children, faith, family, grief and loss, hope, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…. Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her?

I had held my new job title for less than 24 hours when I sat alone, staring into the face of a tiny baby as her coloring turned a frightening shade of red. Certain she was choking, I jumped up, nearly shredding the mesh panties a nurse delicately handed me a few hours earlier. Just as I pulled the baby into my arms, this tiny angel let out the most explosive sound that allowed her face to regain normal coloring.

“Oh dear,” I said, returning her to the bassinette. And then, much like one might ring the hotel concierge to assist with dinner reservations, I pushed the nurse call button and reported, “She pooped.” After a few seconds of silence, the nurse replied, “Time to go to work, Mom.”

Mom. I was someone’s mother. What the hell was I thinking? I am not prepared for this. In the midnight darkness of the maternity ward, my heart raced, my stomach flipped and I felt lightheaded. I’m someone’s mother.

(Editors note: If the phrase “mesh panties” made you at all uncomfortable, you certainly won’t be able to handle the next few thoughts, so I suggest you skip the following two paragraphs.)

Sensing my anxiousness, the kind nurse came in to help me through my inaugural diaper change. And, thank God she did because I was not prepared for what I saw in there. Was it tar? Or black licorice? Why is it so sticky? It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and the nurse explained that this would change within a few days. I should have asked for more detail instead of just trying to conceal my expression of disgust and raw fear.

A few days later at our first pediatrician’s office visit, another diaper had to be changed, and thank God I was again in the company of a medical professional. This time it looked like she had somehow swallowed a packet of seeds. My eyes grew wide as only one thought blazed a path through my brain. “Holy crap. My mom was right to yell at me as a kid for eating watermelon seeds, but instead of growing in my belly, somehow one must be growing in the belly of my child. Please, God, no, please save my baby from watermelon belly.” But before having to confess my sin, the reassuring doctor said, “This is all normal.”

I used to think I was somewhat smart, but becoming a Mom put all of that into question. I had read all the books, done all the research, but this was the first time I became keenly aware that for many of life’s lessons, there is no manual and you simply learn by doing.

Five years earlier, this three-ring bound survival guide was a Christmas gift from my future in-laws. A year out of college and having just moved to Michigan with very limited homemaking skills, I was grateful to receive something touted as “a cookbook with a difference” featuring not only recipes and blank pages to save your own, but also an extensive stain removal guide, a succinct first aid section and even car maintenance instruction.

Now, almost 30 years later, the cover is torn a bit, but it still bears an inventory tag from the beloved retailer Jacobson’s, a whole bunch of added recipes and, upon deeper examination, a ridiculously gross amount of food splatter stains.

In those early years, I would use it quite often in conjunction with a phone call to my Mom, as chronicled by notes in the margins like the one next to the Chicken Divan recipe, “Do NOT substitute Miracle Whip for Mayo.” Maybe I was never as smart as I thought I was.

While the contents of this book were a great resource, I always knew the answer to the question the title asked. My Mom was either on the other end of the phone or beside me…always available, always accessible. But that all changed in 1995, when I was six months pregnant and my Mom died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My first Mother’s Day as a mom was also my first Mother’s Day without my Mom. As a result, the second Sunday in May has always been bittersweet for me. I have also learned there is no manual for learning how to live without your Mom either. The loss is as individual as the love you shared.

On Sunday, I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for the two remarkable young women who call me Mom. No handbook could ever describe the feeling of joy these girls give me through their kindness, humility and courage. No manual could have helped us become a family that savors a good laugh, a good meal, a good cry and the promise of each new day.

On Sunday, I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for my Mom and the imprint she has made on the lives of two girls who she never held in her arms, and yet, they hold a piece of her in their hearts.   Although my Mom was not there for any it, she was somehow there for all of it through the gift of faith she imparted upon me that led me to a wonderful man and brought us these fabulous girls.

On Sunday, I will pray for my dear friend and her sisters who, only this week, held their mom in their arms as she drew her last breath. I will pray for all those I love who feel that hole in one’s heart that comes from being a motherless daughter or son. And I will pray, most especially, for my friends who have experienced the most agonizing grief imaginable through the death of a child.

On Sunday, as every day, I will give thanks for my Mom who always told me to put my trust in God. That while my life path may be steep or rugged and shrouded in uncertainty, we are told to look neither forward or behind, but to focus on our faith, trusting that God will equip us for whatever awaits on this journey.

Thanks, Mom. That’s the only recipe I ever really needed.

kmp xoxo

 

My favorite picture of me and my girls. Mother’s Day 2000.

June 1995. The last picture I took with my Mom who died the next month. 

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abuse and neglect, art, art therapy, children, family, foster care, Inspiration, mental health

The Working Title Is…The Power of Art

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

“Art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”

One quote is from, arguably, the most influential artist of the 20th century, the founder of Cubism, a master painter, sculptor, poet and playwright. The other is the musing of a rapper whose hits include “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Both Pablo Picasso and Mos Def understood the deep impact artistic expression has on the one who creates as well as those who admire, interpret and appreciate the piece, no matter what the medium.

So neither man would have been surprised to learn how I have been transfixed by a work of art and unable to think of little else than the story behind its creation.

The artist is a ten-year-old boy who is a resident of Christ Child House, an intensive residential treatment facility caring for as many as 31 boys, age five through 16. The young men who call Christ Child House their home suffer emotional, behavioral and physical impairment resulting from severe abuse and neglect. Located on Joy Road in Detroit, the philosophy of this very special home is “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

The dedicated professional treatment staff is supported by many volunteers and patrons who offer counsel, financial support and hands-on assistance.

One such program is weekly Art Therapy currently being organized by my friend Karen Kearns. Every Tuesday, Karen (sometimes with the assistance of volunteers and sometimes flying solo) will join the Art Therapists working with the boys of the Christ Child House on an art project.

On this particular Tuesday, Sadie, Christ Child’s Assistant Art Therapist, shared that ten-year-old Stephen* came into the art therapy session ready to chat about his difficult day at school. He talked about how upset he became when the teacher insisted that he button his shirt up to the neck even though it made him uncomfortable. Stephen’s response was to begin scratching his own face. He pointed to the scratch marks on his face and said that they hurt pretty badly. He wasn’t sure why he had reacted in that way other than because he felt upset.

As they sat and talked a bit more, Stephen asked Sadie how she handles things when she gets upset. Sadie shared that she likes to take deep breaths or go on a little walk. After Stephen took a couple of deep breaths, he agreed that sounded like a nice plan.

The project Karen was working on that week had the boys pick out an animal with which they identified…their “spirit animal” that they then colored in a way that reflected who they were as individuals. Stephen picked out a lion and gave the lion long claws and scratches on its face. As he continued to work, taking deep breaths, Stephen went on to draw band-aids over the scratches. Sadie asked Stephen what environment they should draw around the lion so the lion doesn’t hurt its face anymore, and Stephen decided he should make a protected path on which the lion would walk, surrounding it with things that would make the lion feel safe, and for Stephen that meant smiling friends and rain.

I can’t stop looking at that lion. I can’t stop thinking about Stephen and what path his life traveled that led him to Christ Child House. I can’t stop thinking about what he has seen and heard, been exposed to and endured over his ten short years on this earth. I take deep breaths and thank God for the commitment and dedication of each of the staff members who make it their mission to build these boys up again…and for the volunteers like Karen who lovingly attempt to bring truth to the decree that “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

While my thoughts have been focused on Stephen, this reminded me of a poignant art related moment I experienced decades ago when working for Hospice. I was planning an event to support our Children’s Hospice Program. In order to save money on a four-color invitation, I had them printed in black and white and corralled every volunteer I could find to help hand color the invites. As this quickly became a more daunting project than I originally surmised, I got creative and reached out to the Activities Directors of local nursing homes.

At one nursing home, I made my presentation IN A VERY LOUD VOICE to the elderly residents in the activities room and told them some of the heartbreaking stories from our children’s hospice, why our program so desperately needed the funding this event would raise and why I needed their help.

As I passed out the invitations and crayons, I approached a man named Matthew and the Activities Director called across the room, “Oh, Katie, Matthew has suffered a number of strokes and isn’t really able to participate.” So I smiled and told him I’d leave an invite to look at anyway because it was so adorable. I then left to visit other nursing homes and coerce additional elderly into my philanthropic sweatshop. When I returned at the end of the day, the Activities Director came toward me with a huge smile on her face. Matthew, although non-verbal, made it very clear that he wanted to color his invitation and spent hours working on the one I set in front of him.

I framed it so that I’d be forever inspired by Matthew’s desire to be in service to others despite his own challenges, so I’d never forget his perseverance, and so I would never question the power of art.

If Stephen’s story brings out your inner Matthew and you’d like to make a difference in the lives of the boys of the Christ Child House, there are many ways you can do that. Email Karen Kearns (karenkearns@me.com) and tell her you’d like to join her on a Tuesday and work with the boys on an art project. Or email Carol Roney (roneyfam@comcast.net) and tell her you’d like to support the Education program as a tutor. Or you might even consider making a financial contribution to Christ Child Society by clicking here.

It’s never too late….

kmp

 

*The boy’s name was changed to protect his identity.

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