Friday, December 24, 2010

A Miraculous Birth

I remember what I was doing on December 23rd, nine years ago. I was frantic over my son, Charlie, who had left our house and was lost to us for over an hour. Charlie has autism and back then he had a serious elopement problem. It was, needless to say, a most upsetting time for a mother. What made it worse was that I was pregnant at the time and it had been a very difficult pregnancy; so much so that we thought I lost the baby on two occasions. So, I was worried about Charlie and I was worried about what the stress would do to the baby.

Charlie had sneaked out of the house while we weren't looking. It was an unseasonably warm night and he was wearing black sweats and no jacket. He ran in the direction of downtown St. Charles and the reason we knew this was because Joe went to his favorite place, the candy store and some people there said they saw a kid of his description running toward town. I stayed home and called the police. The kids prayed. It was agony not being able to go out there and look for him, but the police needed me home so they could come by and pick up a current picture.

I start getting cramps, which makes me worry about the baby. I have no recourse but to pray, which I do, but I also think about all the scary things that might be happening to my precious son. A half hour goes by. I know that Joe is downtown searching for him because he calls on his cell phone. I tell him to try the Santa house because Charlie was asking to go there. More time passes. I am freaking out. I call the police and ask them why no one has come yet to get the picture. They explain to me that they are pretty sure they found him and they will be bringing him home soon. As I hang up, Joe calls and tells me he found Charlie. "The police did, too." I tell him. "I know," he says, "we both walked in at the same time." Apparently, Charlie made his way into a restaurant and told them he was hungry, so they fed him popcorn and candy canes until they could figure out who he belonged to. I am so relieved, but a wave of pain floods my body. "It's the stress," I think. I pray in thanksgiving for the safe return of my son, and also for the life of my baby, who has had so many challenges already.

The next day is Christmas Eve. We go to my parent's house where my brother and his family and our friend, Fr. Beekman are spending the day. I have some mild contraction-like pains in the afternoon, but I chalk it up to false labor. I am due in 5 weeks, after all. I inform Joe, who defers to my judgment. Throughout the day, the contractions become a little more frequent, but they are not intense. I promise myself I will go to the hospital after the kids are in bed, just to get checked out. So, I go on with the day. I help my mother prepare dinner. I cut up cheese for the antipasto, I fry the calamari; everything is going smoothly. After dinner, Fr. Beekman comes up to me and whispers in my ear, "You're going to have that baby tonight." he says, conspiringly. "What?" I feign ignorance. "I know you're having contractions," he chuckles, "have you timed them?" Honestly, the thought never occurred to me, I was so sure I was in false labor. So, I time them. Oh, my! Twenty minutes apart!

I tell Joe. Then I tell my mother, who is incredulous. "You've been in labor all day and didn't tell me?" Well, I didn't want to throw a monkey wrench into the day if I wasn't sure...anyway, it's false labor.

We tell the kids I am going to the doctor for a little while and will probably be back soon. They are fine with that because they are happily playing with their cousins.

We get to the hospital about 9:30 p.m. One of the first things they do is ask me what I ate. "Hmm...let's see," I think aloud, "a lobster tail, some calamari, shrimp scampi, salad..." "That sounds delicious! What restaurant did you go to?" asks the nurse. "My mother's house!" I exclaim.

The nurses check me out and determine that I am, indeed in full blown labor. By now the contractions are about 15 minutes apart. I feel like an idiot, not realizing that this was labor at my fourth child. My doctor is not working on Christmas Eve, so they contact the on-call OB. She is not familiar with my pregnancy and since I am 5 weeks early, she tells them to give me a drug to stop the labor. My mother's intuition switches on. I refuse the drug. "This child has been trying to get out ever since she went in," I tell them, "If she wants to be born, let her be born." Just to cover themselves, they make me talk to a neonatal nurse who tells me all the bad things that could happen if I let me baby be born before her due date. I listen and then, once again, assert that I want the labor to progress.

Joe leaves to tell my parents that they will be getting one more Christmas present than they thought, and to get the kids pajamas so they can stay at my parents' house for the night. After he leaves I have a fleeting sense of guilt that I am in the hospital and not with my kids. I also planned to have Christmas day at my house, so my mother will have to go and take all the food out of my refrigerator and cook it for everyone. "So much more work for her," I think, wistfully.

My labor continues and I pray the rosary as I breathe and work through the mild pain. The contractions are not all that intense and so I lay quietly in the dim room praying, offering up my prayers for the baby, my family and those who have no one to pray for them. After Joe returns, the doctor shows up. It is now close to 1 a.m. She checks on me and lets me know she is not too happy about the fact that I want to have the baby. I am at 7 cm so she lets me go for awhile. Finally she decides to break my water and the contractions come hard and fast. The doctor corrects my breathing technique. Apparently I am not doing it to her satisfaction. I want to smack her, but I bite my tongue because I know it would just cause problems for everyone if I reacted in anger. Finally, I get the urge to push. The doc, for some reason, is not ready for me to push. Huh??? Telling a woman in labor not to push is like telling a sick person not to vomit. You can't stop it! It controls you! It has a mind of it's own! "Mmmm...pushing!" I manage to blurt. "No, you are not in a good position for that," she says, "I want you to scoot up more and bend your legs more before you push, so breathe through this one." I glare at her and push anyway. I can feel the baby move down. She yells at me to move into position. I feel another huge contraction coming, so, although it's excruciating even to move, I quickly do what she wants just before the bad pain hits. I am so angry at this woman that I channel the anger into the push and the baby pops right out. I hear everyone yell in surprise, and then I hear the doctor making all kinds of surprised exclamations that include taking the Lord's name in vain, so I won't repeat them here. I get nervous. "Is she OK?" I ask. No answer. "IS SHE OK??" I yell. "Yes, the baby is fine," says the doc, and I hear a lusty cry. Relieved, I lay back and tears begin streaming from my eyes. All the stress, anger and worry is being released in each tear and I feel at peace. They let me hold my beautiful Angelina Rose. So tiny, she is! But she has the face of an angel. Then I hear the doc say, "This is a miracle...a miracle." When I ask what she means she tells me, "This placenta is completely compromised. I have never seen one in such bad shape. I don't know how this child survived even till now, but I would bet if she weren't born right this very minute she would have been a stillborn." I look at the clock. 2:51 a.m. Merry Christmas.

Then I look down at my little beauty and tell her all about how she has an older brother who has autism and ran away and put Mommy in labor so that she could live. God knew that Angelina would need to be born just at this time, on His birthday. So He used Charlie's disability in such a way that it saved His sister's life. Angelina was born on the first day of Christmas and Charlie's birthday is January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas. My two Christmas babies, connected in a spiritual way that could only have been orchestrated by the Author of Life Himself.

There is God's Christmas story that He wrote for all mankind, but for some reason He allowed us our own very special Christmas story. And, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, I will keep all these things in my heart.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

To Be Six Again...

The other day the bag of mini-marshmallows the kids convinced me to buy at the grocery store was sitting out on the counter. Genevieve comes into the kitchen, picks up the bag and sniffs the outside. He little face lights up and her eyes grow wide. "Mom? I LOVE the smell of marshmallows! It's so sweet and...GLORIOUS!" She gives me a quick hug, then skips out of the kitchen.

Wouldn't it be great if we all saw the world through the eyes of a six-year-old? Everything is AMAZING to a six-year-old. That attitude would foster a lot of gratitude in the world, wouldn't it?

Next time I am feeling grumpy or ungrateful for the blessings I have in my life, I'm picking up a bag of marshmallows and taking a big whiff...

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Reaction

We have been so busy lately. The other day I took a few minutes and laid down on the bed. Genevieve comes in the room, sees me and, with a running start, tackles me on the bed. I wrap my arms around her in a great big hug. "Oh, Mom!" she says, "You are SO overreacting...and I don't even know what that means!!!!!"

After the belly laugh I got out of that one, I had some energy to get a couple of things done. Kids always seem to give us what we need...even if we do overreact now and then.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Youngest is 6

Today was Genevieve's 6th birthday. She celebrated by dressing herself in patchwork shorts and a multi-colored polka dot top. Festive! We began the day with a breakfast of whole wheat toast slathered in Nutella and coffee with caramel syrup. Our family is a coffee family. All my kids have been coffee drinkers (decaf, for those of you who are horrified) since they could hold a cup. It wasn't the the most nutritious breakfast, but perfect for a 6-year-old's birthday. Then she went outside and jumped on the trampoline with the neighbor kids for what seemed like hours. Genevieve requested eggrolls for lunch and she helped me get them into the oven. That is all anybody wanted. They were saving up for dinner, which, as requested, was baked ziti, meatballs and eggplant.

All day, Angelina pampered her sister. She has such a generous heart and wanted to make the day special for her baby sister. She woke up early and helped me wrap gifts. A few days ago she woke up at the crack of dawn and asked Joe to bring her to the dollar store so she could get Genevieve a gift. She had been saving up for awhile and finally amassed enough coins to buy a surprise for her sis.

Instead of reveling in the pampering, Genevieve decided she would cater to Mom today. So, she read me a story. I also got lots of extra hugs and snuggles, as well as a specially made snack of tea and nuts and craisins. She even used the fancy teapot.

After dessert of a home made ice cream cake (layers of Snickers and chocolate ice cream with chocolate animal cracker crumbs in the middle) that melted at a rate which defies all science, she opened her gifts. She only got a few today, because we had an early "family" birthday party for her the weekend of Angelina's first communion. But she was happy. She got a bright green ball from Angelina, some hair pretties from Bella and some art and craft supplies from the rest of us. Once the presents were opened, the girls ran downstairs to cover themselves with finger paint.

After the kids were ready for bed, and after we had said the rosary, Genevieve entertained us with her, ummm...unusual talents. She stuck her shoulder blades out so far that they looked like wings (no one else in the family can do this), she stuck her tongue up her nose (no one else in the family wants to do this) and she wiggled her ears. After the show it was off to bed for everyone.

It was a simple day, but a happy one. I hope the joy she felt today will be etched in her memory forever. It will be in mine.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Father, grant me dissolution...

Angelina will be receiving her first holy communion on the Feast of Corpus Christi at Sunday Mass in our parish. We have been preparing all year and she is getting excited. To get ready, Angelina will first receive the sacrament of confession and then her first communion. The other day, we were studying and I asked her what does the priest do during confession. She stands up, puts her right index finger in the air, clears her throat and exclaims, "He dissolves you from your sins!" Did I mention she is the Yogi Berra of the family?

So, we go back to Illinois for my nephew Jonny's first communion. Angelina's godfather, Fr. Beekman, is pastor of several parishes about 90 minutes away from where we will be staying. He generously offered to take the drive out and hear his goddaughter's first confession. It needs to be very early on Saturday, because he has obligations all the other time we will be out there. We get to IL on a Thursday night. The kids don't sleep very well on Friday because they are overtired. We wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturday and meet Fr. Beekman at a restaurant for breakfast. The kids are like zombies. We haven't seen him in over 2 years and they sit in a stupor when he walks in. Because they are so tired, breakfast is very subdued.

After gorging ourselves on eggs, hashbrowns and every other breakfast food known to man, and several trips to the restroom, we head over to the church. It is not yet 9 a.m. and Angelina is very sleepy. Her cheeks are bright red, which happens when she is tired. She looks a bit nervous. Fr. Beekman reminds her of the special words to say when you are too nervous in confession: "Father, help me, I'm stuck." I give her a kiss and she follows Fr. B into the confessional. I kneel down in front of the tabernacle and pray for my family while I wait. I hear the door open and Angelina walks out. "How'd you do, sweetie?" I ask. She bursts out crying. I am shocked. "What's wrong?" I ask. "Nothing," she bawls. "If there is something wrong I need to help you fix it...please tell me," I say, wondering what in the world could possibly be upsetting her. Then I give her a a long, silent hug and she calms down enough to whisper, "I forgot..." "Yes?" I prompt. Then she sobs, "I FORGOT MY PENANCE!!!" Oh! The poor thing! The exhaustion made her feel like it was the end of the world. "Would you like me to go ask Fr. Beekman?" She nods. I go into the confessional and tell Fr. B what's going on and he tells me her penance. I go back to where she is waiting and tell her which prayers to say. She smiles a teary smile and then goes into the pew and kneels down.

Today she is no worse for the wear. Angelina is working on a thank you note to her godfather and she says she wants to go again soon to confession. Next time, we'll get more sleep.

**For clarification on what on earth the sacrament of penance is, click on the title of this post.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endless Journey

We couldn't get back to IL for Christmas this year, so we decided to go in January. We booked Amtrak for the first time, because I didn't want to drive 8 hours in the snow. As I clicked the "purchase" button I wondered if this was a good idea, but I went ahead anyway, risk-taker that I am.

The station we were going to in IL, wasn't equipped to accept checked bags, so we had to do all carry ons. Me, Joe, 5 kids, 3 duffels, 1 pullman, 3 backpacks and 1 suitcase arrived at Union Station, at 7 a.m., in anticipation of the 7:45 train to IL. Joe was going to stay just long enough to get us onto the train, because he had a flight to California a bit later in the day. The best laid plans...

We get to Union Station and drag our bags to the waiting room, then I go to the ticket counter to get my tickets. When you make reservations on Amtrak, all you get is a bar code to print out, then you have to get the tickets the day of your trip. When I get up there, the ticket guy tells me the train isn't scheduled to depart until 9:30 a.m. ARRGGHH!

I go into the waiting room and break the news. We decide to take the kids out for breakfast and then come back. "Be back here at 8:45 or you'll miss the train," the ticket guy tells me. We have an hour and a half at this point. So we rush out to Cascone's and order breakfast. Now, when we are at home, and whether the kids eat cereal for breakfast or bacon and eggs, it always takes, like, 2 hours. I am constantly yelling at them to hurry it up. We get into Cascone's, order, and the kids are completely done by 8:00. What the??? So we stretch the time out by making them drink every last drop of the huge mugs of cocoa we ordered and then taking them all to the restroom, one by one.

We get back to Union Station by 8:45. The ticket guy says, "10:15." Ten fifteen!!!! I have an hour and a half with five very tired kids in a now, very crowded waiting room (note to self: if the train is late don't go out to breakfast or you will not get seats in the waiting room) with all that luggage. Lord, help me! Joe had to leave or he was going to miss his flight. I found a couple of seats next to each other (OK, what really happened was I made the kids squeeze in until the woman, who had PLENTY OF ROOM to do so, moved down a bit). Then I got a chair that was hiding in a corner and brought it over and sat in it. Bella made a bed out of the duffels, covered herself with jackets and took a nap. The girls took out their drawing supplies and got to work. Noah read and Charlie busied himself by studying all the other people waiting right along with us. They were SO GOOD! I was even able to play my new, hand-held Yahtzee game that I got for Christmas and thought I would never use. It was pleasant and the time went rather quickly. At 9:55, a voice came on the PA. All it said was, "10:55." I get up to see what's going on, but the grate to the ticket window is closed and the ticket guys have magically vanished into thin air.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Lord! I am with 5 children! They are tired! I cannot believe that they are not cranky! But I KNOW it's coming! Make the train come now! Pick it up and bring it here! Please!!!!!"

It is good that most people cannot see what you are thinking. So, while the above outburst is happening, privately, in my brain, I hand out bagels. Again, the children are well behaved. They sit. They eat. They throw their garbage in the can without having to be reminded.

At 10:55, and unusual thing happened. As if on cue, everyone in the waiting room got up, picked up their stuff, and formed a line that began at the door to the tracks. The kids and I dragged all our stuff and stood on line, too. Charlie started to get antsy. Poor guy. I couldn't blame him. But I was armed with lots of chewing gum and I wasn't afraid to use it. The gum calmed him down. Noah and Genevieve begin to bicker. The usual "he/she's touching me" stuff. Honestly, I can't blame them...they have been awake for over 5 hours at this point and they are tired. We stand there..and stand there. I look at my phone. 11:30. "If I drove," I think, "I would have been close to the Mississippi by now."

We wait some more. I find myself sighing a lot. Finally we see someone come into the door from the track. More people follow. There is no announcement, but all of a sudden a guy in a blue hat appears and starts taking tickets. Wahoo! We shuffle up to the door with our bags and onto the icy walk that is very long and will take you to either a very slick stairway down to the platform or an elevator. I opt for the elevator. We wait for the elevator. The elevator doesn't come. We wait some more. I panic. What if we miss the train because we are waiting for the elevator? Finally, it shows up and we get down to the platform. There is a conductor right there. We drag our bags over to him and I ask him where we need to be if we want to go to Chicago. He points toward the end of the train. "See that vary last car? That's where you want to be." Of course...of course it is. So we haul butt down there and the conductor relieves us of the heavier bags and we go up top to find a seat. Finally, at 12:10 p.m., the train departs.

The ride was really pleasant. The train wasn't crowded, so we had double seats all to ourselves. I played Yahtzee all the way through Iowa and got a high score of 416..all right! The kids drew, read and snacked. Angelina made a bed out of a sweatshirt and a jacket and napped most of the way.

When we got to the station, the door was frozen shut and the conductor had to kick it in, but other than that the landing was fine. I call my Dad and let him know we are there. He tells me he will be there in 5 minutes. It was a cold 5 minutes. He calls me again. "I can see you...can you see me?" I look all around. Can't see anyone. The place looks deserted. "Look over here!" he yells. WHERE? We keep walking and dragging the bags until I hear someone yelling. I hang up the phone and look up. He is standing right there. Whew!

Our visit was good. Didn't get to see everyone we wanted to, but the kids saw their cousins and friends and had lots of fun.

The train home was scheduled for 3:50 p.m. We picked up some fast food to bring for dinner and the train actually arrived on time... a good sign! We get on the train and the conductor tells me to get seats downstairs because the majority of the ones upstairs are full. I look around. There are 12 seats total. Six have no one in them, but one of those has a briefcase in it, like someone left it there to save their seat. "Sir," I say to the conductor, "It looks like there are not enough seats." He ROLLS HIS EYES at me. I try to be polite. "Um, I am traveling with 4 minors and an adult with autism and we really need to be together." He presses his lips together and then emits an exasperated sigh. "Those are the seats I have," he says firmly. "OK, I tell you what," I say, sweetly, "I will go find an empty seat upstairs and let the kids stay down here, but understand that there will be 4 minors and an adult with autism unsupervised for 7 hours to Kansas City." A man appears behind him and says, nervously, "You want me to start shuffling people around up there?" At this point I think the conductor is going to blow. Then Bella comes to the rescue. She asked around and the briefcase doesn't seem to belong to anyone in the car. So I give the briefcase to the exasperated conductor and we take the seats. He puts the briefcase in with the other bags and leaves. "Great," I think, "It's probably a bomb and it is about 3 feet from me and my kids...what a way to go." Then I say my usual prayers of protection for the kids, but with a bit more fervor this time.

The ride home was not as blissful as the ride there. The car was hot and the kids made about 2,487 trips to the bathroom, which was, conveniently, just outside the door. At least one of the kids wanted to get up every 26.4 seconds and I couldn't get through one Yahtzee game without being interrupted by a child doing the pee pee dance. But we survived. The train was only 9 minutes late into Union Station. By the time we pulled into the garage, it was close to midnight and everyone was so very happy to be home and sleeping in their own beds. I am sure the conductor was happy we were home, too.