constant serenity.

I went to church yesterday morning (not just to cover my Rapture bases), and I remembered to politely turn off my phone for the service.

A few weeks ago, which was the second-to-the-last time I turned off my phone, Abby texted me from a friend’s house in the middle of the night to tell me she was having an asthma attack and couldn’t breathe and forgot her inhaler and needed me and “Mom Mom Mom Mom HELLO MOM i need u!!!!!!” I got her message 6 hours later.

Last week, which was the time-before-this-one that I turned off my phone, my sister-in-law texted to tell me that my little nephew was being transported in an ambulance to the hospital because he forgot – again, stupid allergies – that breathing is important, and could I please come right now right now right now to watch her other kids so she could be with her boy? I got her message 2 hours later.

Yesterday morning when I turned off my phone, my dad texted to tell me that they didn’t make it to Seattle for the ball game because Greg had a sudden hankering for some narcotic assistance with passing a kidney stone, and hanging out in the hospital lobby in Portland is almost as good as a fun guys’ trip, anyway. I got his message an hour and a half later.

Although I hear we’re too tied as a culture to our phones, I’ve decided to never turn mine off again. I shall follow Greg’s fine example forthwith and begin escorting mine everywhere. I plan to name him Sting and tell him all of my very best secrets and kiss him every night before I go to bed. And if the Rapture happens and I’m not paying attention to the trumpets in the sky because I’m staring at Sting, I’ll just have to hope that Jesus has an awesome, unlimited texting plan so he can get through to me and all the other phone-starers. It appears as though I’m not very good at being present for my family without a deeper, more personal relationship with my phone, and since Being Present is a whole lot what Love looks like, I want very much to be there when they need me.

Greg arrived home around 2:00 yesterday afternoon, stoned on narcotics and pain and working really hard to Give Birth, Man-Style. I was a great help to him, teaching him Lamaze and enforcing the Do Not Email or Facebook or Text On Narcotics rule which is something teetotalers, like Greg, don’t learn earlier in life. I helped, though, most of all by polishing off our two-pound bag of pretzel M&M’s all by myself so he wouldn’t have to get out of bed do it.

By 10:00 pm, Greg passed out with his bedside light on. All of that Not Texting really wore him out, and maybe the relentless waves of pain did, too.

Cai and Cael fell asleep on our floor, a tangled mess of preschooler limbs and pillows and stuffed bears and stained blankets, and Cael stutter-snored throughout the night – not rhythmic and soothing, the way babies breathe with their vocal cords, but full of stops and starts and ricochets and interruptions.

Abby came home from the beach and she brought her best friend with her; I told them to be extremely quiet because Dad was still very sick, so they slammed cupboard doors and turned up the television volume and giggled like crackhead hyenas.

Ian stumbled into our room around midnight, a frenetic zombie intent on sleep walking his way to mass destruction or, at the very least, a good snack. He startled the dog and me and set us both to barking at him which made us feel content and fulfilled.

I tried to prepare myself for a sleepless night, which is always as useless as preparing for grief. It’ll either lay you flat or it won’t, and nothing you do to prepare will make any difference at all.

In the end, we all slept fine, lulled somehow by the cacophony of this chaotic life.

I woke up yesterday morning to silence, and it was very, very good. But it turns out silence isn’t the only thing that soothes the soul.