Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Happy 5th Birthday, Devon!: March 29, 2015

Who can believe that our funny boy is five years old already!  We celebrated him this weekend quietly at home.  We're still hoping to take a family trip together to celebrate in a few weeks, but we really enjoyed the celebration so far.
Wow is he big!  He woke us up by coming into our room and announcing quietly: Mommy, it's my birthday-- I'm five!
We took a trip to Martin's where Devon selected a chocolate cake and some festive donuts. 
He got out his step stool to help Mommy make the eggs. 
Even with some protein to balance out the sugar, it was hard to stay calm.  For a few minutes, Mommy worried that all of the birthday pictures were going to turn out like this!
Thankfully not.  We got some fabulous pictures of our sweet boy...
...and even more amazingly a still picture with all three kids!
The three were sent into "the watching room" to watch Octonauts while Mommy and Daddy set out the presents.  As Daddy labored over the Plasma Car (you'd think a six-piece toy would come together pretty easily, but not really) the kids kept popping in asking if things were ready.  They were just too excited to hold off.  They ended up watching us finish up the preparations.
Then it was present time!!
Devon's favorites so far have been the Octonauts sets from Grammy, Grandpa, and Uncle Tim and Auntie Bojana.  We've been sounding the Octoalert all day around here, as the kids have played and played with their favorites.  Mommy sat in the corner, furtively scouting amazon.com for a few more small ones to go in their Easter baskets. 
We finished off the day with cake.  We're so blessed to have had five years with our sweet boy, and we look forward to the next year and the changes ahead. He's so much in love with preschool that he cries at the thought of starting kindergarten next year.  He's just chosen his right hand to write with, but still usually kicks a ball with his left.  We're even wondering if the training wheels will come off his bike this summer.  Who knows!

March Update: March 31, 201

 We're closing in on the end of March already!  It's been a busy month with lots of activity. 
I tried to get the kids to sit still for some pictures with Mommy, but life is just a blur sometimes.  So Devon and Carrie headed off to church while sniffly Melina stayed home with Daddy.  It's almost become a running joke: I just have that one black flowered dress with the pink sash and nothing really to match it. If only one of the twins goes to church, she usually wears the dress.  When the Sunday School teachers see it, they know the other twin is home sick. 
We've still been making our Greek yogurt and applesauce pancakes.  The kids all get their step stools and stand around to help Mommy.  This was way too overwhelming to even attempt mere months ago.  They're getting better with taking turns and sharing.  This is an encouraging step.  Sometimes somebody gets sent to the table if things get too intense, usually with an orange to peel for something to do.
We're getting together our Spring list for house projects. We're trying our luck with an indoor herb garden, which might give us some fresh additions for cooking.  I just finished painting the master bathroom, the first room in the house to get a Keathley chosen color.  The kids are excited to have their rooms painted.  They've been told that Mommy is very excited to paint their rooms, too, but that means that they have to take really good care of their walls.  The fresh, clean paint of the new house has taken quite a beating in just one short year, especially in the kids' rooms. 
Devon and Mommy enjoyed a pre-birthday trip to the mall.  Five years old is apparently the official Lego birthday, so we browsed in the Lego store for the very first time.  Devon declined a cupcake in favor of a very colorful cookie. 
We're on Spring Break this week, so there are long, slow mornings of playtime on the floor and lunches eaten in pajamas.  We're just glad everyone is finally well.  A tummy bug laid us all out pretty flat for about a week.  Mommy and Daddy started off, unusually, being too sick to be out of bed for an entire day!  Not fun!  For the first time ever, Devon missed a day of preschool just because nobody was well enough to drive him in. 
Devon was the lucky one who never got sick.  Carrie was sick first about a day after Mommy and Daddy. 
Just when we were convinced that everyone was well and could resume our normal activities, Melina got sick.  One minute she was at MOPS, eating a huge lunch and feeling fine.  Then she was home on the couch sleeping the middle of the day away, which for my kids is always a bad, bad sign.  We decided to decline all activities for a few days for all kids, tired of the cycle of get sick-get well-take everyone out-bring home a new bug-get sick again cycle. 
March Madness has been fun this year, never more so than the recent Notre Dame cliffhanger.  We're looking forward to the Final Four this weekend!  Ally kitty, especially, loves being on the East Coast where the games are late and take place after bedtime for the kids....

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Taking it Easy: March 8, 2015

 This week was dominated by what will probably be our last big winter snow.  We spent one day pretty much snowed in, because it started to fall fast and thick at 8 am, right when preschool pickup and work commute and morning life was set to begin.  We stayed in and hunkered down instead, grateful for a fridge and pantry stocked with fresh food and a nice, warm house. 
 Our Sunday winter ritual is for Daddy to stay home with the sickies while Mommy takes the wellies to church.  We're going on about eight straight weeks of someone being just barely sick enough to stay home.  Pink eye, upset tummy, runny nose, every week something a bit different and dubiously contagious.  Today's temperature is a steaming 48 degrees.  The kids apparently couldn't take all the sunshine. 
Thanks to all of you who sent comments and well wishes for my last two posts.  Thank you for continuing to pray for my recovery.  March is probably going to be a lot harder of a month than February, which felt like new birth and looked like daily gains.  Now I'm finding I have to majorly adjust my expectations to avoid discouragement, just because so much improvement in such a short time is unsustainable.

Cushings has been called The Ugly Disease, which is ironically what I was calling whatever was happening to me before I was diagnosed.  It's hard to look in the mirror from month to month and look a little bit worse and not know why.  It's going to take patience and courage to continue to rest, take my meds, follow doctors' advice, and measure my progress in months instead of days.  I'm working right now on finding a state of joy and remaining in it, which is a pretty reliable measure of a low cortisol level.

Some things get better when you work hard at them, and some things get better if you just give them some time.  I've spent the last few years doing way too much of the former and not enough of the latter.  Just look at Devon's right hand holding the pen this morning!  For months I've been stressing about when he would designate right or left and worrying about lost time.  It was hard on my pride to be a former teacher and the parent of the only kid in his preschool class who couldn't write his full name legibly.  Now surprise!  He seems to have decided on right and shows an interest in tracing letters. 
 So this may be our only leftie in the family....
Just one more picture to illustrate the value of letting things go and giving them time instead of working harder.  For years I struggled so much at mealtimes to keep everyone fed and coax them to eat right.  My kids resisted healthy eating habits and embraced pickiness like it was their job.  I died a thousand deaths when I counted the days since I'd successfully gotten somebody to eat a vegetable or finish their milk.  I went through the 12 stages of dinnertime grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Begging, Pleading, Threatening Removal of Privileges, Wheedling, Whining, Praying, Bitterness, Resignation, and maybe finally a little Acceptance. 

Then I'd go on facebook and see a picture of somebody else's kid smiling and eating kale chips with a smug little caption: "Our little Green Mean Clean Eater!  Kids really do learn good eating habits when you feed them healthy food at home!"   I'd hit my forehead with my phone and dedicate myself anew to trying just a bit harder.

None of that did any good.  I wish I'd let go a lot sooner, and used mealtime to feed myself and model healthy eating habits as well as encourage my kids to eat healthy food.   If I had it to do over again, I'd make a big, healthy salad, eat it all myself, and understand that kids have control over what they put in their bodies.  I'd try to offer them foods in the healthy range and then trust that their eating habits would become healthy over a period of years, not weeks.

And now I have my own picture to post!  Lest you think I've gone over to the dark side, here is my entirely NOT SMUG CAPTION:

THERE IS HOPE!  Hang in there, mealtime warriors whose kids have refused to eat anything for a week but mashed potatoes and apple slices!  Try to relax, moms whose kids gag at the texture of avocado and quinoa!  One magical day you'll steam a head of broccoli and your kids will eat it ALL!  They'll eat asparagus tips like they've discovered a new hobby!  They'll eat the baby carrots instead of using them as an implement to scoop up hummus dip and suck it off!  I know you've had days when you think that the only green things they'll eat in their lifetimes will be popsicles and they'll get rickets and die young!  Sometimes healthy eating seems like a hopeless dream.  I've had those days too!  I'm probably going to have more of them again.  But not today!  Today we set a record of NINE broccoli trees eaten by one child at one meal!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Great Mommy Meltdown of 2015: March 3, 2015

Pictures don't lie, so I'll let them tell the story of what's been going on with me.  In early January I was one sick Momma.  We didn't know what was wrong, but it was getting rapidly worse and we were scared.  For a long time I was feeling like everything about life was getting harder.  Everything from taking care of the kids to housework to eating healthy and exercising seemed to take more and more effort.  I kept getting sick, and feeling like every time I did I wouldn't fully recover. 
When I looked in the mirror I saw someone that was tired and sad.  I didn't feel like myself, and every month I looked a little less like myself.  My hair was changing color and falling out.  I smelled like I'd just run a marathon, even after taking a shower.  I'd have strange and sudden acne flares after decades of pretty good skin.  My face and body were swollen and my weight was going up despite making gradual healthy changes to my diet.  Looking back now I'm surprised it took me so long to realize that something was seriously wrong with me, but for a long time I just thought I was suffering from mom stress and letting myself get a little run down.  I mean, what mom doesn't complain of occasional brain fog that causes her to leave the car keys in the fridge and carry the milk to the car, or a body that doesn't look or act quite like it used to after having three kids? 
Christmas was a turning point.  I looked at the pictures and cried.  This wasn't what I wanted for myself and for my family.  I looked like I was hiding in the background and not fully able to participate in my life.  I looked sick. 
In January my body systems went completely offline.  My face and body would swell up at odd times.  I lost my ability to sleep for more than an hour at a time.  My heart pounded constantly and my pulse was rapid.  My joints were stiff and my hands trembled all the time.  I felt hypoglycemic and too sick to eat.  I had panic attacks even though I wasn't feeling anxious about anything.  I cried even though I didn't know what I was sad about.

Doctor's appointments I'd made finally came.  Blood tests were ordered.  Prescriptions were issued.  There was a newborn in the house and the newborn was me.  Everything revolved around my schedule: my early morning nap, my mid-morning meal of apples and peanut butter, my late morning nap, my lunch of raw veggies and lean chicken.  My morning vitamins and afternoon vitamin booster powder and my evening vitamins.  My nightly liver detox bath and my essential oils. 
"You know," I told Craig as January came to a close, "I think I feel a little better.  I think I look a little better, too."  February 2nd was a turning point.  Suddenly my symptoms started switching off.  I woke up that morning and realized that I wasn't sweating and the smell was gone.  Feeling encouraged, I carried my stinky clothes downstairs to wash and noticed that my hands were steadier and my feet didn't hurt.  It was the first time in months that I finally had hope that my health was improving.

Our home became a protective cocoon and we curled up in it.  We focused on keeping my morale high and my stress level as low as possible.  We played worship music on Pandora constantly to keep my thoughts positive and focused on Jesus my healer.  We spent our time on things that made us happy instead of things we needed to get accomplished.  We stayed off facebook and isolated ourselves from any kind of conflict.  Isis who?  What great vaccination debate?  We ignored the outside world, rested, and prayed for health. 
"You know," I told Craig, "I think I really AM starting to feel better!" By mid-February I was definitely on the mend.  My acne cleared up and my skin went through a massive renewal phase.  Even scars that had persisted for years were suddenly healing.  My muscles ached pleasantly after exercise and felt stronger after a workout instead of weaker.  I slept for two hours at a time... then three... then six.  My puffiness went down daily and the alarming number on the scale started to creep down... and down.  I added collagen supplements to my daily regimen to minimize the Al Roker post-weight-loss droopy look. 
 My body was a lava lamp, with odd bulges rising and falling as the months reversed and I started resembling the person I used to see in the mirror.  Every day I looked a bit different and a little bit better. And then my hair started to grow back!!!  The weird, brittle, translucent hairs fell out on my brush even as new normal hairs in my old color started to sprout, wild and fuzzy and unruly. 
So this is me at the beginning of March.  A month ago I was hypertensive, had a resting heart rate of 90 beats per minute, had pre-diabetic blood sugar issues, and was too much of a mental space case to read a grocery list and put everything on it into a cart.  Now my heart rate and blood pressure are normal, I have no blood sugar issues if I'm careful about what and when I eat, and I feel mentally "all there."  I'm still recovering, but judging from how very long I've been sick I can't expect things to happen too fast.

So what was the official diagnosis? 

As far as we can tell, I've had a cortisol imbalance for a long time. Cortisol, the body's stress hormone, is controlled by the adrenal system and helps regulate metabolism, sleep cycles, female hormones, and the immune system.  If the body's levels become thrown off due to stress, pain, or illness, a person can go pretty loopy.  And it's not like I've had any stress in the past few years, right?  Three babies in two years... two moves in three years....  Life has been crazy, and I've done my best to weather the storms and power through, sometimes running on pure adrenaline to keep my family safe and functioning.  The problem is, the human body is only designed to run on adrenaline for a little while.  As my imbalance got worse, my physical condition became more run down, making it harder for me to do life and therefore requiring even more adrenaline to just function normally.  The stress became the stress.

I got bronchitis in April of 2014, three months after moving to Maryland, and was put on a short course of prednisone.  This caused an extremely rare condition called Drug-Induced Cushing's Syndrome.  Steroids raise the body's cortisol levels to help fight inflammation, and my cortisol levels were already way out of whack.  My body responded to the meds by kicking into hypergear and giving me a cortisol response strong enough to cause all the symptoms of years of steroid use in a very short time.  Enter the upper body weight gain, poor muscle tone, bad skin, hair loss, poor kidney function, and other mood and memory symptoms.  The symptoms worsened gradually for months until the Great Mommy Meltdown of 2015.
Pictures don't lie.  I'm getting healthy again, and I'm so, so happy.  I revel in calm that doesn't take effort.  My body doesn't run on adrenaline anymore, but on food and water and enough rest and prayer and health. I'm in my family pictures participating in my life, and not hiding in the background wondering who I am.

Actually, that's a very good question.  Who am I?  I have a vague sense that I was this person, and then being sick for so long made me a different person.  I also see my recovery as me becoming someone entirely new, not just going back to my old self.  God's plan for me was and is perfect.  The last few years have held many, many good things.  I'm not trying to turn back the clock, but rather to move forward.  A dear, new Maryland friend helped me to put this in perspective.  

"I'm looking forward to meeting you as you really are!"

I feel the same way about myself.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Yes to Rest: March 1, 2015

Hey, guys!  It's good to be back!

I'm happy to report that I am feeling so, so much better.  February was truly the most healing and transformative month of my entire life, and it will take a separate post to fully explain what has been going on with my health and why we're so relieved and joyful that I am feeling well and mostly functioning at home.  Let's just say I've been really sick for a long time.  Thank you to all who have worried, prayed, and cried with me and over me as I've recovered.  Thanks to those who sent meals, offered housecleaning and babysitting, and were Jesus With Skin to our family as we were very scared and hurting.  I am so, so much better and am told I will recover slowly but continue to feel even better every month.

These past few months have been very transformative for our family, too.  Being sick made it necessary to radically evaluate our family life.  For a while, all our routines had to go away as my body systems were resetting.  We ate pancakes for dinner and chicken fingers for breakfast.  We watched Octonauts in our pajamas at 4 pm.  We forgot it was bath night, laundry day, shopping day, or time to pick up the toys.  At bedtime I sang to the girls from the Les Miserables soundtrack because I couldn't remember the words to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."  

My heart bled as I mourned the good things about our family.  Park outings.  Play dates.  Family Night at Chick-fil-A.  Games of hide-and-seek in the living room.  Cuddles and prayers in bed at bedtime.  But even as the good things all went away, lots of bad things went away, too.  Forty-five minute all-out wars to get Devon dressed for preschool in the morning.  Play afternoons with me rushing from child to child as they fought and hit and bit over the same toy as a thousand more interesting ones littered the floor.  Tense seven-minute mealtimes where I never sat down and didn't eat a bite because I was always refilling a milk glass or catching and disciplining someone.  The first hour of the day when all three generally woke up irritable and ready to compete for Mommy's attention by arguing over what they wanted to eat for breakfast.  The afternoon nap the girls took that pushed bedtime back to 9:30 many nights, making it impossible for Craig and I to have time together as a couple.

When everything was cleared away, new things started to grow.  Peaceful and pleasant mealtimes where we all sit and talk and enjoy healthy food.  Playroom hours where the kids play submarines while Mommy sits in the corner with her laptop and a cup of tea catching up on emails.  Luxurious cuddles in our bed as everyone slowly wakes up in the morning.  Devon helping to set the table for breakfast and getting Carrie a blue spoon because he knows it's her favorite.  Even as I needed peace and rest during this time, life suddenly became a lot easier.  Mommy began to smile again, feeling like I was enjoying being a mom more than ever.

In order to start healing I've had to radically reevaluate how I do parenting.  I have reset my expectations for what I expect to get accomplished in a day.  I revel in underachieving.  I skip a workout if I managed to do the laundry and vacuum the floors.  I sit with the kids as they watch a show, or better yet nap on the couch in the next room if I've had a bad night and am feeling tired.  I eat every three hours and don't let the kids steal my food off my plate or whine for me to get up and fix them a snack.  

A big part of my new approach and outlook has been to clarify my vision for my family by developing a mission statement.  We were encouraged to do this at our last MOPS meeting.  Right now, our mission as a family is to get healthy.  We say "NO" to things that don't enhance our mission as a family so we can say "YES" to things that do.  Parenting has never been so simple and life has never been so good.
We say YES to playing in the snow. We're thankful for a mild winter by comparison. 
The girls have been hard to coax outside, because their smaller hands don't keep gloves on very well and they get cold easily. 
Devon's been the adventurous one this year, Daddy's shoveling companion for the two big snows so far.
We say YES to random selfies.  Later on I find these surprises on my camera roll.
I get a glimpse of the world my kids live in while I'm in the shower or cleaning up breakfast.
We say YES to pancakes.  For over a month it was the only recipe I had enough brainpower and mental calm to attempt.  Thankfully it's a good one: eggs, oats, greek yogurt, and applesauce.

I go to the store and buy fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and lean cooked meat.  I fix plates of very simple healthy food and we eat.  My meals consist mostly of a huge plate of salad greens and chopped raw vegetables with some meat and cheese on top.
We say YES to swimming lessons.  The girls go to dropoff to play, and I sit in a deck chair with my feet up, watching intently as Devon participates. 
What a joy to see Devon blossom so much in just six short weeks!  From day one he listened well, followed directions, and seemed to enjoy the small class.
His instructor was truly a joy to work with and quickly became one of Devon's favorite people.  I couldn't stop snapping pictures.  He was even promoted past the first level in mid-session because he was much more advanced and followed directions better than the other participants.  Mommy's heart rejoices.  The hurt and angry places in my beautiful boy's heart are healing.  After a young life full of more change and instability than a little boy can take he's finally getting the message that he is safe and loved and important.  He doesn't have to hurt others to be noticed, and he can love and enjoy his family.
We say YES to snow days where nobody has to get dressed and do their hair.  YES to puzzles.  YES to cuddling the girls on my lap as I sit in a hard chair, something I haven't felt strong or stable enough to do in a few weeks.
We say YES to outings when the weather permits.  I think I'll remember Longwood Gardens as the first outing we took with the kids where all three were loose (no strollers, leashes, wagons, etc.).  Our three children walked alongside us, occasionally running up ahead or lagging behind but overall doing well.  We threw pennies in the conservatory fountain and paused for a snack.
We say YES to Chick-fil-A.  The girls were anxious to meet Anna and Elsa on Frozen movie night, but stayed in the booth when the moment arrived.
Devon, always a sucker for a pretty girl or a giant plush snowman, did the meet and greet with great style.
All three kids left the restaurant without complaint when it was time to go, balloons in hands, smiles on faces, and ice cream cone leftovers in a to go box that didn't make it home. 
We say YES to Saturday morning trips to the grocery store.  Day clothes optional. 
YES to the fun donuts.
YES to a Valentine's Day celebration.  When 7:30 pm rolls around, Daddy and Mommy say YES to putting the kids to bed and sitting on the couch with cups of tea in hand.  We watch videos together, talk about our days, and enjoy each other for who we are instead of what we bring to the table as parents. 

We say YES to a good night's sleep.  I don't roll out of bed early and get on the exercise bike if I have early morning insomnia.  I lie peacefully in bed, thinking about the day, praying for my family and friends, and just enjoying a quiet house.  The kids are all out of diapers and there are no beds to change.  The rare nightmare causes little feet to pat down the hall and a little body to curl up next to mine in bed, but we mostly sleep through the night now.
We say YES to buzz cuts because they're just plain easier than scissor cuts, although we hope that it grows out again to be a little longer by his birthday at the end of the month.  We say YES to mad Mommy-and Devon dates to Kohls to buy Hot Wheels, and to running back to the car in the falling snow.  We say YES to just one more stop even though it's coming down fast....
We get stuck at the end of our long, long driveway with a car full of Hot Wheels and groceries.  Two inches of forecast snow ended up being eight or more.
Daddy gets the shovel and goes to dig the car out, having to shovel most of the driveway to get it in because it's impossible to tell where to point the steering wheel in the blinding, flat white expanse of our yard.
We say YES to swimming, thankful that my body is no longer puffy and swollen from inflammation and I'm comfortable in a bathing suit again.
We say YES to a birthday party, one of our first from Devon's preschool class.
When Devon saw that other kids didn't get enough pinata candy, he took candy from his own bag and gave it to his friends. 
We say YES to the unbridled joy of an impulse purchase, even though Mommy was just at the store to use her coupon and buy a kitchen knife.  Come on, just look at those faces. 
Rest has never been so good, and so welcome after a year of fast and hard changes.  We're changing right now from a family with three babies to a family with three older kids.  I suppose this is how transitions will always happen in a family with all siblings sixteen months apart.  Phases of life are more intense, but they also go more quickly.  We're so excited to continue to pursue health as a family and looking forward to the new things we are able to do in our next phase of life together!!