Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My life

This is also why I have a t-shirt that says, "I reject your reality and substitute my own."

(The link is to a Zits comic and this is the only way I could figure out how to share it. I'm afraid the only way to read it is to click on it.)

September 2, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

All together again... or I need a camera with a wide angle lens

On Saturday we joined our very good friends the P. family and the H-S family for dinner. Because of everyone's various schedules, we hadn't seen much of each other all summer and all had a lot of catching up to do. Even better, nearly all of our children were there as well, including most of the college ones. So, when you have the chance you need to take a picture.


Between the three families, if you add my difficult to count/explain situation plus a couple of fiances, we now have 30 children from 6 different countries. That's a lot of people. So many people that when you line them up next to each other in age order, it's difficult to get everyone in the picture.

Maybe if I turn the camera on its side, I can get everyone in.


This works, but it's a little hard to look at and gives you a crick in the neck. Maybe I'll back up.


Yes, that did it, though it's now really difficult to see everyone, they are soooo far away.


Here's a close-up of some so you can see that P20 was also there via M.'s phone. The H-S's oldest wasn't available, so we don't have her on the iPad like we've done in previous pictures.

Do you want to compare how they've all grown? The first time we did this was way back in 2009 when we reenacted the Battle of Antietam. Then a year ago, at one of our family get-togethers we took another one. These are good, good friends. As J. has said to me, when you have this many children, you're going to see stuff, and we all have. And we've all been there for each other and cried with each other and rejoiced with each other. Very good friends, indeed.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Those times you realize you on the wrong side of young

I realize I'm not really old old and that my mother and her friends will just laugh (go ahead, I know you will), but I'm not enjoying the more frequent moments I've been having of being reminded I am not in my 30's anymore.

First, there are those signs in the stores that announce, "We card anyone under 40." And I buy a bottle of wine and I'm never carded. Ever. I like to think it's because they just don't follow their own guidelines, because otherwise...

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was filling in for a good friend and being the stand-in mother for a catering taste test. M. was there as well and the caterer knew she was my daughter. In making chit chat it came out that I also had five year old children. Now, just a word to the wise, everyone. If someone says to you that they have five year olds, please don't goggle at them as if Methuselah suddenly appeared in your midst. It was really that bad. I even went and checked myself in the mirror just to see if I looked as I normally do and that I didn't suddenly look like my grandmother when she was 93.

The most recent kicker though, was glancing through my post-visit report from the eye doctor earlier this week. My eye doctor is part of the same network as many of my other doctors, so it was pretty complete. Imagine how I felt when I looked at the section labelled 'known medical issues'. (Well, first, I didn't realize I had known medical issues other than my eyes, which weren't even listed.. but I digress.) Get this, the first item under known medical issues was: Elderly Multigravida with Antepartum Condition or Complication. The translation for this is I was old (in the eyes of the medical world) when I gave birth to a child that was not my first and that after delivery I needed a blood transfusion and developed post-partum preeclampsia. This was not news, but it was the elderly term that felt a little unnecessary. Really, elderly? At 43? (For those of you who are now feeling compelled to do the math, I'll save you the effort. I'm 48 and despite this post, don't really care.) I'm used to the term 'advanced maternal age', but elderly kind of hit me. Once again, it wasn't as if I was in my 80's or 90's.

So, I will now take my elderly self off to read stories to my surprisingly young youngest children. I'll try not to break a hip on my way upstairs.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Grace

I just finished reading the gut-wrenching post at The Blessing of Verity. It is Susannah's first post after the accidental death of her son. It is raw and painful to read. It also confirms something I've been thinking a lot about recently. That would be the clash that happens when parenting bumps into God's grace. And believe me, it is a clash.

When you have children, you realize that you have suddenly become far more susceptible to pain than ever before in your life. You love this little person. You love this little person so much that if anything were to happen to this child, you are not sure you could go on. But it is not only that, you desperately want what's best for them. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility that parenting entails. If you are not going to ruin this precious child's life, you need to be the best parent you can possibly be. To fail in that mission means that you have not done your best for your child. It means there could very well be life-long consequences for your child.

And this is true to some extent. How we parent does have implications for our child's life. Neglect and abuse can damage a child and forever change his or her life.Yet modern parenting has taken this notion to such an extreme that it leaves little margin for error. If you don't do things a certain way, you have failed your child. There is a blog post (Back to School: the 70's verses today) being shared about just this notion that perfect parenting will turn out a perfect child. Christian parents have their own take on this. Unless things are done a certain way, your child will grow up and turn away from Jesus. The pressure (and the stakes) are high and it leaves parents anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed with the responsibility they carry.

In this mind-set, it's all on the parents' shoulders. Everything from health to education to socialization to belief from now until eternity. We parents take on so much more than we were ever intended to carry. We cannot bear up under this burden. We just can't no matter how hard we try and here's why: we are not perfect and we will not be perfect no matter how hard we try. We will fail our children at some point in our lives. We won't mean to, but we will. For some, that failure comes early, for others, we can go along for quite some time operating under the assumption that we are the 'good' parent; the parent other people wish they could be... if they would just try harder. But sooner or later, every parent... every single parent... will find that they have failed, that they have not lived up to their responsibility and their ideals. We will all have a moment (or more) where we wonder how on earth God could have thought that giving this child to me was a good idea. We realize that we cannot be a perfect parent. We will realize that sometimes we can't even be a good parent. Surely this child deserved more, more than me as a parent.

And here is where the clash between grace and parenting happens. Right in that moment when we realize that we cannot be the parent we want to be; the one we feel our child deserves. In that moment we can get a glimpse of what God's grace really and truly means. He knew we would fail. He knew just how spectacularly we would fail. He knew all this and still He gave us these precious children to love and care for and nurture. And when we fail, He still loves us. This is grace. When we have a glimpse of exactly how sinful and selfish and incapable we really are and Jesus puts His arms around us and tells us how much He loves us anyway.

I've said it before... parenting is humbling. If there were one 'right' way to do it, it would have been discovered and perfect children would already be being raised. No formula is going to do to this. We are sinful creatures, both young and old. If there were a formula, we adults wouldn't be able to carry it out, but it wouldn't matter because it wouldn't work on our sinful children. We don't get perfect this side of Heaven. Instead, we have to learn to function despite our failures... to learn to extend the grace that God extends to us to ourselves and to our children.

I often wonder if God gave us children because it would mean that we would be living out the Gospel on a daily (or sometimes hourly) basis. Nothing so perfectly shows us our failures as being a parent. It is in those failures that we truly see the need for a savior, some one to save us from the mess we see inside ourselves. And it isn't until we see that mess that we see the Savior and discover His overwhelming love. Because there is nothing like the love that is experienced when the person doing the loving knows all the bad stuff and loves you anyway. Grace. Amazing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The eye doctor and seeing

H. had another eye appointment today. The difference between now and two years ago is slightly astonishing. Two years ago, H. had no idea what we were doing or why and, despite having an interpreter present, we had no real way of explaining it all to her. It was baffling and frightening; just one more baffling and frightening experience that she endured in those first six months. Today, she understood why we were there, what eye drops were and why she needed to have them, the ability to express how much she didn't like them, and the self-control to allow them to be put in her eyes. It was also the very first time that the doctor was able to correct her eyesight in her good eye to 20/20. We have a new prescription and are just waiting for the new lenses for her glasses to be made.

I have also been thinking about the improvement in her eye sight since she has been home. Why should it be getting better? It's not like we are patching to strengthen the good eye. Aside from wearing glasses, there has been nothing that we have done to help her vision improve and yet, we see small changes to the positive each time. It seems odd. Yet, I don't think it really is. Living with H. over the last two years has been like slowly watching a metamorphosis. Actually, is has been a metamorphosis and not just like one. H. is so much more aware of herself and her place in the world now. She understands things that she never understood before. She is learning that she can have opinions and can like things and dislike things. The world is slowly opening up for her even as she opens as a person.

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that so much of what happens inside our heads is interrelated. You can't just separate out sight from memory from physical ability; it all seems somehow interrelated in that mass of brain cells we keep inside our skulls. Since this is my made-up hypothesis, it has no basis in any research what-so-ever, but still it seems to make sense. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I come across something that seems to support my own made-up pet theories. I came across something rather interesting in the book I'm currently reading, Proust was a  Neuroscientist by Jonah Leher. (It's thesis is that certain artists predicted truths about the brain that science is only now discovering. Fascinating.) Anyway, this little bit has to do with how we see. Instead of paraphrasing, I'll share the few paragraphs with with.

"So far, the story of sight has been about what we actually sense: the light and lines detected by the retina and early stages of the visual cortex. These are our feed-forward projections. They represent the external world of reflected photons. And while seeing begins with these impressions, it quickly moves beyond their vague suggestions. After all, the practical human brain is not interested in a camera-like truth; it just wants the scene to make sense. From the earliest levels of visual processing in the brain up to the final polished image, coherence and contrast are stressed, often at the expense of accuracy.

Neuroscientists now know that what we end up seeing is highly influenced by something called top-down processing, a term that describes the way cortical brain layers project down and influence (corrupt, some might say) our actual sensations. After the inputs of the eye enter the brain, they are immediately sent along two separate pathways, one of which is fast and one of which is slow. The fast pathway quickly transmits a coarse and blurry picture to our prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in conscious thought. Meanwhile, the slow pathway takes a meandering route through the visual cortex, which begins meticulously analyzing and refining the lines of light. The slow image arrives in  the prefrontal cortex about fifty milliseconds after the fast image.

Why does the mind see everything twice? Because our visual cortex needs help. After the prefrontal cortex receives its imprecise picture, the 'top' of the brain quickly decides what the 'bottom' has seen and begins doctoring the sensory data. Form is imposed onto the formless rubble of the V1 [the first stage of the visual cortex in the brain]; the outside world is forced to conform to our expectations. If these interpretations are removed, our reality becomes unrecognizable. The light just isn't enough." (pp. 107-8)

So, what this is saying is that we see things and then our brains translate what the images are into something it recognizes. It is far more than our eyes acting like a camera lens. Interesting, huh? Wouldn't it make sense that a brain that is more aware of the surrounding world would see better? I think so.

This isn't to discount the fact that the images we are taking in with eyes need to be in focus. Considering my glasses prescription, it would be crazy for me to state otherwise. But there seems to be so much more to seeing than what our eyes take in.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When it's beautiful in Chicago...

you go out and take advantage of it. Because Chicago really is beautiful and quite enjoyable when it's not frigidly cold with grey skies that have overspent their welcome. We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and also enjoyed the formal gardens just outside the west side of the zoo. Did you know that this is one of the oldest parks in the city? That's OK, I didn't, either, until I read the sign.



H.

L.

P.

K.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First day of school

So, it would appear I lied in yesterday's post about the block party when I said no one in the house was starting school the next day. I realized much later that someone did start school. A. headed off to her first day of a real class ever... she is taking Spanish 1 at the university where J. teaches (and M. and B. attend). And I didn't get a picture. Can you believe it? A child goes to her first day of school at the tender age 16 and her mother doesn't take a picture? Actually, I can believe it, without any difficulty.

It sounds as though her first day of class went well, though I'm getting that information second hand as I haven't actually talked with her yet. You see, when she went down to school last week to buy her book, she also landed a job at the bookstore during their peak times. (That would be the first week of class when everyone is buying books and the last week of class when everyone is selling them back.) It worked out extremely well because we don't begin our school schedule until next week, so she was free to work some rather long hours. To add to the fun, A. decided it made a lot more sense to spend the night on the futon in her older sister's living room instead of coming back home and then turning around and heading back down the very next morning. She is probably right and this is why I haven't seen her to actually talk to her yet.

I have a feeling my high school junior is going to enjoy her pseudo-college student year, very, very much.
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