Reading Aloud with Your Family

Every now and then in the sea of parenting books I am constantly reading, there is one that connects with my soul and makes me say, Yes!  That’s it!

Recently I stumbled across one of these books.

The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie inspired me, challenged me and helped me dream again as a Mom.

As a young girl I fell head over heels in love with books.  I learned to read at ease at a very young age and spent hours poring over books.  Stories enchanted me, carrying me to new places and introducing new ideas.

I used to spend hours wandering the isles of the public library, pulling out one book after another to scan the back cover or flip through the pages to get an idea of the content.  When it was time to go I would painfully sort through my huge stack and try to decide which ones were my favourites and which ones I would leave behind until next time.

As a mother, I would love to see my children discover stories the way I did.  To be delighted for hours on end, swept away to other worlds and times in a story is a beautiful way to spend a childhood.

A reader is never bored.

Five years into my mothering journey, however, I have come to realize that some of my children are not wired to dive into literature the way I am.  Learning disabilities and high energy levels can throw some major barriers on the roadway to reading, and for some of my children reading will always feel more like a decoding exercise than a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

Imagine trying to read a book upside down while looking in a mirror with itchy mosquito bites all over you begging to be scratched.  That is approximately what it feels like for one of my children in particular to sit down with a book.

What The Read Aloud Family introduced to me was the idea that even if my children are never able to launch into the world of literacy independently, they can still enjoy stories and let their imagination take them to these far away places through me reading aloud to them.  Not only that, but the benefits of reading are not only limited to enjoyment…though that should still be our number one goal when we read aloud!

When you read aloud to your children, these 5 things will happen:

1. With the chore of decoding words out of the way, your children will be able to settle in and enjoy the story, setting them up to experience the joy and magic of stories.

Though it is certainly true that life requires a lot of mandatory reading that is not fun, I want my children to pick up books because they want to.  Reading aloud to your children and introducing audio books to them gives them the opportunity to experience what it is like when the chore of learning to read is put behind them and they can effortlessly experience the content of the writing.  Though it is still going to take work to learn how to read, we all know the more that you read the better of a reader you will become!  If we can motivate our children toward reading with pleasure instead of a feeling of obligation, they are much more likely to succeed in becoming strong readers.  Nothing will make them want to pick up books more than falling in love with stories.  You can help them do this by reading interesting books to them, including books that would be too difficult for them to read on their own.

2. When you read aloud you will be exposing your children to phonetically correct language which will help them develop their own ability to read, write and speak correctly. 

Constantly taking in new vocabulary and proper sentence structure through the ear will inevitably result in the same coming out through their own mouths and writing.  It is exciting and funny to watch your children try out new vocabulary and ways of speaking.  I love seeing littles trying to include big words they have picked up while writing their personal stories.  It’s also fun to explore vocabulary with your children as you read, giving them definitions for those interesting words you stumble across.

3. When you read aloud with your children you can help them learn how to make connections in the content.

This is a skill that is so important for children to develop as it is linked to their comprehension of what they are reading.  It is not enough just to be able to decode words; they need to be able to comprehend the ideas being portrayed behind the words.  Understanding similes, metaphors, foreshadowing and motives behind the content they are reading is imperative.  When reading aloud, taking the time to ask simple questions or explore opinions can encourage your children to be thinking while they are taking in content and analyzing it’s motives and meaning.  In a culture where our children are being bombarded with messages, I want my children to know how to use critical thinking to develop their own convictions and ideas confidently.  You can encourage three kinds of connections: text to text (connecting to another book or earlier chapter), text to self (connecting to his or her own life) and text to world (connecting to something in the broader world or culture.)           

4. When you read aloud to your children you will be building memories that cannot be replaced. 

This is my favourite motivation to read aloud.  There are few things I would rather give to my children than to remember me being truly present with them, hearing my voice reading to them and experiencing the intimacy of a shared story.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, see myself and my four siblings sprawled around the living room and remember affectionately the tears in her eyes the first time she read Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows.  That moment in time will be lodged in my soul forever.  I can see my fourth grade teacher’s classic high heels and feel the hard, scratchy carpet beneath me when I pick up the book Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson  and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  My husband inherited the well beloved Thornton T. Burgess collection of bedtime stories from his grandparents and we are currently reading through his well loved copy of The Adventures of Chatterer the Squirrel.  My daughters were delighted to learn this was one of their Dad’s favourite childhood stories.  Gordon Korman’s humorous stories bring back memories to me of laughter and camaraderie with my siblings and cousins as we would retell the stories and pass on the latest sequels.  Stories that are shared provide material for conversations and opportunities to explore difficult topics.  Love, honour, courage, grief…these are topics often explored, even in very young children’s literature.

5. Last of all, when you read to your children you will also be reading to yourself! 

I have been reminded this summer that there are few things I enjoy more than a good story.  I love when the kids are begging for just one more chapter at bedtime and I cave, despite the time, because I just can’t wait to see what happens next!  I love reading, and with five children in the house, there aren’t a lot of quiet moments where I can pick up my own books so if I can experience reading and spend time with my children simultaneously…that’s a win for me!  I also love having an excuse to pick up those elementary age books again.  Many of the best books I have ever read are written for ages 8-12 year olds.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery and Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary; what a humorous, enchanting and enjoyable repertoire!  And those few books are just barely scratching the surface of a gold mine filled with hours of adventure and entertainment.  Even picture books for little kids can be interesting and fun to read as an adult.  I have loved my boys’ recent favourites; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet and Mighty Dads by Joan Holub and James Dean.

If any of this sounds exciting or intriguing to you I encourage you to pick up a copy of Sarah Mackenzie’s book, The Read Aloud Family.  This manual to reading aloud with your family will give you inspiration, practical tips, book lists for every age group and tips for choosing good books.  I promise you will not regret it!

~AF

Working With Educators to Support Your Child

School has just begun, and for many of you this means a return to familiar routines and schedules.

For some of you, this means overwhelmed, overstimulated kids who come home exhausted with piles of homework or daily notes scrawled by a frustrated teacher at the end of the day.

Educating our kids is both our responsibility and a gift we’ve been given.  Many children all over the world are unable to attend school due to extreme poverty.  If your children are able to attend school regularly or receive formal instruction, take a minute to contemplate that they are blessed!  While education may be a “right” in our Western culture, make no mistake.  Your children are privileged to have access to education and to learn important skills that will give them opportunities to sustain and provide for themselves as adults.

For a long time, parents were fed the lie that they were not equipped to be their children’s educators.  They were not expected to be the ones to know their child best, have the skills needed to guide their future and certainly not to teach them.

However, a movement of ordinary moms and dads are rising up to show themselves as not only worthy but exceptionally equipped to be the best teachers for their children.

Not only do you, as a parent, know your child better than any teacher…you have skills, intuition, knowledge and invaluable life experience to share with your child.

Many parents do not want to take on the demands and responsibility of providing their children’s education, and this I understand very well.  However, do not assume this means you have withdrawn the right to speak into your child’s educational experience.

While teachers have long been viewed as the experts and authority on children’s education, I believe many children suffer academically because parents have been detached from their children’s educational experience.

Parents and teachers both have expertise, knowledge and insight that are important to a child’s education.

The beauty of a school environment is that it gives opportunity for both the specialized training of a professional educator and the intuition and practical insight of parents to combine for the benefit of the child.

So how do you work alongside professional educators to combine their expertise with your intuition?

1. The first rule is to give respect and then expect it in return.

Your child’s teachers spends hours pouring over lesson plans, academic research, curriculum expectations and learning strategies.  By placing your child under their supervision you are giving them the responsibility to educate your child in the best way they know how.  They have specific training and knowledge that will be very valuable to both you and your child, but you need to take the time to listen respectfully to their professional opinions and follow the procedures put in place.  Nothing positive will be accomplished by bullying or criticizing.

However, I would also say that it’s important to require that respect in return.  If there is something you know about your child that is not being taken into consideration, you need to make that clear.  Don’t ever underestimate your insight as a parent.  You know your child best and what may sound great in theory may not work practically for your child.  Don’t allow a professional educator to intimidate you.  A good educator will know this and ask for your input.  Every relationship needs boundary lines, and this one is no exception.

2. Never undermine your child’s teacher in front of them.

Every parent knows the feeling of their child coming home with a story about their teacher that makes you wonder what they were thinking…but I cannot stress enough…be the adult and don’t say it out loud!  There is a very high chance your child’s version of the story is not accurate or is missing some pertinent information.  If you have concerns, by all means contact the teacher, but don’t allow your child to hear you speaking disrespectfully about the adult they are supposed to respect.  They will carry that comment to school with them in their mind every day and it will lead to them finding it very difficult to respect that teacher.  Always try to help your child see what the teacher’s perspective might be and remind them that their job is to be respectful and polite, even when differences arise.  Teaching our kids the skill of disagreeing respectfully with someone is a valuable life skill, so if there is an issue that needs addressing, walk through the steps of resolving that issue with both dignity and respect.

3. Communicate.

If you begin to see problems arising with your child academically, socially or behaviourally or you are concerned about some aspect of the curriculum or classroom procedures…speak up.

Contact your child’s teacher and request a meeting where you can express your concerns and ask questions.

Use the teacher, not your child, as your first source of information.

Listen respectfully and make sure you’ve taken the time to get accurate information and can express your concerns clearly.

Make sure you know how your child’s teacher prefers to communicate, whether it be through text, email, a daily agenda or in person.

Most problems at school between parents and teachers arise from miscommunication or lack of communication.

Let your child’s teacher know that you want to be involved and ask questions regularly, as they will likely forget at the end of their busy days to fill you in on things you might want to know.

4. Give grace.

Your child’s teachers are not perfect.  They are flawed humans, similar to your child’s parents 😉

They will make mistakes.

Give them some grace and remind yourself, and your kids, that you will probably need it in return at some point!

You will never regret establishing healthy, respectful relationships with your child’s educators.

5. Do not assume your child’s teacher knows your child as well as you do.

I am speaking particularly to parents of children with learning disabilities, behavioural challenges and social struggles on this one.

While your child’s exceptionalities may seem obvious to you, don’t expect your child’s teacher to understand why your child may behave or react the way they do.  You have a context for this child’s experiences that is helpful in decoding their struggles or successes.  Don’t be afraid to share this information with your child’s teacher as needed.  If your child has a formal diagnoses of some kind, make sure your child’s teacher knows this and is given a brief but clear summary of the best ways to navigate those extra layers successfully.

I have found it helpful to create a personal learning profile for one of my children in particular outlining her ideal learning environment and style, what her needs are and what aspects are challenging for her.  I give this to my child’s teacher as early in the year as possible and let them know to contact me if they have any questions or concerns.

Don’t forget to include any information that may seem “obvious” or has been discussed multiple times with other teachers or professionals within the school.  It is very easy for information to get misplaced or lost in the transition from year to year.  Assume your child’s teacher knows nothing about your child and go from there.

6. Lastly but most importantly pray for your child’s teacher.

Teachers are important and play a large role in our children’s lives.  Their jobs are not easy and the system they are working within places high demands on their time and energy.  Many teachers feel overwhelmed and unappreciated by their students, fellow staff and parents.  Make sure your child’s teacher this year knows that you see what they are doing and that you are grateful for the time they spend helping your child learn and grow!  Pray for wisdom, patience, energy and creativity.  Pray for their hearts to be drawn toward Christ.  Pray for opportunities to serve them and let them know you are grateful for them.

It is beautiful to be able to partner with others to educate your children.  You will be amazed watching your child learn and grow, and having others to celebrate those milestones with makes it even sweeter.

I hope this school year is the best yet for you and your children!

~AF

 

 

 

8 Things I Don’t Do That Other Moms Do…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

We can’t do it all.

We all have limits to our time and capabilities.

Sometimes as moms the lines get a little blurry and we find ourselves trying to turn ourselves and our families into people that we just aren’t in our desperate attempts to do it all.

I’m learning that while it’s healthy to be open minded and willing to learn, it’s also really important to know how to prioritize your life and just say no.

The Mom guilt will kick in and you will feel like a horrible person…until you stop and think about all the things that you are doing for your family.

If it’s just not that important to you or it raises your stress level to the point where you are grouching at anyone who moves, it might be time to just say no!

Here are 8 things I just say no to:

  1. Decorating Birthday Cakes – we all do it.  Child’s birthday approaches.  Mom scours Pinterest for the perfect decor, party and cake ideas.  Child tells you their dream birthday cake.  Mom does more research and blood pressure spikes.  A week before the birthday Mom scratches ‘make cake’ off her list and calls DQ instead.  To me, it’s just not worth it.  I don’t do decorating.  I have tried and it doesn’t turn out well.  I will spend the money to have someone else do that for me.
  2. Making Slime – Girl moms, you know what I’m talking about.  Made from glue, Borax, flour….you name it.  Homemade slime is all the rage.  I just don’t do it.  I don’t even have a good excuse, I just hate it.  I hate the mess, I hate it laying around for weeks, I hate seeing my kids sitting there playing with it, I hate looking up recipes for it…I just say no.  I am that mom, who just spoils all the fun and says they can do it with the babysitter or Sunday school or friends.  Not with me.
  3. Bathe my Kids Daily – I used to do this.  We used to have baths every night or at least every other.  Now…well…the goal is every other night but let me tell you it sure doesn’t always happen and I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.  With 4 kids in the house, I just don’t care that much.  I love tucking clean, shampoo smelling little bodies into bed at night but if their feet are still dirty and hair full of sand they sleep just as well.  I’d rather let them play longer than clean them all up just to get dirty again tomorrow.  As long as it’s more than the once a week bath I had as a kid, we’re good 🙂
  4. Buy organic – I read this article once explaining how the label ‘Organic’ can be very deceiving as sometimes it simply means the product was not exposed to any legally restricted chemicals and can therefore be just as harmful or more as it may just have been treated with a new or not yet regulated chemical.  Ever since I stare at the price differences and I just cannot bring myself to buy the organic products.  To take responsibility for myself, I am just plain too lazy to do the work to investigate into how I can know whether the label I am reading is accurate or misleading.  I buy lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and stay away from too much canned, packaged or processed foods.  I cook homemade meals regularly and avoid sugary desserts and snacks.  This is how I attempt to feed my family of 6 without going crazy and I’m ok with it.
  5. Sort my laundry – Ok, I do this sometimes but not always.  There are days when I haul it all down and sort it by darks, lights, pinks, fancy clothes and dirty jeans.  And then there are other days where I just take all one kids stuff and stuff it in the machine.  Two hours later I’m folding it all and putting it back in their drawers and my child now has all their clothes cleaned.  I very much doubt it’s going to do more harm to the clothing than the way she slides on her belly on the grass, rubs up against the rock walls she’s climbing and smears Nutella all over the front of her shirt!
  6. Essential Oils – I had really good intentions.  I even bought some off a friend and they’re sitting with a diffuser in my linen closet.  I listened to all the benefits and agonized over which oils might help my FASD children focus, which oils might heal my foster son’s dry skin, which oils might increase brain growth in my son who went through a brain tumour resection last year.  I wondered if lavender would help my daughter sleep better and if oregano would heal my cold sores.  But I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money and chase after a cure for realities we have fought hard to accept.  No oil is going to cure my children’s neurological differences or erase their trauma or help them sleep perfectly every night.  When I really stop and think…I know this.  And while I certainly believe there are huge benefits that have been proven, it’s not for me.  Just like I don’t do yoga, take Vitamin D all year or eliminate sugar from my children’s diet…I don’t do essential oils.  And I’m just not going to feel guilty about that.
  7. Meal Planning – Again, I tried this.  And I loved the part where you sit down with a fresh new notepad and pen and start writing down your favourite recipes and planning it all out.  But then real life happens and I’m just not in the mood for spaghetti tonight or we decided to go out for pizza instead of making homemade chicken noodle soup or it’s just too dreary and rainy to enjoy a chicken salad with chickpeas.  I also found that I spent a lot more money at the store each week if I planned out all my meals versus flying by the seat of my pants and using whatever I had in the house to concoct a meal.  For some people this works and is a lifesaver.  For me, I just don’t like it and it doesn’t fit my style.
  8. Mend Clothes – Honestly?  My husband keeps a needle and thread in his desk drawer and he mends the buttons on his pants when they fall off.  I just can’t be bothered!  It’s ok, he laughs and me and rather enjoys his little mending sessions so it’s not adversely affecting our marriage if you’re wondering.  My daughters bring out their dresses with ripped bows and falling apart doll clothes to their grandmothers or our neighbour up the street if they want them mended because they know if they ask Mom, it just won’t happen.  I would rather buy a new one than repair an old one.

So there you have it.

The things I don’t do.

No regrets.

No guilt.

Just no.

What things do you just say no to?

~AF

May 10th

I wake before dawn, my son’s cries prompting me to stumble out of bed and down the stairs to where he cries in the darkened kitchen.  He’s looking for his Daddy but it’s too early so I scoop him up and carry him close to my heart back up the stairs.

I wipe his tears and his nose, get him a drink, and then tuck him back into bed next to his love bunny.

“Goodnight, Babe.  I’ll see you in the morning.  Mommy loves you.”

Back in bed I climb between the cool sheets, but now I’m awake and the birds are chirping and it’s May 10th.

May 10th.

A year ago today my 18 month old son fell off the back of a pickup truck.

My husband and I did all the things you do.  We watched for drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, swelling on the skull, lack of balance.

He seemed fine.

It was evening so we kept him up an extra hour or two and woke him every two hours through the night.  Each time he responded appropriately and by morning we were less concerned.

He had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for the following day–his 18 month check up and immunizations.  I took him in, deciding I would mention the fall he’d had last evening to the doctor just to  be on the safe side.  I could feel a bit of swelling over his left ear, and he reacted to some slight pressure, but otherwise was his normal happy self.

When the nurse called us in she felt the bump on his head and said she’d mention it to the doctor.  We looked at the 18 month developmental goals.  His speech was on the low side of average but I wasn’t worried.  Kids are all so different and I hate the way we put them all in categories so early in life.  His head circumference was on the larger side and I joked about my husband’s genes producing large heads.  He had two routine immunizations, which he handled well.

When the doctor came in to see us she agreed there were no concerns about development at this point but said she was going to send us for a skull x-ray just to be on the safe side with his head injury.

“I’m probably going to regret this because if they see anything at all they’ll want you to get a CT scan as well but I’m going to do it anyway, just to be safe.  We don’t want to miss anything,” she said.

I reluctantly agreed and we left with the x-ray requisition.

I had been through x-rays and CT scans and MRI’s before with an infant we fostered so I was not looking forward to putting my shy little boy through the process of an x-ray.  I knew from experience the contraption they strapped tiny people into for an x-ray looked more like a medieval torture device than modern medicine.  The worst part was that because the x-ray emits strong radiation waves, I was not allowed to stay inside the room with him.

I called my husband and let him know what was going on, irritation in my voice.  I was frustrated that we had to put our son through this when it seemed that he was fine.

I went to the hospital as quickly as possible and they conducted the x-ray, promising they would send the results to my doctor who would call me to let me know what they revealed

By the time we got home we were both tired and hungry.  I made lunch and tucked him in for his nap.

I had barely got back down the stairs when the phone rang and my doctor’s name flashed up on the screen.

“I’m sorry, they saw a small fracture so they’d like to do a CT scan,” she said, her voice apologetic.  She didn’t sound worried, and reassured me it was probably minor but that they had to be extra cautious with head injuries.

I grudgingly woke my son from his very short nap and called my husband again with the news.  By now I had let the frustration seep in and I felt like crying.

It had been a long day already and it was just past noon.

Immunizations, a skull x-ray and now a CT scan yet too.

We headed back to the hospital.

I felt horrible.

We were both grumpy and tired.

What did a fracture on a toddler’s head mean, anyway?

What have I done?

At the hospital the doctor reassured me it didn’t appear to be anything serious and gave him some sedation to help him stay still through the CT scan.  It was a relief to have him sedated for the CT so that I wouldn’t have to listen to his fearful cries as we strapped him to the table and I stepped outside the room.  It also gave him a chance to get some much needed sleep.

It was approaching dinner time and all I wanted was to be at home with my family.

Back in the ER unit across from the nurses’ station we waited some more, me trying to keep my son from falling and hitting his head yet again as he drowsily came out of sedation and tried to crawl off my lap.  He was tipsy and clumsy and I had to laugh watching him as I tried to restrain his movements to keep him safe.  Freezies and juice helped move the sedation through his body and reorient his senses.

I had no idea that day how often we would do this in the following months.

I kept my eyes and ears on the doctor as he came and went from the station across the hall.  I tried not to let the niggling fear creep in as I watched him studying the computer screen and talking in low tones on the phone.

I sent messages to my sisters and mother-in-law on our family chat group, letting them know where we were and why.  They promised to pray and sent hugs and kisses.  By 5pm my mother-in-law let us all know that they, too, were sitting in an ER room as my father-in-law had broken his wrist at work!

We laughed at the irony.

Finally the doctor reappeared and I sat up eagerly, waiting for answers and hoping he would be discharging us soon.

Now, I would be able to recognize the signs that something was wrong;

The vague explanations, the carefully side-stepped questions…

We might need to be sent to Orillia, the nearest paediatric centre, by ambulance for monitoring over night.

Did I have someone who could bring me some clothes and essentials?

I called my husband and updated him, asking him to pack a bag of things.  I wished he were here, and we discussed who should go and who should stay with the other kids.  Both of us felt frustrated and anxious and our conversation was short and stilted.  I didn’t want to go…I was scared.  But I certainly didn’t want to stay home while my baby went either!

He promised to bring me some things when I heard more and we hung up.

The next time the doctor reappeared his eyes held concern,

“Is there someone coming to bring you some things?  You will definitely be going to either Orillia or Toronto Sick Kids tonight.”

Sick Kids?

My heart dropped and I felt terror course through me for a brief second until I forced it down.

Sick Kids was not for minor falls.

Sick Kids was not for a small fracture or bruise.

“Is everything ok?” I forced out the words calmly, though my mind was screaming them.

He looked at me and said, “Why don’t we wait until your husband arrives and I will explain everything to you both.”

I knew.

Looking back now, I can see that in that moment something resonated.

Everything was not ok.

This time on the phone my voice broke and I pleaded, “Please come now.  They’re talking about sending us to Sick Kids!”

We both knew something had changed.

When he arrived the doctor came to us and pulled the curtain closed behind him.

I don’t remember the conversation except this.

Brain tumor.

Our son; our beautiful baby boy…had a brain tumor.

When they took a CT scan to examine the fracture more closely, they could see it.  A huge dark shadow on his brain.

It took a complete reorientation to realize that this fall, this minor fracture, was the least of our worries.

Our son’s life was in danger.  Not because he fell four feet onto concrete…but because he had a massive tumor growing inside his brain.

It wouldn’t be til almost a year later, sitting across from my counsellor with tears rolling down my cheeks, that she would help me see it.

“You know, He wanted you to know.”

We could see it faintly…the blessing in the fall…and spoke it.

But to hear the words, He wanted you to know.

He wanted to save your son.

Life.

When the doctor left with sincere, hushed apologies and a promise to return with more details of transportation soon, we crossed the distance between us and clung to each other, our son held between us.

We tried to process our new reality.

Details emerged.

We’d be transferred by air to Sick Kids by the ORNGE Medics team.  They’d be there to pick us up in an hour or less.

It is the little moments that I remember:

The numbness that took over my body as we went through the next hour waiting for the helicopter to arrive.

The way I collapsed in tears into my friend’s arms when she found me at the hospital just before we left, her shift just beginning.  Her words, “It’s going to be ok.  They can treat this.”  And the news of her pregnancy; a light in the middle of the darkness closing in.

The way the chopper blades cast a whirlwind on us as we approached in the dusk, whipping my hair and carrying my son’s frightened cries up into the sky.

The utter confusion I felt when they asked, “When is the first time you were told his head was larger than normal?”

Were we supposed to notice it?

All the times he’d ever cried inconsolably or been sick or hurt came rushing back.

Should I have known? 

Would another mother have known?

The way all of life seemed to hold its breath as we lifted up into the night sky.  I looked down on the bright lights below; at my son fallen into an exhausted sleep on the stretcher and the medics sitting quietly opposite me in the dark.  I heard the words almost audibly.

Steadfast Love.

They held me in that moment of terror and brought a quiet peace I cannot explain.

Over the next twelve hours they told us more.

They told us our son’s tumor had probably been there since birth, steadily growing.

It was shocking in the worst of ways.

I felt helpless and betrayed.

Robbed of my innocence.

So where was God?

Where was He when my son was diagnosed with a brain tumor?

Where was He when a hundred needles were poked through his smooth baby skin?

Where was He when we had to hand our son over to a scrub-clad OR nurse and watch them take him away from us, his cries causing sobs to tumble from our chests.

Where was He when our son’s IV line slipped out of his vein and sat unnoticed, leaving him without the antiseizure medication he needed and causing his little body to begin seizing every few seconds?

Where was He when we begged for healing for his hydrocephalus but instead he had to undergo yet another surgery to insert a shunt?  A shunt that causes other complications and dangers.

Why didn’t God heal our son when we asked him to?

Why him?

Why us?

***

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
Who is this that darkens my counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who shut the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds it’s garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?
Who provides the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?
Do you give the horse his might?  Do you clothe his neck with a mane?  Do you make him leap like the locust?  His majestic snorting is terrifying.  He paws the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons.  He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword.
Is it by your understanding that the hawks soars and spreads his wings toward the south?  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes his nest on high?
Will you even put me in the wrong? 
Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? 
Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like this?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
Who is then he who can stand before me?
Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  I repent.”
(Job 38-42 excerpts)

***

And I fall to my knees in worship.

Because He was right there.

He was right there through 18 blissfully naive months as a monster grew inside my baby’s brain.

He was right there when we turned our backs for a second…and he fell four feet down onto concrete.

He was right there when our doctor sent us for a skull x-ray, just to be on the safe side.

He was right there when the very same day that our son was diagnosed, my father-in-law broke his wrist at work, leaving him without work responsibilities for 6-8 weeks.  Instead he was busy caring for our two daughters and us.

He was right there when the surgeon smiled and said, “It went better than I could have expected.  We got it all.”

He was right there when my gut prompted me to go to the nurse and say, “I’m sorry, I know I am probably just being paranoid but I feel like something is wrong.”

He was right there in that chopper, breathing words of peace into my terror.

He was right there for weeks before our son’s fall, drawing me back again and again to the words in the Psalms…steadfast love.

He was right there when we heard the words…benign.  No cancer.  No further treatment.  Low probability of recurrence.  “I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a full recovery.”

He was there.

He was our Shield.

Our Protector.

Our Light in the darkness.

Our Hope.

I still don’t have answers to the why’s, but they become less important when I see His sheer Greatness and my own smallness.

Suddenly, I don’t expect to understand.

Instead, the why’s turn to why not’s.

Why not us?

As I look around the crowded dining room at the Ronald McDonald Charity House, smiling at the now familiar faces.  She bounces over, eyes shining and bright despite the fact that she and her family have been here for months now while her little sister fights the disease ravaging her body.  This room is one of the most beautiful displays of joy amidst pain, generosity amidst difficulty and hope amidst darkness.

The reality is that every one of us is dying.

The world is broken and so are we.

Sin cast its dark spell and we are all vulnerable to it’s snare.

Today, on May 10th, I watch my son giggle alongside his foster brother — two tow-headed boys covered in sand and water.

Today, I watch him chatter to himself, copying his big sisters’ words and tones.  For months he was oh so quiet and I feared he would never speak again.  But the words keep coming faster and faster.

Today he roars at me while sitting on the toilet, my little lion, and giggles uncontrollably when I cover my eyes in mock terror.  Potty training and copying his favourite story book.

I watch him run across the yard, one foot landing a little harder than the other despite the physiotherapy we’ve done.  It doesn’t make me fearful…instead it makes me smile and feel oh so grateful.

I track his fluids and we go get bloodwork done at the clinic.  As I pull into the parking lot I explain,

“We have to do a little pokey and then all done.”

He looks at me with wide eyes and points to his arm.

“Po?”

I smile and nod.

There is no fear as we go inside, take off his jacket and sit down across from the elderly couple.  I’ve never seen another child here.

He is a calm and adorable as we take our place and the nurse holds his arm.

After a few tears he is happy again and proudly carries his stickers outside.

Today I am not scared.

I am not angry.

I am not sad.

Did God heal my son?

Yes and no.

He will most likely have a shunt for the rest of his life.  He is still developmentally delayed and may suffer from learning disabilities as he grows older due to the trauma in his brain.  He has low sodium levels for a reason we are not sure of at the moment but that are moderated with a fluid restriction.  We do not yet know if he will need antiseizure medication long term.  He is still enrolled in three therapy programs; speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

But today I am just grateful.

Because I have my son, and in the last year I have seen my world shift on it’s axis, spin out of control and right itself up inside my Father’s strong grasp.

It’s hard to imagine how life can become more clear, more precious, more meaningful…until it does.

I don’t wish all this away.

I can no longer remember what it was like before.

I know I can’t protect my son…and that brings sweet relief instead of fear.

I know I can’t control my life by doing it all right — my two little boys are a testament to that.  One I protected fiercely from the minute I knew of his fragile existence in my womb.  He was given every advantage and still a massive tumor grew in his brain.

The other faced adversity and fought for survival from the second he came into being…yet he is happy, healthy and brilliant as he shows my son how to build a tower and “reads” him their favourite story.

Why did my son have to suffer?

I don’t know.

I don’t have all the answers and I cannot argue theologically through the why’s of suffering.

I just know that I have a good, good Father.

He is real,

He is good,

I believe

and I am grateful.

I can’t question the God I believe in because it is He who has sustained me, healed me, rescued me, and breathed hope into my terror.

He created a million galaxies in a single breath.

***

It’s getting light outside now, and my hand cramps on the pen.

I set my notebook on the night table and curl up to wait for the inevitable pit PAT pit PAT of my son’s sleepy, uneven stride across the hall.

It’s May 10th

But I feel peaceful, grateful and humbled by the love of my God.

-AF

 

The Cross, Chocolate Eggs & the Resurrection

Then we come to this weekend,

Spring still making its shy debut.

Snow is still heaped against the shadowed places beside the fence and ice covers the tops of the puddles that the sun melted yesterday.

The lawn is brown and yellowed, the trees bare; life beneath the ground holds its breath waiting for the sun’s warmth to signal that it is time.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  John 12:24

We wake up Good Friday to the sky cold and dreary.  All day it changes back and forth from cloudy to sunny to cloudy again.  It cannot decide whether its a day of light or darkness, and our hearts agree.

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

Pain in the midst of victory; the greatest sacrifice to accomplish the greatest rescue mission the world has ever known.

“He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

We do our Easter hunt a day early, scavenger clues scrawled on colourful pieces of paper.

They shriek and run eagerly with buckets banging by their sides.

Their eyes light with joy at each new discovery.

The chocolate is sweet and sticky on my tongue.

Mmm.  So good.

And I wish that all of life was this sweet and perfectly mesmerizing.

But they tear into packages and leave bits of paper and cardboard all over the counter, knocking each other over in their haste.

I prickle with irritation and the magic of it all starts to dissipate.

The sugar high brings chaos and silliness and fighting naps and I get frustrated at it all.

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And its this.

It’s for this that I needed that cross.

Impatience, sarcasm, frustration and pride.

My sin glares ugly in our faces and rips and tears at what wants to be whole.

We are only humans and we feel it oh so real.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 3:11

We cling to that hope in our brokenness.

Because of the gift; that cross so crude and unlovely,

We are justified!

We are whole and spotless and beautifully redeemed.

Because of death, yes…

But also because of Life!

“In Christ shall all be made alive.” I Corinthians 15:22

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  Oh death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Tomorrow is Sunday!

Resurrection Day.

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We will put on our dresses and buttoned shirts and pretty hair bows.

We will smile and rejoice as we sing the victorious songs.

Songs of hope.

Songs of promise.

Songs of light and love.

We are not lost.

We are not doomed to break under the weight of all our shortcomings.

We are redeemed!

We’ve been rescued and scooped up into the palm of a Hand so gentle and nurturing.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.” Ephesians 1:7-8

Chosen to be the recipient of lavish grace.

Lavish.

And so, it is Easter.

So much grief; so much joy.

So much loss; so much gain.

Pain in the midst of victory.

The greatest sacrifice to accomplish the greatest rescue mission the world has ever known.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care and Why it Matters

I remember the first time I travelled internationally with my children.

For the first time I actually stopped to listen and observe carefully as the flight attendants demonstrated how to use the oxygen masks and life vests in case of an emergency.

With my baby in my arms and two daughters beside me, it suddenly felt important to know how I would go about saving their lives if need be.

The most important take-away?

Always put your own mask on first.

It struck me how contradictory this was to every maternal instinct inside of me.

As mothers, we regularly play the martyr.

We sacrifice.

We shield.

We protect.

It’s who we are, and who we want to be.

But what happens when the steady pouring out of ourselves leaves a gaping hole?

What happens when the mundane of life covers up the joy?

Is it ever ok to put me first?

As Christian mamas we heap on the added burdens of selfless service, taking up our cross and putting others ahead of ourselves.

We take the verses to heart and stretch ourselves thin and fragile over our treasures.

We want it all.

We want to be enough.

But we foolishly forget we will never be enough on our own.

There is no glory in exhausting our own resources so that at the end of the day we are weary, discouraged women with nothing left to offer.

I realize there are seasons and days when this is the inescapable reality of motherhood.

We all have seasons that drain the life out of us, but sometimes it’s because we are neglecting our own souls.

Self care is a bit of a hot button word right now, but it’s really not that complicated.

It means taking time to infuse hope, joy and energy back into myself.

The purpose of self care is to fill yourself up so that you can once again pour yourself out.

It’s hard to mother well from a depleted soul.

I practise self care so I can tuck my children in with smiles and tender kisses at the end of the day.

I practise self care so that I have energy to be active with my children.

I practise self care so that I reflect hope and joy to a dying world around me.

I practise self care to remind myself of who I am in Christ.

I practise self care so that I can enjoy time with my husband.

If you’re like me you might be reading this thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my never ending to do list.  One more thing I’ve neglected to accomplish.”

But self care is probably something you’re already doing…it maybe just needs to be prioritized into your life a little more intentionally.

Self care is doing things that you love; things that make you happy.

It means feeding your passions and pursuing your dreams.

It means disciplining yourself to choose what is best so that you can reach your very greatest potential.

It means that every now and then, you put your own spiritual, emotional or social needs first.

So today…find a way to take care of yourself.

Turn on your favourite music, order pizza for dinner or get out for a walk.

Take a bath…with music so you won’t hear the chaos the kids are causing downstairs with your husband.

Plan a date night at home, exercise or go shopping.

Take a nap while the kids lie down, join a women’s group or book club, journal or call a friend.

Change the scenery around you for a few hours.

When we think of self care we tend to think of hiding away in a corner somewhere by ourselves, but some of these things can be done with your children at your side.

It’s about choosing to enjoy the life you have, and finding ways to make it easy to enjoy.

It’s ok to leave the dishes for a nap sometimes.

Deciding to spend the morning outside in the sunshine instead of cleaning the house is not a choice you will regret.

Losing some weight or cooking a nutritious meal will help you feel more motivated, energetic and happy.

Listening to your favourite worship songs while you feed the kids breakfast could be the difference between staying calm and refreshed or frustrated and stressed through the morning rush.

Pick up your Bible while the kids are quiet or listen to your favourite podcast while you fold the laundry.

I have found it can be such a subtle change to my day but such a great shift in my heart when I take the time to choose things that will fill up my own cup.

 

In John chapter 10 Jesus says,

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

This is what Jesus desires for you.

Life!

Abundantly.

~AF

 

 

 

 

 

When You Just Don’t Feel Like Enough

It’s one of those seasons.

I feel like no matter how thin I stretch my heart across the grid of my life I cannot quite reach the borders.

I look at the faces circled around my table and I long to be able to fill the gaps.  My heart staggers a bit at the distance between where we are and where I want us to be.

I see the slumped shoulders of a girl with the weight of a changing world on her preteen shoulders.  Catty friends, difficult assignments, disappointing grades on her report card and the constant pull and tug of her sister.  I feel her creeping away from me, and I’m just not ready for this.

I see the runny nose of a little boy getting over the cold, his eyes rimmed with tell-tale redness.  He’s been whining and weary for days now.  His constantly outstretched arms beg me to pick him up, up, up.  I can’t do it all, sweet boy.  I can’t fix it for you.  But I dole out more Tylenol and fill his sippy cup for the hundredth time.  Breathe in gratitude; breathe out the chaos.

My middle child flits in and out, constantly bending to the pressures of the needs above and below her.  I know I need to carve out time for her that will not be dictated by toddlers or preteens.  Her body is tense these days, and her heart feels far beyond my reach.  I feel my heart ache with the words her teacher shared and the stubborn tilt of her chin.  I wonder if she knows brittle hearts break the fastest.

My baby watches the world with delight and I wish I could say I don’t miss a thing…but I do…every single day I do.  I reach my fingers to land softly on the bumpy, brittle valleys of his head…testament to the surgical interventions of the last year.  My thoughts jump to the MRI we’re waiting for, the EEG and neurology appointments next week and the therapy sessions coming up.  I wonder what I’m missing and why he’s not sleeping well.  I smile when he pops out yet another new word, tucking it away to savor; it feels like hope.  The next minute in fierce toddler style he is screeching at me and throwing his bowl off the table.  I can’t figure out whether I should laugh or cry as I look at the rice scattered all over the floor.

My husband’s phone rings and I hear tidbits of his conversation.  He’s setting dates, planning meetings, sounding eager as they plan the future.  I am so proud of the new opportunities arising for him…I wonder if he sees me barely keeping up to his enthusiasm.  I’m apprehensive of the change, only because I am unsure what to expect.  I know he knows this too.  I put on my brightest smile because I want him to know how very proud I am of him.  I see how hard he’s worked and I know he deserves this.  I know he will take care of us all no matter what…but still I feel a bit like I’m drowning.  I just can’t quite keep my head above the water.

My phone alarm rings…medicine time.  I see it’s almost gone and make a note to call the pharmacy in the morning.  I hope this will  be the last refill and that our neurology appointment will bring only good news of his brain scans.

The back door slams…they’re home from school.  She’s full of chatter and stories…I can’t tell which ones are true today.  The oldest is quieter than sometimes…I think she looks tired.  I try to catch her eye but she’s turning her back and leaving the room.  We’ve been getting to bed on time but I know she hasn’t been sleeping as well and life is just draining the joy out of her lately.

I catch sight of the conversation on the screen as she talks to her birth mother.  I see she’s asking questions about her father….questions with hard answers.  I run a hand over her back and let her know I’m there but inside I feel the air squeeze out a bit…I know I can’t protect her forever.  I grab my phone to text birth mom to thank her for always being so patient and kind…for being a role model my girls can look up to.  I’m so grateful for her presence in our lives.

I see the time and hurry to pack his backpack full of snacks, diapers, wipes and extra clothes.  I throw in the play dough and a few toy cars…he gets bored with the play room at the Children’s Aid office.  I call out that it’s time to go to his visit and he comes running, eyes wide with excitement.  I rush him to the car…I have good intentions to be on time but still we manage to arrive a few minutes late.  I hope she knows it’s not because we don’t care.  I ask her if she’s feeling better this week and mentally remind myself I need to text her more.  A picture, a funny story…something.  She hands me a bag of new clothes and I smile, even though they’re the wrong size.  I pull the social worker aside to ask about next week’s plans and let her know he fell off the kitchen chair yesterday and bumped his head.  She lets me know quietly that court didn’t go as well as we hoped.  I kiss him goodbye and wish I could save him from the heartbreak of his own story.

My phone beeps and I see an email pop up from the school.  It’s my daughter’s principal asking to set up a meeting to go over my daughter’s test results.  I agree to the time and then wonder who will watch Little Boy.  My stomach pulls into knots, wondering what the testing results will say.  Will it help or hurt us at this point?  I put medication and dietary changes on the list of things I want to research to help kids with ADHD and FASD and check my calendar to see when our next pediatrician appointment is scheduled for.

I’m trying to present the new phonics rules to her and guide her through the activities suggested.  See, hear, touch.  See, hear, touch.  She needs all three senses to grasp the new concepts.  The toddlers are squabbling over cars and blocks and the best spot on the couch.  I look from my daughter to them, trying to decide if it’s worth interrupting her lesson to help them sort it out.  I love homeschooling, but I also hate it.  There’s possibly an end in sight and that both makes me terrified and relieved at the same time.

He offers to take the little ones with him for a while and I sigh gratefully.  For a few minutes the house will be quiet.  I glance toward my untouched Bible in the basket by my chair.  I’ll pick it up at nap time, when their eyes close and I sit outside their bedroom door waiting for Little O’s restless limbs to fall quiet.  I wish I felt inspired but lately it’s mostly just choosing to believe that I’m being fed whether it feels like it or not.

Choosing to believe that He’s filling in the gaps I’m leaving behind in my own life, my children’s lives…the world around me.

Sometime I open my eyes in the morning and wonder…how am I going to keep it together today?

How am I going to get through the next week, hour…five minutes?

Honestly, I don’t always know…but somehow it happens.

Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by it all.

Anxiety is such a joy stealer, and fear…it is a liar.

Many times if I stop and think I know it was not me at all that held it together.

Grace comes in so many different forms and always at the right time.

There are tears, but there are also a lot of kisses and laughter and funny stories and so even the bad days creep by.

Life can be such a puzzle, can’t it?

As moms our hearts and minds can feel like they are divided into a thousand small pieces, scattered over the table in a kaleidoscope of colour.

I don’t really have any solutions.

I guess I just want you to know that you’re not alone out there.

Yes, you.

The one who teeters on the tightrope of her life, wide-eyed at the chasm below.

The one who is having a hard time believing that Spring is just around the corner.

It’s been a long winter, hasn’t it?

But new life is on its way.

Easter is just around the corner, promising that the best endings come from the most painful stories.

Hang in there.

We’re going to  be ok.

~AF