Friday, March 7, 2014

The Thinking Box

We all have a place where we can go to clear our minds. A place where there are few disturbances and we are able to get through a thought without being interrupted. For me, those places have changed and adapted over the years as my life has changed.

When I was growing up, my favorite place to think, imagine, create, and just be a kid were the woods and creek in the back of my house. Give me some tolerable weather and I was outside. Breakfast in my little body, clothes on, and out the door I went, barefoot if at all possible.  I never wanted to wear shoes as a kid. My feet were tough. I could walk across our gravel driveway as if it was the lush green grass in our yard.  Sometimes my parents would try to make me wear shoes outside, but I learned to outfox them. I wore them out the door but quickly hid them along the path in the woods to be retrieved on the way home.

Out the door and onto the small worn dirt path that led me down to the creek.  Dirt, rocks and sticks under my small callused feet, poison ivy trying to brush my ankles, I would run down to the creek looking for my next adventure. Scaling rocks, wading in the water, making dams and chasing water spiders were always part of my mission. Alone on my journey, I tended to sing out loud, a performance for only the animals to hear. I would talk out loud to myself sometimes about what I was doing. Other times I was lost in my thoughts and ideas, working them out with only the birds to answer to.

As a moody teenager, I retreated to my room for peace. This was the place I could be alone. Music playing, I would lie on my bed and brood over whatever teenagers brood about, most likely boys, friends, school, and my parents’ rules. Sometimes I wrote in my journal, scribbling out my thoughts about why trigonometry and analytical geometry were so hard and so boring or trying to understand why “so and so” broke up with me. Life is hard as a teenager. There are lots of lessons to be learned, especially the lesson about how the world doesn’t revolve around you.

Years later I was living and working on a dude ranch in Colorado. The first year I worked there, I would go hiking on my day off.  Traipsing through the woods, backpack full of water and snacks, sometimes listening to my Discman (that certainly aged me right there). Hours worth of hiking through the mountains to clear my head and get myself ready to wake up and take care of the guests who were vacationing there that week. I don’t remember now what I thought about or what problems were that I solved, I just knew that each time I went out the warmth of the sun and the beauty of my surroundings healed me.

Fast forward about 20 years and now I rely on what I like to call, “The Thinking Box.” This is a place where the kids (mostly) leave me alone. I am not interrupted by their incessant need for snacks or by a phone ringing.  In this place I have solved some hard life problems. I thought of the idea for the first article that I wrote and had published in the CrossFit Journal.  Sometimes in The Thinking Box I have written blog posts in my head, posts that never made it into the light of day.

In the Box I can cry and no one can hear me - because sometimes a woman just needs to cry.  These cries are my own, not to be shared, just a release I need from time to time. My cries are hidden because the sound of rushing water washes them away.  The warm water also soothes my aching muscles after a hard workout, and somehow I also feel that the water washes away all the extra stuff in my head; the rubbish that has tried to stick to my brain, clouding my thoughts, weighing me down with doubts, and not allowing me to think clearly.  In the Box I can take a deep breath and say out loud, “Ok, let me think about this,” and there is a release. The junk is gone, at least for now, washed away and circling the drain. Now my mind is able to do the work that it needs to do. Thoughts, solutions, and ideas flow freely.

I don’t have a lot of time in The Thinking Box, maybe 15 minutes max. But those minutes are my minutes. No music, no phone, nothing else to distract me. Just the hot water beating down on me as I solve life’s problems and create new stories and dreams, all in a 15 minute shower. Thank God for a long hot shower.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Imposters

It still happens weekly. She catches my eye. I see the short, beautiful white hair, the petite build, and I gasp. I recognize her. I know her. But then, after a longer look, I am plunged back into reality.

I see this woman taking walks, in the store, and just the other day, in a bar. Walking was and still is her thing, so that mistake is almost understandable. But a bar? She was never one to frequent bars. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s not her.

Despite the fact that my mom has been in a facility for years due to her battle with Alzheimer’s disease, something in me holds on to the woman I once knew. I am not sure why. Maybe it’s habit, because it sure isn’t hope. There is no going back from her disease.

When I see her “imposters,” I tend to gasp and have uncontrollable feelings of happiness and recognition. They are the sort of feelings you experience when you see a friend in an unexpected place. The quick feeling of joy and the slight adrenaline rush is quickly replaced with disappointment, sadness, and also a feeling of internal embarrassment.

Embarrassed because I have continually let myself be tricked. Tricked in an instant, even though I am very aware of the reality. I live that reality every single day. The reality that she must be in a locked down unit for her safety. Although she loves to walk, she certainly won’t be seen walking the trail in Zionsville, where many times I thought I saw her. She walks only at the facility.

To be in public and have that happen is tough. It’s a burst of emotions that tie my mind and heart into knots of confusion. Each time it happens, I try to recover just as quickly as it happens. I immediately begin an interior dialogue as I wonder why it happened. I ask myself how I could think that was her when I know, in my mind and heart, that it isn’t, that it can’t be? The instant joy, followed by disappointment buoyed on a layer of confusion and sadness, is almost too much to take in and process in seconds. But I do it, every week, when I glance and see a person who I suppose for an instant to be Mom.

I have never told anyone that this happens. It is one more entry on a laundry list of strange things that happen as I try to deal with my mom’s disease. It is just another situation that sounds crazy if I try to explain it. Stranger still, I sometimes think that, even if those moments are too strange to be explained, maybe they are not entirely unwelcome. For even if each moment is fleeting, and is inevitably followed by disappointment, for that instant I am so happy and excited to see the mom I once knew. A walk in the park, a day of shopping, having a drink at a bar are everyday experiences that we take for granted. When I think I see Mom experiencing life in the ways that I know she would be, if she only could, rather than fearing my momentary confusion, perhaps I will learn to accept it as a gift of imagination. Time will tell.

But for now I will settle for holding her hand, taking her on a walk around the ward, and helping her drink her lemonade at lunch. These moments soon will be gone, too. Though these times are different from the times we could have had together, they are the moments I now have with my mom. These moments are real, and I must cherish each one.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Take Care

This first month of the year has been anything but what I had expected. Wrought with health crises, winter storms and broken “stuff.” You would think having 31 days filled, and I mean FILLED, with all of this could about break a person, yet somehow I have remained calm and fairly balanced. This girl, who has been known to be filled with anxiety, has managed to be anything but.

Yesterday I was thinking about why I have had such a sudden change. I don't have the answer yet, but these last 31 days have brought insight. This month has taught and retaught me lessons of love, compassion, and responsibility.

  1. If you feel like something is “off” with your body, you are probably right. This statement comes from my own personal experience, as well as what others have said. Examples of feeling "off" are aches and pains that you never had before, being tired all the time, and losing hair. Or maybe it’s just the feeling that something is off and your body isn't functioning as efficiently as it should be. Now, many people will make the excuse that they are older and this is probably the reason they aren't feeling quite right.. Could be, but in my case, as well as with some of my friends, it was not age, but something out of whack with the body. Don't make excuses, find answers.

  1. If you aren't getting an answer that satisfies you, keep looking. It took more than three years for me to finally get an answer to my problem. Three years of chronic fatigue, losing strength, and feeling off despite the fact that I was eating clean, exercising, and lifting weights. Doctors were telling me that I was fine and that it was probably due to stress. After three years, you start to wonder if you are crazy, if this is just how it is going to be. I finally switched doctors and explained to her what was going on the past three years. After a full blood panel, as well as a few other tests, I had my answer within a week. I am on my road to healing my body, but others are not as lucky. They do not have three years to figure it out. Some may have a week, a day, or only hours to get treatment. Press for an answer that makes sense to you. Not an answer that makes sense to your doctor or spouse, to you. Push for it. Trust your intuition. It could be a matter of life or death.

  1. What you do to your body matters - a lot. Two of the most important things you can do for your body are to eat well and exercise. I can see some of you rolling your eyes and saying “I know, I know,” totally annoyed at this statement. Still, research shows that diet and exercise are the most important ways to keep illnesses and disease at bay. Eat whole foods. Do not eat foods that are processed and filled with chemicals and hormones. Eat in moderation. Once you have fueled your body with healthy foods - move. I CrossFit, but I am in no way, shape or form saying that is what everyone has to do. It works for me. Find what works for you. Walk, ride a bike, swim, do yoga, or play basketball. Do one or do them all. Just move and keep moving. Make it a habit. You will be so glad that you did.

  1. Slow down. We are all so “busy.” Really, it seems that we are just busy being busy- filling every spare moment with jobs, activities, and responsibilities. Then we all are so exhausted that our “spare” time is plopping down on the couch watching TV because we are too tired to do anything else. Take the time to stop whatever you are doing and greet your spouse as he or she comes in the door. Sometimes we all want to quickly put the kids to bed. We are exhausted from the day, and we just want to have a glass of wine and watch Netflix. But what about that sweet little child who just wants three extra minutes with you. She just wants a short story or to tell you something that she forgot about her day. Maybe she just needs to be with you.  Stop, snuggle in close, breathe in the smell of your little one’s messy head because the day will come when these opportunities are gone. Put down the phone and pay attention. The real world is going on all around you. A world full of messy kitchen counters, kids launching monster trucks off their homemade ramps, dogs wanting an extra pat, and the cool silence of snowfall outside your window. 

  1. You are not alone. There are times in our lives when we have felt alone. We have hated something we have done. We can't imagine anyone liking the “real” us. Or maybe you are in a situation that seems hopeless. You are in crisis and need help. And while you are up to your eyes in poo, while you feel like no one understands, that no one loves you and you feel so alone, there is an army of people battering down your door, wanting to help you. This month, three friends and their families have been in crisis mode. It was time for them to drop everything- jobs, lunch dates, all those things that keep us busy- and focus on what mattered. And guess what? Each time they couldn’t do for themselves, their battalion of helpers showed up to do for them. Family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers were eager to help. Kids got taken care of, meals were made, hugs were given, prayers went out, and tears were shared. Breathe easy and know that you are not one, but instead are part of a great and powerful army that will fight for you any day you need them.

Put down your phone, turn off the TV, get off the computer, and pay attention to the life that is happening all around you. Don't put things off until tomorrow. Listen to your body and honor it. Feed your body and mind with the good stuff. When that bad stuff starts to creep in, know that your army is waiting to do battle with you and for you. People love us even at the times it is hard for us to love ourselves. We must do the best we can with each day we are given because we never know when this day may be our last. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Break

Caregivers have a tough job. It can be thankless and ridden with guilt. It is a job where you have to constantly create balance. A balance between the job of taking care of someone, that someone being a person that you love, and living the rest of your life, your life outside of Alzheimer's.

In the past, I felt horrible anxiety about being a caretaker for Mom all the time. In the earlier stages of Alzheimer's, I worried about her getting lost or hurt. I worried about someone taking advantage of her. I worried about messing up something in her life, a life that I was now responsible for. Would I mess up her bills? Was I truly aware of the toll the disease was taking on her? Had she progressed further in the disease than I realized?

Looking back, I can answer these questions. Yes, she usually was further along in the disease than I realized at the time. Yes, I messed up her bills more than once. Taking care of my own household's bills as well as Mom's was sometimes too much, so I made mistakes. Fortunately, no one took advantage of her that I’m aware of. And yes, she did get lost sometimes, but she never was hurt, thank goodness.

During the earlier stages of her disease, I was constantly worried that I was not visiting Mom enough. When she was living alone or in assisted living, she was still aware enough to know when I was visiting. Often I took her shopping at Target or out to have a simple lunch. Sometimes we walked around the grounds of the assisted living facility, other times we would sit and talk or look through pictures. I treasured these times, but I can still remember the pressure I put on myself to go see her. The anxiety that I had if I hadn't been there in a few days. It was immense. Balancing my life as a wife and mother of two as well as being a caretaker to my Mom was, at times, more than I thought I could take. I cried a lot, mostly when no one was around. I felt like no one understood. It sometimes made me physically ill.

Soon came the stage when she didn't know when I had last been there. So that helped alleviate the anxiety, right? No. At the beginning of this stage, she would cry to the nurses in assisted living saying that she missed me and wondered why I hadn't come to see her. When my sister Morgan would call her, Mom would tell her she hadn't seen me in six months even though I had been to see her the day before. So I felt even more pressure. I was visiting and Mom didn't even remember. Worst of all was that she thought I had abandoned her. Mom was so sad because she thought I was mad at her or I didn't care about her anymore.

Now we are in the severe stages of Alzheimer's disease. I try and visit once or twice a week, but Mom has no idea when I was last there. Some would say that she doesn't even know me anymore, but I beg to differ. She may not have known that I was there two days ago, but most of the time when I go to visit Mom, she is able to let me know, in her own way, that she knows me. I give her my standard greeting of, “Hi Mom! It's me, Molly, your daughter.” Most days her face lights up and she says, “Hey hon!” She no longer knows my name or the meaning behind the word daughter, but I believe she knows that I am someone who loves her. The “hon” that I get is enough. It tells me she knows that I am not a random visitor or a nurse. She feels a loving connection to me.

I am not sure what would happen if I never went to see her again. Just writing those words breaks my heart, as I could never do that, but I know that is how some people handle the loss of the person they once knew. Would she forget me altogether? That is a question that is meant to be left unanswered. I like seeing Mom. I love the way she lays her head on my shoulder when I put my arm around her. I
love touching her soft skin and I would miss hearing her voice. As much as I want to see her every week, in all honesty, sometimes I cannot seem to get there to visit. This past month, I had a two week break when I didn't visit Mom. My “other” life, meaning life with my husband and children, plus the extreme weather, got in the way.

The other day I was thinking about the two weeks that I missed seeing Mom. How in the past I would have made myself sick with guilt because it had been so long since I saw her. This time I didn't feel this way. I guess there were other things that were more pressing at the time. Some might say that I could have found a way and they are probably right. But sometimes in life you have to let some things go to keep yourself well. Unfortunately, this time, visiting my mom was what I had to let go of. Luckily, when I did go see her, she remembered me. Her face lit up and I got a big smile and a “Hey hon!” And when I had to go, as I hugged her and told her that I loved her and that I had to go, she told me not to go far. This was her way of telling me to come back soon. And I will.

Think what you might, but that small break from my mom was something I needed. A brief step away so that I can return to being the best caretaker and daughter that I can be for her. No guilt this time, but refreshed instead. Because sometimes a break is just what we need. And that is ok.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Angels Among Us

Daily our lives are touched by people in many different ways. Sometimes these experiences happen but do not register with us in any sort of profound way. Lately, I have been reminded about certain individuals who stand out. There are many people who have made a difference in my life in many ways, but I am thinking of people who have helped me through one of the hardest things that I have had to deal with. They have helped me through the many ups and downs of dealing with my mom having Alzheimer's Disease. These people are my angels here on Earth.

Chinel - My mom knew Chinel before I did. Chinel has done my mom's hair for years so she has known Mom since before Alzheimer’s and through all the stages of Alzheimer's. Mom knew Chinel as a single woman and through a marriage and having her first child. Even when Mom couldn't drive herself, she insisted that it must be Chinel who did her hair. Mom always talked about how kind Chinel was and that she enjoyed her time while in her chair. She was angry and saddened when she thought some of Chinel’s fellow employees were being mean to Chinel and not treating her right. And even now, now that Mom doesn't know what is going on, we always return to see Chinel. Alzheimer's patients don't always do well with some of the things we take for granted, but sometimes they seem to know that they are in good hands. Just yesterday, for instance, it was obvious that Mom still knew, in her heart of hearts, that Chinel is a kind and loving person. Chinel is always so patient and sweet. She talked with Mom, even though what Mom says often makes no sense. Chinel listened to Mom as she talked in her own confused way about the pictures of Chinel’s daughter Trinity that she saw in Chinel’s workspace. She understands even when my mom is confused about the “Lady in the Mirror.” And we certainly have had many laughs over the years, as well as more than our share of sadness. Yesterday Chinel had a hug from Mom, and I know it meant the world to both of them. Chinel is about to have another daughter, due any day now. She will be off for at least six weeks, and we intend to wait for her return before Mom has another haircut. We will wait for our angel. She is our angel because I don’t think I could have continued to take my mom out as much as I have without knowing she had Chinel's chair to sit in and her company to share.

Liz F.- I met Liz in college, and through Facebook and because of a mutual hardship, we have reconnected. That hardship is Alzheimer's. Like my mother, her mother-in-law is suffering from this disease. And despite the miles between us, we know that we have each other's back. It doesn't matter what time of day, we both know that a text from the other means that we need a strong woman to help get through some crisis. Because our loved ones are at different stages, I have been able to offer much help and many suggestions. I can relay to her what I did in certain situations, hoping that maybe this would work for her MIL. And this is not a one-sided deal. This is not a relationship in which I am only helping her. No, we help each other. We understand what the other person is going through. We know the real pain that we have like no one else does. We have lived it and still live it each day. One day she told me that this fight can be so lonely. That some of her friends have abandoned her. They are tired of hearing her struggles, tired of wiping her tears. This broke my heart. I am lucky. People have stayed strong for me when I needed them. They have not left my side. And Liz, my Colorado angel, I will stand strong with you, listen to your struggles, wishing I was at your side to give you a hug and wipe those tears away. Count on me, my angel, you can count on me.

Stacie- Stacie started out as my workout buddy. We would labor through our CrossFit workouts, pushing each other to be better than we thought we could be. Always listening and offering advice, she helped me stay healthy and keep working out, even when I just wanted to put that bar down. She understands that this is what my body needs both physically and mentally. Now that workout partnership has turned into a close personal friendship. Stacie, I thank you for being a friend who has surprised me in so many good ways. I will not forget the offers to help with my mom, even though you have never met her. Offering help for when I was out of town and couldn't help her. You are a selfless friend and I thank you. Also, thank you for keeping it real and making me laugh. Your brutal honesty and one liners crack me up. We sweat away the toxins and the sweat angels remind us why we are there.

Morgan - My sister and Mom’s other daughter also has this struggle to get through. I understand that she is far away and not physically here all the time. She just can't be, but I know that I can pick up the phone and call her anytime. Despite her own pain with the situation, she listens. She helps dry my tears, even 12 hours away. She offers suggestions when I need them. We share laughs when a story strikes us as funny, and she stays strong for me even when she also is sad and it is hard for her to be strong. She is a caretaker, a friend, and the best sister I could ask for. My words seem simple for such a complex situation, but I can feel her love and her strength no matter the distance. My sister, my angel.

Jason and the kids - They have been with me through this entire struggle. They have known my mom through every stage. Jason offers whatever he can, depending on the situation. They have helped Mom when I was out of town, visited her with me, or given me hugs and kisses and let me cry, because sometimes that is exactly what I need to do, just cry. The kids have known their grandma through every stage. They continue to be excited to see her. They accept her for whoever she is on that day, at that moment. They dance with her, they tell her she is beautiful, and they share their treats with her. They visit her with me when I am not strong enough to do it on my own. And they all have shown true love, patience, and understanding not only with Mom, but with me. These angels I hold close to my heart.

Last and certainly not least, my Dad - Remember first, as you are reading this, that he edits every one
of my posts, so he is having to read this about himself as he edits. My Dad is one of the most selfless people I know. He was once married to Mom, they remained friendly after the marriage ended, and he has to continue to hear from his girls the heartbreak that her condition causes us. As a parent I know it is hard to hear that your children are suffering, but he also loved this lady, so he has his own feelings for her to deal with, too. Despite all this, he always has an open ear and heart. He listens to what Morgan and I tell him about Mom- all the pain, hurt, stress, and disappointments. And he hurts because we hurt. Just last week, after having a conversation with Morgan about how hard I was taking Mom's deterioration, he offered the ultimate sacrifice. He offered to move Mom to Virginia, where he lives. We could put her in a safe place there, and he said that he would watch out for her. He thought that having to shoulder the responsibility for my mother every day was too much for me. He worried that I was breaking, and he said that he would relieve me by taking on the responsibility for Mom. We declined the offer, but we will never forget it. Dad is certainly one of my biggest fans, but what he doesn't realize is that I am an even bigger one of his.

We must surround ourselves with those who can help lift us up when we cannot pick ourselves up. We are caretakers for others, but as we care for others, so do we need others to help take care of us. We all have our own angels. Find yours, keep them in your life, thank them, and love them. Blessed be the angels, for they are us.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Love's Spark

Part Two of Our Day of Giving

And so begins the rest of our adventure on that day of giving. We first had planned on just volunteering for the USO and the Snowball Express, but new plans surfaced along the way.

Jacob and I were done volunteering around lunch time. Time had flown, and we were both starving. We stopped off to get lunch and fuel our bodies for the next two stops. We both enjoyed having our lunch together, discussing the day so far. We talked about the little kids. They were so cute and they really enjoyed the bowling game. We talked about all the wonderful things they got to do, but we also discussed that many of these kids had lost fathers, and there was one Dad there with his two daughters who had lost their mother. My heart ached for these families, but I was glad that we could bring a little cheer to their day.

My mother-in-law, also known as Mimi, had mentioned in passing that she wasn't going to put up a tree this year and not much in the way of decorations. My guess was that the effort to do all this was a little too overwhelming for her. That is where Jacob and I came in. After lunch we headed to her house to “ungrinch” it. She was at work and had no idea that we were going to her house to take care of the decorations. In we went and down to the basement to search around for what we needed. She made it easy. She had five artificial trees and some of them were still decorated from last year. I knew that she liked to have trees in the main rooms that she uses, so we set out to place trees where she could see them. One that was already decorated went into her bedroom. Jacob commented on how pretty the glow from the lights was and that he was sure Mimi was going to love it! Onward.

Next we found three smaller trees of various sizes. They seemed to go together. The problem was that two were decorated and the large one was not. Jacob convinced me that this was ok and that if we grouped them together it would look like it was supposed to be like that. We decided to put these in the kitchen where she had just the little nook for them.

Last was the living room. We brought up the final tree, which was not decorated but did have lights pre-hung on it. We had to find decorations for it. She had tub after tub of decorations and I wasn't really sure which to grab. I found one tub with grapes and golden guitars and some silver and gold pine cones and other baubles. I decided I would use these. It was sure to look like a tree from the department store. Those decorations were fancy!

Jacob and I gathered around the tree and placed the decorations here and there. We surveyed our work, rearranged, checked again, and rearranged the decorations one final time. I remembered seeing a tree skirt and some other decorations that she had used in the past. I gathered them from the basement, and we talked about what to do with the things I had found. We decided to put the sleigh on the fireplace hearth. Jacob thought we should place the two reindeer, dressed in their holiday best, under the tree. We did just that and we were finished.

We again checked each tree and were so excited for Mimi to see what we had done. Jacob was full of joy and excitement for doing this small thing for Mimi, his paternal grandma. Then we were out the door and on to our last stop, to visit my mom, his maternal grandma.

We arrived at the locked down ward where she lives. Jacob had some M&Ms in his pocket in case we had to bribe her to hang out with us. Sounds strange, but you soon learn what works, at least sometimes, with an Alzheimer's patient. Grandma loves her treats! In we went, Jacob racing ahead to punch in the code, because kids love punching buttons, Santa hat bobbing along. In we went, and she was talking with another resident. We approached her and the nurse told her we had arrived. She was a bit confused at first, but we greeted her with hellos, hugs, kisses, and a few M&Ms, and she was soon on our side. We started our visit with walking around a bit, which she loves to do.

There was an old Cab Calloway movie on. It was belting out some great tunes and so Jacob decided to ask his Grandma to dance. They danced and she sang. They danced some more and then I cut in and danced a bit with Mom. She smiled, laughed, and sang some more. She was having a great time. After about 45 minutes, we had to get home in time to meet Reese, who would be off the bus soon. We explained to Mom that we would have to go and she gave us an, “Awwww,” just like a little kid would. Then she laughed and said, “I understand hon. It's ok.” We told her we would see her soon. She walked us to the door where we gave her more hugs, kisses, and told her we loved her.

We scooted out and Jacob and I held hands as we walked toward the car, skipping through the parking lot.

It was a day of giving and it felt so good, so right. Although Jacob still believes in Santa Claus (quite a feat at 10 years old), he felt the magic of what being Santa is all about, being a servant to others and enjoying it. Finding ways to give back, not because you have to, not because it has been asked for, but just because. And as good as we made all these people feel, he realized how good it feels to be the giver instead of the receiver.

One day I will have to explain about Santa. Not that he isn't real but, instead that he lives in all of us. His magic is about believing in things you cannot see or touch and things that cannot be measured. We must do this every day with our family, our friends, our beliefs. And what is this big entity that we must believe in? Simply put, it's love. My dad once wrote in a poem to my sister:

Santa will find you, at night in the dark,
For he's guided by love, and love's little spark,
Shines in the night as a guide and a beacon,
To lead him to you as soon as you're sleeping.
He watched you all year, your smiles and your laughing,
The way of your life, your giving and sharing.
Santa will find you, rest and sleep tight,
If love's spark will guide him, he'll see your bright light.

May you find another's bright light, just as we did that day.

Monday, December 16, 2013

My Son, The Giver


When my son Jake was about eight, he started receiving a commission from us. Most people like to call money to kids an allowance, but in our household it is called a commission. You must work for your money. Each day the kids have tasks that must be completed and whether they get paid depends on whether the jobs are done. This keeps everyone accountable. Anyway, when we were introducing this concept to Jacob, we also talked about such concepts as tithing and giving back.

We explained that, as a person living in this world, we need to find ways to give back. We give back with our time and with our resources. We explained that one way to give back is to give money to an organization that needs the money, which combined with other contributions, allows the organization to give back to more people. Together we researched organizations in which an eight year old boy might be interested. We talked about giving to the zoo or another animal-loving organization. We talked with him about some local charities we were involved in, and finally one struck a chord with him - The Snowball Express. The Snowball Express helps children who have lost one or both of their parents who died while serving in the military. He wanted to make things better for these children. He donated his entire commission on the spot, and we matched his donation. It wasn't a big donation, but in his eyes it was everything.

I regularly volunteer with our local USO, and I heard that the USO again was going to be helping with The Snowball Express here in Indianapolis. I knew right then that I had to be involved, and I was hoping that Jacob could be too. When I told him that the two of us were going to volunteer and help with the Snowball Express, he gasped, ran over to me and hugged me. My ten-year-old little boy was that excited about volunteering. I knew my husband Jason and I had done our jobs well.

Then came the countdown. And it was, “I can't wait until next Thursday.” And it was, “I am so excited that you and Dad are letting me do this.” Ok, not only was this kid excited about helping others, but then I told him that he got to miss a day of school! His response, “Mom, that's cool and all, but I don't really care about that. I just can't wait to volunteer!” Jason and I definitely had done our job.

The big day arrived, Thursday, December 12, 2013, and he was out of bed, all dressed, and ready to leave with no urging from me. Off we went, Jacob wearing his Santa hat and full of pure excitement. On the way to the airport, he said, “Mom, you know what one of my hobbies is?” I was ready to hear a response like building legos or annoying his sister, all of which could have been legitimate answers. Instead he said, “Helping people.” I told him that his Dad and I also loved to help people and that we were very proud of what he was going to be doing that day.

We got to the USO, had our updates, and received our boarding passes to get through security. We headed to Gate B5, where American Airlines and the Indianapolis Airport had blocked off not only gate B5, but also gates B1 through B5. We walked around a corner to see balloons, a bouncy house, people in costumes, games, and food galore. The elves had been busy the night before setting up. We knew that this was going to be a wonderful day.

Before we entered into the pomp and circumstance of it all, I stopped and reminded Jacob why we were there. I reminded him that when he saw a child there, despite all the fun and celebration, he needed to remember that the child had lost a Mom or a Dad, or possibly both. My little boy with the old soul got it. He knew why we were there and still could not wait to help.

We were set to help with the CornHole game and were eagerly awaiting the first families to arrive. The entire area was charged with the energy of pure love. People were there because they wanted to be. They delighted to be there. People were dressed in costumes of Christmas trees, penguins, gift packages, and other seasonal motifs. Everyone donned elf hats, Santa hats, or reindeer antlers. There were Colts cheerleaders and even an Indy car driver. But, honestly, it didn't matter who you were, only that we were all there for the same reason. We were there to bring some joy into the lives of the children and their families.

All day, Jacob played CornHole with any kid who wanted to play. He played with some of the boys who were his age. He helped pass out bags of treats and to clean up at the end. Every minute of the day he was smiling and radiating joy and love. Jacob raised his hand when the group was asked who was a USO volunteer. He was so proud.

And so he missed a day of school. He got to eat a donut, play games, and have some fun. What he learned that day was so much more important than a day at school. Jacob knows the meaning of giving back. He knows that sometimes the little things we can do mean the world to others. Today he took home with him the knowledge that we should appreciate what we have because it can be taken from us at any time. Jacob learned that there are actual people, people with husbands and wives and children, who give their lives to keep us safe. And today he learned that even at ten-years-old, he can make a big difference in the world.