Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Sweet, sweet, Jane..."

In Jr High, I lost my backpack - turns out, I had left it in the middle of the hallway. Some kid turned it into the counselor's office after tripping over it. Since then, I have lost my tennis clothes, my homework, my car keys, my house keys, and even my husband's wallet (as he recalls, it was before a three day weekend and we had to exchange wedding presents for food in order to survive, but he tends to exaggerate).

I have gotten much better. However, last night I lost my youngest daughter's green "bampet." She received this blanket from her grandmother when she was three days old, and has slept with it ever since. I say I lost it, because blaming her seems a bit cruel since she's not yet two. 

Anyway...lost the blanket and feared a long night ahead. We lost my oldest daughter's blanket once and after a night of screaming, I shelled out the $40 needed to replace it (I could only locate it's replica at the sortof pricey, Neiman Marcus). 

Well, there is no Neiman's in Chesterton, so I prepared myself to break the news about "bampet." "Janie, Mommy lost Bampet, you'll have to sleep with something else tonight," I braced myself.  Jane's face scrunched into a pout. "Jane's sad-mad," she said softly and then promptly picked out a fluffy scarf to snuggle with. This picture was taken about two seconds after receiving the news. Hmmm....either I'm getting better at this, or Jane's a pretty laid back kid.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

2008 ART DAY

Our theme days basically involve taping a few signs to the door and inviting over "the cousins." Today was "art day" - an excuse for me to go to Michael's and purchase new craft supplies (I can barely resist new markers, crayons and paper this time of year). My girls and I have fun preparing for theme days - even one year old Jane gets into the mood, "Da cousins will yove deese," she exclaims, carefully handling the new packages of clay.

Today's events went well. We painted a mural in the back yard, read a children's book about Monet (which 7 year old Priscilla read with a foreign accent), and ate peanut butter cookies. We even interviewed a live artist. My sister, Bethany is a senior at Old Miss. She is an art major, interned this summer at a gallery, and spent a semester studying in Paris - pretty "art-sy" to me.

The interview took place via speaker cell phone. My phone leaves much to be desired. Add that issue to the confusion of six small children talking at once and miscommunication can occur. "Bobby," I told my husband later, "It sounded like Elijah asked Bethany if her teacher is a whore." "Surely not," he said dismissingly. It really sounded like it, though. When my sister asked the kids what kind of art they liked to do, Pricsilla said drawning, Isabelle said she preferred painting, Elijah said that anything using his imagination was fine, and Ben said he liked to drink lemonade. Hmmm.

Next, I think we want to do a music day, but Isabelle told me we must purchase a violin and a piano first - so it may be a while. That's ok, though, because it may take that long for the mural's 17 coats of paint to dry.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What a difference a year makes...

Two years ago, my little sister Ellen and her husband, Grant hosted my entire family for Christmas. This was no easy undertaking. My family is really big and when you add spouses and my two tiny but boisterous baby girls, you have quite a party. How generous (and daring). True to form, Grant and Ellen surrendered their bedroom to my husband, girls and I. They slept on tiny sofas in the living room.

The week was perfect. We got snowed in: beautiful clean, fluffy snow you could play in for hours without freezing to death because you were in Colorado rather than Chicago or Detroit. They had homemade fudge and peppermint sticks for our hot cocoa. We laughed until we couldn't breathe playing B.S. (some crazy board game) and everyone brought gifts for my daughters. We even got to go skiing for a day. In fact, by the end of the week, I think my oldest daughter (then not quite three) thought that Grant was Santa Claus - I know my husband did!

Then came the climax. As we gathered around the kitchen snacking, drinking, and talking, Grant and Ellen told us that Ellen was pregnant. My sister's face was mix of modesty and mild panic, but I could see behind the fear a confidence developing. She was ready and excited.

Well, I returned home daydreaming about cousins playing. I was excited, too. In fact, I was beside myself because they had asked me to be an advocate for them in the hospital. They decided to have a natural childbirth and constructed a birth plan with the assistance of their Bradley coach. I reread articles from Mothering Magazine in preparation.

As the nine (or ten - whatever) months drew to a close, My husband, girls and I prepared for our visit. We humbly accepted Grant and Ellen's financial assistance for our plane tickets and I packed Jane and Isabelle's impossibly small baby clothes to pass on to the new tiny.

Ellen's labor started beautifully. Mild contractions gradually intensified throughout the day. My sister is stunning to look at. At 5 foot 9, she is slender (the perfect kind of thin - not bony - just naturally a size two - no hard feelings) and always impeccably dressed. That afternoon, though, she looked absolutely breathtaking as she quietly weathered one contraction after another, gathering strength for a long night ahead. As we moved "the party" to the hospital, I proudly watched my shy little sister rise to the challenge. She endured each pain with quiet resolve, although I do think I heard her whisper to our youngest sister, "You don't want to do this."

Before I thought possible, (although I'm certain Ellen felt plenty of time had passed) she was dialated to a ten. "You can go ahead and push," we heard the nurse say. The precious couple wanted a bit of privacy at this point. We were ushered into the waiting room with the rest of the Grant/Ellen cheerleaders. I bit my lip in anticipation. A new baby was soooo wonderful.

And then, at least in MY mind, something went terribly wrong. Thirty minutes passed, and then an hour and then two. My mother and I exchanged glances. What kind of pain must Ellen be in - pushing for two solid hours?. The coffee in the waiting room tasted like dirty water and I remember wanting to make a quick jaunt to the Sarbucks at the next exit. How could I advocate properly without a decent cup of coffee? I was beginning to feel nauseous. After the third hour, the waiting room phone rang. It was Grant. "What's going on?" I demanded, (my panic stricken voice fortelling the type of "advocate" I would become that evening/morning). "They're going to do a c-section," he said calmly, "Ellen's doing ok, but she's really tired. I'll let you know more as soon as I can." He hung up. My mind took off, "Damn hosptal...did they read her birthplan? Did the doctor let her move around/change positions? All that time suffering through contractions..." My heart pounded.

"What did he say?" The entire waiting room, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, sat looking at me. "They're going to do a C-Section," I stuttered, trying to talk over the lump in my throat. I had to do something, I mean, I was the advocate! So I started to sob.

The next couple of hours were a blur. I remember snapping at my sister, Erin, and formulating vague schemes of overthrowing the hospital staff. I also recall a lot of crying. Would the baby be able to nurse? Would Ellen recover? My questions were endless. Towards the end of the morning, even my ever patient mom seemed tired of me.

"It will be ok, Paige," Grant's father reassured me, "as long as the baby's healthy." Wait, was he helping me? Yes, he was trying to calm and comfort me! What kind of crappy Doula would I make? As I looked around the waiting room, I saw my reflection in everyone's eyes. I was not Norma Rae, I was hysterical Harriet Oslen from Little House on the Prairie. I was out of control.


Lucien Elise Demers was born August 19, 2007. She was perfect. Because of the C-section, her head didn't have the smashed birth canal head that most newborns have. She breast fed without missing a beat. Because of the C-section, her father, who would have to work long hours in the weeks and months ahead, got a chance to bond with little Lucie from the start. When we were allowed to see Ellen, she looked as calm and peaceful as she had the days before. "Lord grant me to greet the coming day in peace..."

As we drove back to my parents home after the birth, I felt exhausted and weak. In the movie, "When a man loves a woman," Meg Ryan struggles to parent her daughter while combating a hangover. Her husband, played by Andy Garcia calls it like he sees it, "Honey, I think you've got all you can handle with your coffee and your little spoon." I felt like a joke. I began to mope in my powerlessness. The rest of the trip was painful for me. I tried to support Ellen, but I felt I had let her down. On some level I was embarrassed to be around them all.

It wasn't until several months later, that I began to see things differently. Ellen and Grant merely wanted me to support them . They didn't expect me to interface with the doctors! What sort of grandios lens was I viewing myself through? As soon as I jumped off that pedestal, I experienced immediate relief. It wasn't my fault that Ellen had a c-section any more than it was my fault that Tiffany started drinking or I became sick. "In all unexpected occurrences do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee." My own responsibilities became more clearly deliniated. "Oh Lord, grant me the strength to endure the fatigue of the coming day and all the events that take place during it." It became easier to monitor what came out of my mouth (or what went into it, for that matter). For the first time in years(?) I felt peaceful.

Lucie will turn one next week. Like her parents, she is beautiful and well adjusted. These days, I still try to control others and my surroundings, but it's out of habit rather than responsibility. In fact, it's something I confess! Each morning, I pray the Last Elders of Optina prayer with desperation, "...Direct my will. Teach me to pray, to believe to hope to be patient, to forgive and to love," and I am happier than I have ever been.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I love my little sister, Bethany. Of course now she's "all grows up" and fabulous - well traveled, fluent in French - an art major no less. She has more friends than I can count and these days I pine for her hand-me-downs.

As a little girl, Bethany was profoundly perceptive. The youngest of six kids, she learned to relate to (and connect deeply with) all of us; always eager to listen, to support and to encourage. My husband remembers his first visit to my family's home when we were dating. He says he was nervous sitting there - wanting to please my "scary Texas father." Bethany, seven years old at the time, seemed to sense his anxiety and sat down on the sofa beside him. "Can I get you a sandwich," she asked, smiling her genuine smile, turquoise eyes sparkling.

The thing is, fabulous Bethany has retained that sweetness, that innocence, even in the midst of a vain, self- absorbed culture (I know - it isn't entirely disposable - I mean Jack White is pretty amazing). But for the most part, I think, to be genuinely concerned for others and to be true to one's faith (morals and all) is to stand a part. In college I was about as secure as Kurt Cobain (sans musical career), my choices almost as poor. So it astounds me to see this beautiful young woman acting out her Christianity.

Bethany's birthday is August 15th - which is Dormition in the Orthodox Church - the day we celebrate the Virgin Mary's falling asleep in the Lord. The Dormition icon pictures Christ standing behind Mary in the funeral bier, waiting to receive His Mother's soul into heaven. How beautiful is that? My "Building an Orthodox Christian Family" invaluable handbook states that like us, Mary needed to be saved, but we celebrate on August 15th, that, "what happens to Mary happens to all who imitate her life of humility, obedience and love."

My prayer for my sister, as she begins her senior year in college, is that she looks to Mary as an example of faith, obedience and strength. I know the road will not be easy and I ache for her because I know she will experience pain in the process. But, I rejoice with her as well, because I know that Christ promises, "peace that surpasses understanding," and through Him lies our hope.

Happy 22nd birthday, sissy. I love you more than you know.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Five years ago, I was awakened by the phone. It was the day of my 30th birthday party - we had out-of-town friends staying with us. I assumed the early call had to do with the festivities. It was my dad. I will never forget the tone of his voice - calm, strong, yet gentle. He relayed the delicate news with clarity - becoming in that moment everything I had ever needed in a father.

"Paige," he began, "The Lord decided to take Tiffany last night." I remember feeling confused (take her???) and then as the news began to settle in, it seemed almost logical. A co-worker at a social work agency had told me once that he, too, struggled with alcohol. "You get better," he said matter of factly, "or you die." Tiffany didn't get better.

I have gone through the grieving gamet of emotions in the past five years and spent much of the first two feeling angry and annoyed. It is true that Tiffany spent many years struggling with addictions and depression; chaos seemed to surround her. But what about all of those other years? Shortly after her death, it was too painful for me to remember all of those years, but now I do. 

As I watch my own little girls play, I think of that silly, quirky, frizzy haired Tiffany. By my four-year old, I am reminded of Tiffany's physical energy - how when the weather got too hot to play outside she would run the perimeter of each room in the house or do handstands up against the wall - much like Isabelle jumps repeatedly from couch to chair and ends with a sommersault.  By my little one, I am reminded of Tiffany's desire to please and to make people laugh. I keep picturing her dressed up as a "hobo" - kleenex stuffed in her mouth to change the look of her face (think Marlin Brando in the Godfather) ringing our front doorbell and pretending to be a "stranger." 

Isabelle told my husband and I that we couldn't die because we were, "too real." When I think about Tiffany now, that's how I feel, too. I remember the way her skin smelled, her crooked little teeth, and her shy smile. She seems too real.

Ironically, I had a funeral to attend this morning.  As I sat watching the young girl whose boyfriend (and baby's father) was tragically killed in a car accident, I felt nauseus thinking about the days, weeks and months ahead of her. Death hurts so bad. I began to wonder who would be next in my own life and how I could  bear it. Oh God, how?

But as I sat there thinking morbid thoughts, the Paschal Troparion began to play in my head - every word a response to my question. "Christ is risen from the dead," it whispered, "trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." I am beginning to realize that we do not sing this over and over because it's pretty, but because the resurrection message is the answer - and if we believe it, there is peace - especially - in the pain of death. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I've avoided writing  Christmas letters, rarely take family photos, and have never attempted any form of scrapbooking. The reason, I think, is the same one documented in my 1st dairy at age 7, "It is my birthday today. I hope no one sings to me at Sunday School." Well I don't know if it's the thousand miles separating Indiana from Texas or the fact that this week's Madmen is not "on demand," but I am desperate to share my life with my loved ones. 

My fancy sister-in-law/author Molly has 16 blogs and updates her, "Snapshot of the day," each weekday. I'm telling you right now that this will not be that kind of blog. In fact, it took 5 times to correctly copy the "authentication code" so that I could even log in. Frequent posts would mean that my husband, Bobby, would have to quite his job to watch our girls.  

Anyway, my hope is simply to fill you in on our lives here in Chesterton. Maybe it will help bridge the gap between visits. All my love, Paige