Diary of an Aging Supermom | Rants and Reviews

All right, for those of you who are reading anything I write you should know, I write the way I talk. This is my second book review ever, the first being on The Hunger Games. It has been almost seven months since then and if I ever was in practice at writing book reviews, I am most certainly not anymore. So saying, forgive me if this is more rant than review. (Sorry I sound so proper, I was reading an old-timey Sherlock Holmes type book the other night and now sound like a character out of it. Alas, it cannot be helped.)

Anyway, I now write to you about that old-timey Sherlock Holmes type book. In all honesty it is a precursor to that book that is truly the object of my attentions in this review, and it really does involve Sherlock Holmes, but not in a traditional sense. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King is a phenomenal book. Do not let my odd speech at the moment throw you off this great read. I highly recommend reading the author’s note at the beginning of the book; it really enhanced the already high appeal of the book. I should probably stop before I say something that might spoil the book (do not worry, I will not). I must warn you the order of the series is not always easy to understand with twelve or so unnumbered books, so take care when trying to find the next in the series so you do not end up as I did, hopelessly out of order

Editor’s note:  Lydia is a 15 year old nerdette.  Although it has been seven months since her last review, she tells us she has 46 books on her list that she intends to blog on.


This is my first book review that I have ever actually sat down to write. So saying, it may not be up to par. I usually read odd or obscure books on unusual subjects, though at first I will try to keep to better-known books, but no guarantees. :) This book review is on a well-known and much loved book, The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is a great book with lots of deep, thought provoking, themes and topics for a more mature audience, but it also has appeal to a younger audience, with a love triangle that’s resolution remains open to debate. However, no matter what you’re looking for in a book, The Hunger Games is a safe bet for anyone over ten, and not for those ten and under, because of the nature of the book itself.

 

Editor’s note:  This was written by Lydia, a 14 year old gifted nerd.  This review relates only to the first book of a three book trilogy. There is also a movie.


I’m not a coffee drinker, so I’m not a good judge, but my husband gets all kind of worked up about good coffee. He has been raving about the coffee at Coffee Bean Direct. Has anybody tried it? Is it really better than Starbucks?


Twenty some years ago, when our eldest was born, there was a big debate going on about what was better for your children – quality time or quantity time.  Really just another stupid attempt to pit stay-at-home moms versus work-outside-the-home moms.  I’ve been fortunate to have been both and thus feel quite qualified to offer some opinions on the topic.  (Like not being qualified ever stopped me from offering an opinion on anything in the past – HA!)  The truth of the matter is we are all working mothers – some of us just get paid in money – and our kids need both kinds of time with us.  Quality time is important, whatever form it takes.  When we travel to a new city, our kids know what to expect.  Dad will be in a seminar all day and I will have them on a scheduled itinerary that hits all the highlights and keeps them going from morning til night.  Museums, battlefields, historic sites – you name it, we’re gonna hit it, saving the ones we think Dad will like the best (aquariums!!) for when he can go with us.  And we are prepared – before we went to Arizona and visited Tombstone, we watched My Darling Clementine (John Ford’s classic movie of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral)  and Ford’s Stagecoach and Kevin Costner as Wyatt Earp.  We would have watched Tombstone, too, with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer (the best Doc Holliday ever) but it was rated R.  John was really obsessed with all things Egyptian for a while in elementary school, and we studied up before we went to the King Tut exhibit in Fort Lauderdale and we were having such a detailed discussion in the museum that someone mistook me for a docent and started asking me questions about the exhibit.   John later developed an interest in all things Titanic and we now own our own copies of A Night to Remember and James Cameron’s Titanic, dozens of Titanic books, Titanic, The Board Game, a plastic replica of the ship that floats in the tub and breaks apart and sinks, tons of other memorabilia and we have seen Titanic exhibits in Baltimore, Las Vegas and Harrisburg PA.    We try very hard to have dinner together every night, even if it’s just a pizza or something out of a bag from a drive-through.  No music, no TV, no distractions – just all of us gathered around the dinner table.  Some great conversations about politics, religion, school, you name it.  And complete silliness sometimes, too.  Someone will inadvertently say something stupid - and of course everyone else jumps right on the teasing bandwagon.  They will remember these things.

Quality doesn’t have to involve expensive trips – mommy and me time at the public library is great and its free.  Where we live, in Pennsylvania, there are scores of parks, museums and historic sites within easy driving distance that are free or very inexpensive.  State parks offer all kinds of exhibits and demonstrations that cost little or nothing.  In the summertime, a number of local government recreation departments offer free movies and other free events in the community parks. Check online, check the local newspaper.

So yeah, the scheduled, focused-only-on-them time is important.  But quantity is just as important.  We had friends, years ago, who both worked full time, and when the weekend would come around, they’d leave the kids with the nanny for the weekend and go off together “antiquing.”   It used to irritate me to no end.  Why would you have children if you were only going to spend an hour with them awake a day, and then only on weekdays?  Getting read a bedtime story and tucked in for the night by 8 pm is not enough parental attention.

This is where the stay-at-home moms have the potential advantage.  You are THERE.  Whatever crosses their little brains comes out and gets talked about immediately.  Very few missed opportunities when you are with them all the time.  My parents weren’t big on setting aside special time for each of their six children (like there was time for that!!)  My dad was a mechanic, and this was back in the day when cars were actually all mechanical – no computerized anything and you could work on a car in the backyard without any fancy, special diagnostic equipment.  People were constantly pulling up in front of our house in the evening with a “Hey Chet, my car is making this noise – could you take a look?”  Some of my best memories of my dad was just hanging out, watching him work on cars, and handing him the right tool when he asked for it.  I learned fractions, if nothing else (“hand me a 3/16th wrench, Yvonne”), but what mattered was that I was hanging with my dad.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom basically until my youngest brother started school, and then she took a job as a cafeteria lady so that she would be home from work when we were home from school.  There were not a lot of opportunities to have long, soulful private chats with her, either.  But, we always had a garden, and sitting on the porch shelling peas or husking corn was always a chance to talk about life, the universe and everything, and when we were with my grandmother or aunts, there were always stories told about our great- and great-great grandparents, and that oral family history is priceless.  And of course, we learned how to be domestic goddesses.  My mom, a farm girl, loved being outdoors and walking.  I can’t tell you how many walks we took through the woods around our town, where she would point out and name the birds and flowers and plants and share her love of nature with us.

I work fulltime now, and the hanging out and chatting opportunities are becoming more limited.   We have a few rules that “force”  everyone to hang out together.  No electronics in the bedrooms.   No DSs, Ipods, headsets, DVD players etc in the car.  When we are driving locally, they’ve got me and the radio.  We have had so many really intense, good talks in the car, and they would not happen if all that portable electronic crap was along for the ride. Long car rides get books on CD.  Last monster trip we listened to old time radio detective shows- most of which took place during WWII and the Cold War, and we ended up talking about both of those events.  Most of my mom friends think I spend my life racing around like an idiot, and in part that’s true.  I’m at every school and sports event possible.  I cheer the loudest and my kids always know I’m there.  If there is a problem, they know I’ll got to bat for them, whether its with a teacher or a coach or a friend or a rude store clerk.  The twins are actually to the point now where they will say, Mom, I just want to tell you about this and I want to know what you think I should do, but I don’t want you to do anything – you’ll embarass me!!  But the bottom line is, they know if they need me to go into battle-mode, all they have to do is say so.

Even watching TV together can be a special time with your kids.  One of the best memories I have of my dad is watching the premiere of Three’s Company, and him laughing hysterically at John Ritter’s pseudo-gay antics and his delight in the fact that I got the jokes.  The other evening, we were watching The Big Bang Theory (a favorite of the whole crew) and I looked over at the couch and there was Lydia, curled up on her side, resting her head against her dad’s shoulder, laughing together at something inane that Sheldon had said.  Those kind of memories will stick with her forever – and they can’t be scheduled or planned – you just had to be there at the right moment.  Quality time has its value and its place, but nothing beats just plain old quantity time.


Okay, so I’m seeing a lot of books being passed around on FB and I wanted to share that I found a service that looks really cool, like a NetFlix for books.  It’s called Booksfree, and they have different plans that allow you to rent paperbacks, CD/MP3 and audiobooks..  It’s a lot greener than buying your own personal copy and then having it sit around collecting dust, and it’s generally cheaper than the cost of a new paperback.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I am seriously considering it.  I can buy lots of very inexpensive books on my Kindle, but this looks promising, especially for CD audiobooks, which we like to take along on long roadtrips, but have no use for them afterwards.  If anyone tries it, let me know how it goes – definitely thinking about it for this summer.  This is, of course, if your local public library doesn’t carry the books/CDs you want, bcz free is better than cheaper and a library is just as green!


I come from a long line of strong, tough women.  We’re open and honest and we’ll tell you what we think, whether you asked for it or not.  We are not particularly devious, but we are capable of getting our way when the spirit moves us.  It’s some kind of genetic thing that we pass on from mother to daughter. 

So I married a man who is a quadruple A+ personality, a pure linear thinker, one topic at a time, and he’s not particularly susceptible to womanly wiles.  We met “cute” at law school and did not like each other at all.  However, over the course of the next few weeks, an odd flirtation developed.  We met in late August, and as we attended a very small school, we would run into each other frequently, even though he was two years ahead of me, and would exchange “hellos” in passing.  In mid-October, there was a semi-formal dance held, and he was one of the organizers.  There were couples in attendance, but the majority of us first-years went stag, in small groups.  I was with such a group when Dennis approached me and asked me to dance.  I was a little surprised, but said ok.  I’m thinking the burgundy strapless sheath and stilettos I was wearing might have played a role.  He never remembers it, but I tell him “our” song is Rosalita by Bruce Springsteen, because that was what we danced to that night.  So I left the dance later with my friends and I’m thinking, maybe he isn’t so bad.  A week later, I run into him at a Halloween costume party.  He’s standing alone in a corner next to a keg, sipping a beer, so I decide to go up and flirt a little.  I might as well have been flirting with the wall. Years later, I asked him what was up that night that he was giving me the brush off – his answer was “there was free beer” and he wasn’t going to be distracted from that.  I don’t think my bag lady costume helped my cause, either.

Anyway, all of this is to give you an idea of my husband’s personality, as background to this little story about our daughter, Lydia.

This year, the 7th graders at our middle school studied ancient civilizations in social studies, up to the Roman Empire.  For field day, they could form teams to build chariots for a race (no grade, no extra credit, just something “fun” to do).   So Lydia and three girlfriends built a chariot – it took many building sessions and some near misses with paint and my car, but they got it built.  Of course, they had to test it and they convinced Ben to be their crash-test dummy.  They did give him a helmet, but after dumping him twice with sudden stops that resulted in some nice scrapes and brush burns, he stormed off, calling their chariot a “death trap” and its builders “assassins.”

So Tuesday was the actual chariot race.  Monday night, Lydia asks me to come see the race.  I explain that I can’t as I had already committed to attending Ben’s awards assembly in the morning.  She said she was going to ask Dad to go.  I said, you can try, but he is really busy with work right now and I’m not sure he’ll be able to get away.  She says to me “I’m going to give him the Daddy’s little girl treatment.”  She then looks at me sideways under her lashes and says, “And don’t you tell him I’m doing it.”  So she marches into the house, and before I even make it through the door, he has agreed to go.  So yeah, I think she has all the makings of a fine Llewellyn woman.


Today is my son Ben’s birthday, and in honor of the occasion, I have decided to compile (from my FB posts) some of his choicest comments on life, the universe, and everything during the past year.  So from the mouth of my baby:

Me: Lydia, go upstairs and tell John to hurry up. Lydia, at the bottom of the steps starts to yell “John!”  Me:  Lydia,  if I wanted to bellow,  I could do it myself.  Ben: You ARE good at bellowing, Mom.
 
Thud. Thud. Thud.  That is the sound of me banging my head against the wall.  OMG – John is doing his best whining, dragging out 5 minute chores into hour long ordeals.  Ben asked me when we were going to be finished – I said “When you’re brother gets his head out of his butt and starts working.”  Ben says, “Mom, we have a problem – his head IS his butt.”
 
Ben says “It’s a before Christmas miracle.”  Fire going in the fireplace, kids and Dennis in a loud game of Risk.  Weiner roast for lunch. [this was about our major snow storm in October when we lost electricity]
 
So, Ben tells me he’s writing a book.  He says “Sara is doing the illustrations. I’m worried.”  I ask why?  He says, “have you ever seen the way she draws mustaches?!”  [Sara is one of his BFFs]
 
I’m thankful to have one male in my life who compliments me occasionally.  Ben was shopping with me recently and helped pick out a new dress, which I’m wearing today.  After I got dressed this morning, he walks by, says “I’m glad we bought that dress for you Mommy.  It looks good on you.  Very professional.”
 
So Ben’s up and wondering what’s for breakfast.  I point out that we have English muffins and nutella.  He says “then I shall be quite happy.”
 
So, I know most parents would like to have this problem, but my kids sneak books and Kindles into bed at night and read when they are supposed to be sleeping.  John comes to me at 10:30 last night and confesses that he was going to read but when he pulled his Kindle case out from under his pillow and opened the cover, his Kindle was missing.  After ascertaining that he had not lost it anywhere and that it had been in its case under his pillow the night before, I assumed Ben or Lydia had taken it out and hidden it.  (They do this kind of crap to each other all the time.)  So I ask Lydia, who would do it to punish him for something he torqued her off about, but she denied taking it.  So  I ask Ben. “No Mom, I didn’t take it.”  Me:  “Ben, this is important.  Do you know what happened to it?”  Ben:  “Well maybe Mom, when he was carrying it up to bed it might have fallen out of its case and dropped into my stuffed animal bin.  And then maybe some of my stuffed animals fell on top of it and hid it.  That’s what I think.”

So, Giant has these glazed croissants in their doughnut case that are amazing.  I’m not a sweets person, but they are a rare treat for me.  Today I was in the store with Ben and I told him I was going to get him one of the best doughnuts ever.  He is the connoisseur of sweets around here and he took one bite and said, “Mom these are the best doughnuts in the multiverse!  Mom, I said ‘multiverse’ in case you might think there could be a better one in another dimension.”  As he popped the last bite into his mouth, he says, “Good-bye, old friend, until we meet again.”

So today I pick Ben up and one of his friends tells me he and a girl in his play are dating. I ask him about it – he says “it was rather unorthodox. She asked me if I like liked her and then she hugged me.” I said “what did you do?”  He says “tried not to let her see the surprise and alarm on my face.”

So being the fabulous mother I am, I granted my children’s request for bacon and dippy eggs for lunch.  They then proceeded to spend the entire meal debating the proper degree of crispiness v greasiness of their bacon and the appropriate amount of dippiness each egg should have.  I am happy to report that I prepared the aforesaid items within acceptable ranges.  Ben says, “Mom, how come you’re so great?”  I told him God looked at the three of them and knew they’d need someone as wonderful as me.  Ben said, “oh, okay,” Lydia rolled her eyes and John choked.
 
So, we’re talking about Marcellus Shale at dinner tonight.  Lydia remarks that today she learned that in some places where fracking is occurring, you can actually ignite the water (People magazine did an article recently and there is a Youtube video).  So Ben says, “Do you mean to say that if I went to a five-star restaurant in that area and ordered water en flambe that they could serve it to me?”
 
So Ben’s latest insult to John:  “You are a lump of foul deformity.”
 
My biggest compliment in the kitchen – “Mom, you are a better cook than Corporal LeBeau.” [for the uninformed, LeBeau was the French chef who was one of the prisoners on the ’60s TV show, Hogan’s Heroes]
 
So this afternoon, Ben is talking to me about his classmates.  He described one boy as having “the attention span of a piece of cardboard.”  I said “What?”  He says, “Mom he doesn’t even daydream, he just sits there blank.”  About another boy, he said “None of the girls will touch him.”  When I asked what that was all about, he said it was like the “cheese touch” or cooties.  Then he tells me, one of the boys was really annoying one of the girls and he’s pretty sure she said the f-word.  He called her on it and she told him no, I said truck.  He says he responded with “Oh? Of course you said “truck.” (pause) IF the “t” and “r” in “truck” were suddenly and mysteriously replaced with “Fs”!!!
 
So Ben tells me tonight that there are two things he loves, Monty Python and Netflix.  Then he says “Oh yeah, mommy, I love you, too, because without you, we wouldn’t exist.”
 
That’s my boy.
 
 

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I’m not your “typical” female reader – for fiction, I tend to read action/adventure thrillers, detective novels, mysteries, lots of stories about psychopathic serial killers and a fair number of occult thrillers.  My fiction choices tend to be pure escapist – stories that have nothing to do with my real life.  Dramas are tedious – quite frankly, my life has had its fair shares of “triumphs and tragedies” and I don’t need to relive them through someone else’s vicarious version of an eventful life.  For non-fiction, I tend to stick to histories and biographies.  I’m not real big on auto-biographies - I think they are mostly self-serving, although I am probably going to make an exception for Keith Richard’s Life.  I stopped reading Harlequin novels and bodice-ripping romances by the time I hit college and I don’t do sparkly vampires.  Despite all that,  Gone With the Wind, first read when I was 16, is still a favorite – who doesn’t imagine herself as Scarlett O’Hara??  But these days, give me an ex-military man with a way with his fists and his brain, throw in a Glock 19 or a Sig Sauer 1911 or maybe a Walther PPK and some really evil bad guys and I’m a happy girl.   That said, one of my very favorite characters is Jack Reacher, the creation of author Lee Child.  I have read every Reacher novel as they have come out.  They are extremely well-written, with great character development.  Jack Reacher is a fully-formed, complex, vivid character.  His physical appearance is central to his personality.  He is a physically intimidating, big man – his physical description and size are referred to, and central to the storyline in all the novels.  He is 6’4″, 240 or so pounds of lethal fighting skills.  A former Army MP, he has a deep understanding of the behavior of others, is extremely intuitive at unraveling mysteries, and conveys a quiet menace and danger simply by his presence.  Several months ago, it was announced that one of his more recent novels, One Shot, was going to be made into a movie.  It was revealed shortly thereafter that Tom Cruise had been selected to play Reacher.  I almost tossed my cookies.  Talk about serious miscasting.  Now I’m not naive – I know that when books are made into movies, things have to be changed and the book you loved does not always translate on the big screen the way you expected it to.  I learned that lesson at the tender age of 16, when I saw Peter Benchley’s Jaws made into a movie.  Some of the characters were not how I had imagined them, and the story was edited, but I survived the trauma.  I just went through the same experience with my 13 year old daughter, who still gets incensed when you get her talking about the movie version of The Hunger Games.  Like mother, like daughter.  And I would not expect a Reacher novel to look the same as a movie – there is a lot of interior dialogue and thought processes that are not going to make the leap.  But WTH???  How can little Tom Cruise hope to realistically portray the big, lethal, physically intimidating character of Jack Reacher?  This has been bugging me for awhile.   And then today, I see that the movie title has been changed to “Jack Reacher.”  Now that may be a perfectly innocent change, but it signals to me that Cruise and Child intend for this to be a franchise and that they are hoping to cash in on the name recognition factor.  I can’t stand it!!  I had just started to read The Affair when I heard Cruise was to play Reacher and I put the book down and haven’t been able to read it since.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read another Reacher novel  – Not when I have this image of a stupidly grinning Tom Cruise in my brain (btw, Reacher doesn’t smile – how the hell is Cruise gonna pull that off?).  Now I don’t necessarily dislike Tom Cruise – I enjoyed him in Legend, Rain Man, and Interview with the Vampire; I despised him in The Color of Money and I thought Eyes Wide Shut was a stupid and gratuitous vanity piece. I do not think he has the presence to play military men and even my husband found him laughably unbelievable in The Firm.   But he keeps getting away with increasingly unbelievable characters (von Stauffenberg, anyone?)  And apparently many people in Hollywood think casting Tom Cruise in a movie will guarantee it’s success.  So I come to the question of who has made the more nefarious choice?  Cruise, for having the ego to think he can play any character who strikes his fancy, or Child, for taking his 30 pieces of silver at the box office to sell out his fans and the soul of one of the best anti-heroes of the day?  I will not be seeing the movie “Jack Reacher.”  I am in mourning.  RIP Jack Reacher.  Damn you, Lee Child.


I think that the best way to protect your children from danger and stupidity is to make sure they are knowledgeable about the facts of life, and be willing to be open and honest with them whenever they have questions, no matter how embarassing it may turn out to be.  My twins were 3 and a half years old when my youngest child was born.  Infinitely curious, they wanted to know how that baby got into my stomach.  At the time, I told them that God took a piece of Mommy and a piece of Daddy and put them together and they grew into a baby.  Like any good mother these days, we talked about good touching and bad touching and the importance of keeping your private parts private and telling me if anyone ever tried to touch them or ask to see them.  That was good enough for quite awhile, but a few years later, they wanted to how he got out of my stomach.  Now that was a slightly trickier one – I had a C-section, but I wanted them to understand that not every baby was born that way.  They were also born via C-section, so we discussed that a bit, and after a lengthy discussion of operations and scalpels and stitches they got that concept.  But I explained that not all babies were born that way, and that their big sister had been born the “regular” way, and that ladies had a special place in their private parts that opened really wide for babies to come out.  A bit of a simplification, but I didn’t think they really cared to learn about episiotomies, contractions and the pain that comes with natural childbirth.  They decided that part of the anatomy was a “baby hole.”  I said, ok, but as I envisioned one of them going up to some elderly woman and asking her if she had a baby hole, I told them that private parts were for private conversations.

Once again, my answers satisfied their curiosity for a little while.  Then one day as we were driving somewhere (our best conversations seem to take place in the car) they asked me again, how did Ben get in my stomach.  I gave them the same spiel about God using a part of Mommy and a part of Daddy and their response was, We know that, we want to know HOW the parts got in there.  So I told them that the parts were called sperm and eggs and explained that they combine together and that grows into a baby.  Not good enough.  But how did the sperm get in there?? they wanted to know.  So we talked about male and female body parts, and how only husbands and wives should try to make babies, and hormones and a great deal of clinical, scientific detail.  It’s one thing to provide knowledge – its quite another to make it sound FUN! LOL  So when I thought we’d finished talking, I asked if they had any more questions.  My daughter says, “Mom, I think I’ve got it.  So the husband comes to the wife and says, ‘Honey, I got some sperm I need to get rid of, so you might as well take your pants off.’”  As I tried to hide my laughter and avoid running off the road,  I managed to squeak out, “Yeah, babe, that’s about right.”    I told a couple of mom friends about the conversation, and they thought they were too young for the information.  I don’t think any age is too young if they are asking questions.  You have to make it age appropriate and not overwhelm them with details, but you need to be honest.  And I’m so glad I did.  They entered middle school almost two years ago (around here, that’s 6th grade) and since the first day of school, they have been coming home telling me about the things that are being discussed at lunch time and during morning gathering time.  Acts that I didn’t hear of until I was in college.  Apparently, in middle school, if things aren’t being discussed in gory detail, they are alluded to.  Every other word out of someone’s mouth is either a double entendre or innuendo.  The twins will say or hear something in a conversation and make some comment or giggle and then look at me and say, “Mom, use your middle school mind.”   They laugh and giggle along with their peers and make stupid jokes, but at the end of the day, they know the consequences of sexual activity and know they don’t want to encounter them at their age.  I’m sure the next conversation (hopefully not for a least a few years) will probably be about birth control, and I’m ready.  Although I’m going to try to make sure I’m not driving then.


Tonight I went to see the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton “remake” of Dark Shadows.  While I am old enough to remember the original series, I only saw it a few times, because my mother would not let us watch it – she declared it too scary, as was the Addams Family, although the Munsters for some reason were perfectly fine.  Who knows what she was thinking.  So I did not have any preconceived notions of how the movie should look, although I do remember that I always thought Quentin Collins was the cute one, and it turns out he isn’t even in the movie.  In truth, I think they took the name of the movie and the basic shell of the background story to cash in on the nostalgia bucks that most remakes generate.  While it had its humorous moments, it was a bad mishmash of horror and comedy, with a few sexually suggestive scenes thrown in – enough to make me glad the kids didn’t want to see it.  I did like the character of the teenage Collins girl, but the character of David, who is important to the story, just seemed flat and undeveloped.   You’d be better off renting the original series.

Ever since I saw the movie was playing in town, the phrase, “dark shadows” has been bouncing around in my head.  It struck me that I have always visualized the many dramas of Rachel’s life as dark clouds and shadows that trail me.  Rachel was born late on a Wednesday night, and for a very long time I believed that the day after she was born, before she was diagnosed with the life-threatening heart defect that turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg of her physical and developmental woes, was the happiest day of my life, and that at the age 30, the best days of my life had come and gone and I would never truly be happy again.  I thought that I would forever have this dark cloud hovering over me – that somehow, in some way, I had failed my first-born baby girl, the one that I had anticipated and named when I was a pre-teen.   For years I blamed her heart defect on my going to my one and only Monster Truck Rally shortly after she was conceived.  It was so loud, you could feel the sound vibrations inside of you and I convinced myself that those vibrations had caused her heart to develop abnormally.  I have a friend who says I shouldn’t tell people that story, because it’ll become evidence in any eventual commitment hearing, but I had to find something to blame, and a random mutation wasn’t going to cut it.

I was raised primarily in the King James version of the Lutheran church (my mother made occasional forays into other Christian denominations, but my mother’s spiritual searching is just one of dozens of conversations about my mother I’m reserving for future posts).  And as I was taught to do in times of crisis, I turned to God for help and solace.  The 23rd Psalm, mandatory memorization for Sunday School kids in the early 60s everywhere, ran through my mind many times. “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . .”  In truth, my mental valley was more of a canyon  -  I had fallen off a cliff and was crawling along the bottom, and the rest of the world was blissfully walking along on the sunny plateau above me, oblivious to my pain and fear.  But as time went on and we made our way through the first six years of Rachel’s life, which included countless hospitalizations, four open heart surgeries, diagnoses of other problems and multiple nights when the doctors didn’t think she’d pull through, and we’d stagger through these dark patches, there would be sunny moments – like when we discovered she loved log-plume rides and roller coasters and we’d spend hours and hours at Hersheypark, riding with a wildly giggling little girl.  And I started to visualize my dark valley as one that had places in the sunlight, and sometimes the flat bottom sloped upward into a mini-plateau – a place below the happy people pinnacle, but where you could linger in the sun for short periods of time.  Since those early years, we’ve been knocked down a few times.   Sitting seven-year-old twins down and explaining to them that their big sister was going to have her 6th open heart surgery and that the doctors thought she might not survive it was certainly a biggie.  The doctors had given her less than a 50% chance of surviving – we talked it over between ourselves, and with a parent we know who is a child psychologist, and decided it was better to prepare them for the worst and give them a chance to truly say goodbye than to let them blissfully see her off to surgery and then later have to tell them they’d never see her again.   Not every seven year old can handle something like that, but John and Lydia are extremely intelligent (gifted) and even at that age, had a more mature understanding of the dark side of life than most kids do.

Perhaps the very worst time was the summer of 2008.  My mother was terminally ill and had moved in with us for what would be the last three months of her life.  Rachel was 18 years old and miserably unhappy at home.  She tolerated the other kids when they were younger, but as they became more active and interfered with her life (she had been an only child for nine years and my constant companion – when we brought the twins home from the hospital, she looked at them and said “GO HOME!”) she gradually became physically aggressive toward them, pulling hair and pinching if they got in her way.  She would disrobe in public, tried to pull my stick-shift out of gear while I was driving, and could get out of a seatbelt without unbuckling it faster than Houdini.  But she was mostly angry with me and would pinch, scratch and slap, sometimes for hours at a time, but at the same time, wanted me near her.   Although Mom had hospice care, she wanted me near, too, especially at night.  Between the two of them, I was completely sleep deprived.  My short-term memory had become so bad that my dear friend Amy took to calling on an almost daily basis to remind me of what activities the younger kids had so I wouldn’t forget.

We had finally arranged for Rachel to move into a group home and a week before she was scheduled to move in, two weeks before my mother died, the director of the home called me to a meeting where a half-dozen people from the agency were gathered to ambush me and inform me that they didn’t think Rachel would be a good fit in their home – So sorry, too bad.  I held it together until I got out of the meeting and drove away to a side street, where I parked and called Rachel’s caseworker in hysterics.  She finally calmed me down enough that I could safely drive home.  I told Dennis how badly I had fallen apart and that I couldn’t understand why it hit me so hard, that I thought I’d been handling everything pretty well.  His theory was that I had been holding it together because I knew that there was an end date and I just had to hang on until then, and then they suddenly snatched my rescue away.  It made as much sense as anything.  That was probably my darkest non-medically-induced bad day as Rachel’s mother.

Ultimately, we found a much better group home for her that fall.  She lives relatively close to us and is very happy there.  She likes to visit us for short periods of time, but when she’s done, she’ll bring her coat and purse and say “Go home” and as long as we do so pretty promptly, she’s happy to be with us.  Within six months of her moving out she stopped trying to hurt me when she saw me.  For a long time, I was very gun-shy – every time the staff from the home would tell me we needed to talk, I’d get really nervous.  The program manager at her group home told me one day – “I see you tense up when we talk about how Rachel is doing in the home – please relax and stop being afraid, we are not going to kick her out and make you live through that again.”  Four years later, I’m mostly convinced that’s true.  Of late, my canyon has become a wide valley and it’s mostly sunny, although there are a few shadowy corners.  Days like today I’m aware of the dark places – Rachel has been less than pleased with her current day program and we met recently to discuss whether we should find another place for her.  With funding for social services continually at risk in this economy, any threat of change makes me afraid that she will be left to vegetate. As much as she might enjoy it, she is not going to sit around the house watching the Game Show Network all day.  So today we visited a new day program.  Hallelujah, she seemed to like it.  She looked around, she “talked” to people (she’s not very verbal), she didn’t ask to leave, and when asked if she wanted to do something that she didn’t like, she politely said “no.”  I think we are going to sign her up for five days a week, 9-3.  It’s close to her group home, so it’s convenient, she’ll be outdoors a lot and involved in community volunteer work.  I left there feeling reassured that she would be in a good place that makes her happy.  And over time I have learned that the dark shadows in the corners of my valley help me appreciate the sunny days all the more.  I’ll never get back up on the “ignorance is bliss” plateau, but I no longer want to, and I don’t envy those people anymore.  I think they should envy me.  I understand and appreciate the value of a full life, the good and the not-so-good.  And the happiest day of my life has become the day I’m living today – with my four amazing, exhausting, exhilarating children.  God gave me these incredible gifts and they absolutely make all the hard work that comes with parenting so very much worth it.  And I still think Quentin Collins was the hot one.