Photo-A-Day Challenge for August 9 "I" - I am struggling.

I hit my head July 22nd on a child-sized porta-potty at the St. Joe Pickle Festival (which makes an awesome story, by the way; I was the talk of the hospital).  That was 19 days ago.  I've now been diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome/Traumatic Brain Injury.  They say it could last a few months, a year, or possibly permanently.

What does that mean for me?

I am unable to take care of my kids.  In the first few days after it happened, I got lost driving in my own small town.  I put naked food into the oven without using a pan and then burned myself by reaching in an hour later to get it out without oven mitts.  I crashed my car into stationary objects and then sat in the driver's seat and laughed hysterically, scaring my children.

I was taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night a week after I hit my head because my daughters ran outside to tell the neighbors Mommy needed help.  Jeremy had been traveling before, during, and after my bump, so he had never witnessed any of my symptoms.  I don't recall telling him about them, either.  I wasn't really communicating well.  My brain had stopped complete thoughts and sentences by that time.  In fact, it's only been this week that I've begun communicating again, and look at me now!  An entire post full of complex sentences and correctly spelled words.  (Hopefully.)  We won't mention how long it has taken to get it all written and spelled right.  At least I can do my own editing now!  Today is turning into a good day.  This morning was rough though.

I joked with my mom that I have Numbers Tourette's.  At the hospital they kept asking me what my birthday was, and numbers just bubbled out of my mouth every time.  Once I remember saying, "7-7-7-7-7-7-12!"  I had heard myself stuck on seven, and in trying to force the sevens to stop coming out, I popped out a twelve.  Who knows where that came from!  I still get words mixed up, or completely lose all my thoughts and am unable to speak entirely.  That last is extra annoying when it happens in the middle of a conversation with someone.  Other times I have so many thoughts that they overwhelm me, and I can't remember how to get them to come out of my mouth.  I had been crying whenever that happened, but I'm learning to just sit quietly or go somewhere to be alone so I can focus on just one thought.  Once I have it, I can come back out and push a few of those words out of my mouth.  Thankfully, my mom and Jeremy and I have played enough Taboo and Password and Finish Lines over the years that they can usually guess what I'm trying to communicate.  See?  Playing games as a family pays off!  I also get syllables inside words mixed up like forbe instead of before that auto-correct turns into Forbes.  :-)  But I came up with a pun last night!  It popped into my head out of nowhere, so I assume something in my head had been secretly mulling it over since the idea was planted a day before.  That's encouraging.

Then there are discouraging times.  I am unable to dress myself.  Picking out clothes stresses my brain too much.  Too many decisions.  And then figuring out how to put them on is overwhelming.  So Jeremy dresses me.  My mom cooks for me.  My kids help me color.  I struggle to pick out the colors, but I can stay in the lines if they tell me what color to use.  It's all very humiliating for a girl who likes to think I'm good at taking care of people and planning situations.  Well, not any more.

Involuntary processes have been affected as well.  My heart is out of rhythm.  Sometimes I'm gasping for breath even though I'm not low on oxygen.  My chest aches and my entire body feels "off."  That's the worst one, I guess.  The others are just annoying.  I am unable to fall asleep.  My brain seems to be on high alert at all times.  It knows something bad happened, and I pretend it is standing guard to keep something bad from happening again.  I can't seem to convince it that it's safe to sleep.  I am also unable to regulate my body temperature.  My internal heater thinks I'm cold, so it ramps up my body temp until I'm boiling.  Then a little later it thinks I'm hot, so it kindly goes into overdrive attempting to cool me off.  Seriously annoying.  I feel perpetually sunburned.

During the day, my emotions are usually even keel and upbeat with a few exceptions, but at night things change for me.  The lights in the house go out and the people in the house sleep peacefully.  I lie (lay?) in my bed -- trying.   I close my eyes.  I stay still in the dark.  My body heats and cools and heats and cools ad nauseam.  My heart pounds.  My brain has zero thoughts or 50 million thoughts all at once.  I gasp for air.  I try to find a comfortable position.  A couple nights while roaming the house, I found my cell phone that has been confiscated, and my non-processing brain automatically picked it up and started texting people.  This annoys my poor husband and mother who have been charged with Keeping Melissa Safe.  I'm not very good at Safe.

One night I opened my eyes and I saw light gray skies through my curtains, so I stumbled outside in my pajamas.  Oh, that's another thing.  My balance is off as well.  I thought I could take a walk to calm my brain, but that didn't turn out very well.  I sneaked out the back door since the front door squeaks, and I didn't want to disturb anyone else who was capable of sleep.  I couldn't walk east because the rising sun hurt my eyes, so I walked south.  But the road ends pretty quickly into a farm field south of us, so I didn't get a good long walk in like I had hoped, and - surprise to me - I am not very good at walking any more.  One more thing to cross off my list of calming mechanisms available to me.  (I can't take a bath or shower without help either because I can't determine if the water temperature is safe.)  In disappointment at my own inabilities, I returned home.  But the front door was locked, and I couldn't figure out how to get back inside.  After some confusion, I eventually curled up on my front porch with my back to the sun.  And that's where Jeremy found me a few hours later.  VeeVee was crying and screaming, "Mommy!" in terror.  Not a happy ending.

They made me promise not to leave the house at night, but I HATE being cooped up inside all the time.  I spend most of my days on the front or back porches now, and sometimes people take me for slow, discouraging walks.  I like to be free in my mind and my movement, and neither are free right now.  I feel so bound up.  The other night at 3:04 in the morning, the full, silvery moon beckoned me from my bed, and I stood at the back patio door, my forehead leaning against the cool, smooth glass.  My hands fingered the latch; my heart longed to float outside in the moonlight, in the peaceful stillness of the quiet night, watching the mist lying across the top of the pond like a lover.  Instead, I remembered my promise, and I stood there staring.  It was 4:37 when I looked at the clock again and decided I should quit standing there.  That's the longest I've stood unassisted since my injury, so I suppose that should be an encouragement, but it didn't feel so.

Who am I?

- I am a wife who cannot dress herself.  My man makes me laugh by picking out lingerie for me to wear and teasing me that maybe he'll just not pick out anything this morning since he enjoys the view too much.  (I should be grateful for his silliness and patience and kindness to me, and I am.)
- I am a mother of young children who are better at babysitting me than I am of them.  (I should be grateful that my children are capable of babysitting me.  I guess I've done my job well.  I just didn't expect it to end so soon.)
- I am a grown woman who needs her mother to cook and clean and keep house.  (I should be grateful for family members who care enough to stop their lives and enter mine and for a wonderful relationship with my mom, and I am.)
- I am a friend who sometimes cannot understand what is being said in conversations, who usually cannot express all that I am thinking and feeling, who frequently cannot contribute to the laughter and humor even though I am enjoying it all.  (I should be grateful for amazing friends who still like me and value being around me and sitting on unusually quiet phone calls with me, and I am.)
- I am a member of several planning committees and teaching teams who has nothing of value to contribute any more and who cannot even attend meetings or fulfill my obligations.  (I should be grateful for their flexibility and understanding of my situation, and I am.)

All of that genuine gratefulness doesn't cover up the fact that I am grieving who I used to be, and figuring out who I am now.  Even though I understand that most of these - possibly all of these - symptoms are temporary, it doesn't make this current waiting time easier, and it doesn't change the fact that I'm grieving and asking God to show me how to cope with my changed circumstances.  I still want to be a person who glorifies and praises God.  Because He is still very, very Good.  Circumstances cannot change His character, and I choose not to allow circumstances to change my character either, except for the better.  But change is always a painful process.  Yesterday, Liberty cuddled up next to me and quietly said, "I miss you, Momma."  "I miss me, too, honey," I smiled at her and squeezed her tightly against me.

Except, a thought strikes me just now:  who I am is not summed up in what I can do or what I can offer.  When I was a newborn, I was still me.

So who am I?

- I am God's creation.  Damaged, yes, but still His.  And still valuable because He values me.  Hmmm
It's been a while, hasn't it?  Maybe three years?

I had a newborn and quite a bit of intensity three years ago and realized it was better for me and anyone reading if I just stayed quiet.  But God has brought us to a breathing space and set my feet on high places.  "And don't it feel good!"

My fingers have been itching to blog again, and funny kids have been saying hysterical things, and the thoughts!  All the thoughts!  I'm very curious to find out if I will end up having time to blog regularly, or if this is just a flash of fun for tonight only.

Stay tuned along with me!  :-)
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Last year I accidentally had a garden.  My friend Trina gave me five tomato plants, and since I had nothing else to do with them, I collected a mound of dirt and planted them on the west side of my house.  To my surprise, and even despite my lack of faithful watering, they grew and produced yummy tomatoes.  I know they were yummy because I got to eat three of them.  VeeVee ate all the rest of them straight off the plants even though I tried hard on many occasions to put a stop to her buffet. 

This year, I decided to be brave and start a real garden.  On purpose. 

I had a gift card to Home Depot, so while the big girls were in school, I stowed all my stow-and-go minivan seating, and Vee and I drove to Home Depot where I thought long and hard over which supplies would be the best to create a couple raised garden beds.  I read all the claims on all the plastic bags and finally settled on some hollow gray cinder blocks to form the edges and some organic dirt with natural fertilizer to fill the beds. 

The nice, strong workers loaded my 25 cinder blocks and 16 giant bags of organic dirt into my van.  I then s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully maneuvered my new low-riding vehicle through town and out into the country to home.  In my driveway I realized I wouldn't have enough time to unload my new supplies before I needed to pick Liberty and Mercy up from school, so I s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully maneuvered my low-riding vehicle to school and waited in car line for my children.  They opened the van door and exclaimed in surprise, "Where are we going to sit, Mommy?"

Once they had situated themselves safely among the dirt bags, I s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully maneuvered my low-rider the short distance home.  But when I parked in the driveway, I once again realized I wouldn't have enough time to unload my new raised garden supplies before our chiropractor appointment.  I sighed, then s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully backed up and headed down the road again toward the office.

About halfway there, Liberty said, "Why am I all wet?"  And Mercy said, "Yeah, my knee is sitting in a puddle of water, Mommy."  That seemed odd to me because the bags of dirt had been dry when they were placed in the van.  I told them to resituate to dry spots.  "But there are no dry spots," Liberty replied.  "It's wet everywhere."

We parked and walked into the chiropractor's office.  Something smelled putrid in there, but I didn't mention it because that would have been rude.  After our appointment, we opened the van doors to head home, and a wave of terribleness smacked our noses with reality.  I discovered the putrid smell in the chiropractor's office had been us.  Oops! 

The girls complained, "Do we have to ride home in that?  It smells terrible!"  It was too far to walk, and I had nothing with which to start a car fire, so we rode home doing our best not to breathe.

Finally at home, I removed the offending bags of dirt and cinder blocks and created two new garden beds.  Then I vacuumed the sopping wet van floor and left every door open to air the smell out.  That night, I pulled the van into the garage and closed all the doors.  The next morning, our neighbor arrived to carpool to school with us, but the van stunk so badly that Jeremy had to take the three girls in his car.  We left the van out in the driveway again all that day to air out, but by evening, the smell had not dissipated in the slightest.  After we tucked our kids into bed, Jeremy and I spent a few hours scrubbing the van carpets with a special deodorizing carpet spray.  We left the van open in the driveway all night to air out, but in the morning, Jeremy had to take the girls to school in his car again.  The next afternoon, Jeremy and I vigorously rescrubbed, and a neighbor let us borrow their steam vac and pretty smelling detergent.  The van again spent two nights and a day wide open in the driveway.  But the gorgeous sunshine and strong breezes did nothing to remove the odor. 

In desperation, Jeremy searched our local auto store for some kind of solution.  He came home with two car bombs.  That's what they were called.  They said they would get rid of any vehicle odor, any time, any where.  I read the instructions out loud.  "Seal all the vehicle doors and windows, allow the vehicle to run with the air conditioner on full blast.  Set the bomb inside the vehicle and do not disturb for one hour.  DO NOT OPEN ANY DOORS OR WINDOWS DURING THIS TIME!  DO NOT COME CLOSE ENOUGH TO INHALE ANY FUMES FROM OUTSIDE THE VEHICLE!  **Note to doctor:  This vapor causes heart palpitations and myocardial infarctions.  Normal treatments for these conditions will make it worse.  Please be aware the patient has used this product."

Now, I don't know about you, but that doctor warning put the fear of God into me.  "Let's just see what another few days can do," I suggested, but Jeremy has a death wish, and he would hear none of my cautionary ideas.  He parked the van in the driveway, sealed all the doors and windows, turned the air conditioner on full blast, and set not one, but two bombs at once inside my van.  Then we ran for our lives.  THREE hours later, we ventured closer to the vehicle, hoping it would be safe.  A sweet smell rolled over us from twenty feet away.  "Stay back," Jeremy warned me, and he bravely put his life on the line and opened my van door. 

"Whew.  That smells...good," I hoped out loud.

Yes, it definitely smelled good.  It smell so good that we had to leave the van out in the driveway to air out for another two days and nights.

That was a month ago, and when you open the garage door in the mornings, our garage still smells sweetly beautiful. 
For about two weeks, Victory has been coming to me asking to have her diaper changed, but when I change it, it becomes apparent that she has simply dribbled a tiny bit, not nearly enough to necessitate a diaper change.  This started me thinking, maybe it's time to potty train?  She's only 19 months old.  Our diaper budget would rejoice if she were trained, but I remember Liberty at 22 months obtaining that same awareness, and then not being really trained until just before her third birthday.  I remember Mercy at 20 months becoming aware and even being able to use the potty appropriately, but then the months of agony and accidents when she decided she wanted to "be a baby" and purposely not use the potty chair until her third birthday.  Vee's not even two yet.  I decided to hold off.

Then I pulled out the box of 2T clothing because she's in-between her 18 month clothes and 2T clothes, and lo and behold, it had big girl underwear in it.  Sigh.  Maybe I should?  I spoke with a couple friends of mine asking their opinions, and they also thought I should go for it.


Today, we had a lovely snow day, and the big girls stayed home from school.  I told them, "This is the BIG DAY!  We're going to start potty training Vee today!"  We went to the basement and dug out Liberty and Mercy's old potty chair, set it up, showed it to VeeVee.  She wasn't impressed.

All the talk about potties gave Liberty's bladder an idea, so we encouraged Vee to sit on her little potty while Liberty sat on the big potty.  Poor Victory was terrified of the cold seat and the strange sensation on her bare little tushy.  She refused to stay seated.

A few hours later, Mercy tried again with her.  This time she willingly sat on the seat, and I gave both Vee and Mercy an M&M for their efforts.  Liberty didn't think that was very fair, so I doled out M&M's to everyone. 

Liberty and Mercy suddenly felt a great need to empty their bladders every ten minutes, and my M&M supply is now running extremely low.  Thankfully, they'll be in school tomorrow, so the correct child might get trained.
I is for...  Imagination!

Victory Joy is my first baby that I've been able to be home with during the day.  If you've been reading this blog since it's auspicious beginning back in 2006, you'll know that I worked full-time until my middle daughter Mercy Jane was a year old.  So this staying home and raising a baby is new to me even though she's my third child.  I can't say that I've loved every minute of it, but I have definitely treasured every minute of it! 

Now that my baby has turned one, her little imagination is blowing my expectations away.  I don't remember when my other two started imaginary play, but I feel like VJ has started earlier, or at the very least is more advanced right from the start than her sisters were at imagining.  But then again, maybe I don't remember what I'm talking about.

What I do know is that living with Victory right now is so much fun!  I was reading a picture book to her the other day, and she "picked" a leaf off the page and handed it to me.  I'd never seen her do something like this before, so I played along to discover what would happen next.  She placed it in my hand and let me hold it for two seconds, then she took it back and blew on it.  Then she placed it in my hand for another two seconds before taking it back.  She hesitated, not sure how to get rid of it.  She finally dissolved it by rubbing her fingers together over the pretend leaf, and it disappeared. 

She carries her baby with her everywhere.  This is another first for me because Liberty never played with dolls.  Liberty had too many brilliant, active ideas to waste her time caring for a piece of plastic, and since Liberty always had something amazing going on, Mercy joined in her older sister's play instead of messing with dolls.  So watching VJ tenderly care for her little baby pleases me immensely.  Today she fed it a bottle before buckling it into the highchair and shoving a banana into its mouth (which I need to clean out, now).  Yesterday, she overturned an empty laundry hamper and the two of them spent the afternoon together inside its coziness.

One of my other favorite imaginary games VJ plays happens in her crib.  From the living room, I hear squeals and growls as Victory imitates various animal sounds.  Then she begins a conversation with her baby or her stuffed dog in her crib, and it can carry on for 30 minutes or longer some days.  It's very dramatic and entertaining, and some day, when she enunciates better, I'm going to be even more amused.

For now, I'm loving this stage of my baby's life!

H is for... Homework, Hurting, and Healing.

I'm cheating a little by backing up and writing after the fact, but it's my blog, and I get to make the rules, so...I'm not cheating at all.  I'm just catching up!  :-)  See? 

(That's the way the rest of my world should work, too.)

I love watching my girls sitting  in the dining room together to get their homework done after each school day.  There's something so simple... no, uh, sadistic?... no... um, satisfying about seeing your progeny peacefully and industriously engaged.  Well, for as long as the peace lasts anyway.


I mentioned in my October 7th post, that Victory had climbed onto my treadmill while I was running and scraped the skin off the right side of her face.  Well, it turned out to be more serious than that.  Here's what her face looked like about an hour after the incident.  Not very significant-looking, right?  I didn't think so either.

Here's how she looked on Day 2.  My poor little baby.  Still not too bad, though.

But on Day 3, the scabs turned black and grew larger, covering most of her face from eye to chin.  Her skin bubbled up and began peeling off in chunks, then bleeding.  The places not covered by freaky-looking bubbly skin, bloody spots, or charred scabs were an angry infected red.  I panicked.  At that point, I realized she had been burned by the treadmill.  I don't have any pictures of Day 3 because I was too worried about it to take photos. 

The doctor confirmed Victory had been burned and had developed an infection.  She said treadmill burns were fairly common, and she gave us an antibiotic and some burn cream with silver in it.  Silver is a natural antibiotic, so I skipped the med dosage and kept my baby slathered with the silver cream.

Victory enjoyed licking the cream off her face, of course.

The cream began working immediately.  Overnight, the angry red disappeared and the charred chunks began softening until they finally fell off revealing raw pink skin underneath. 

Here's what she looks like today, one week after hugging the treadmill.  She's healing!
G is for...  Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire!

My innocent little baby Victory Joy has turned one.  Except she thinks that she has turned two, and so she's doing her very best to live up to the reputation of those terrible two-year-olds.  If I had to rate her performance, I would say she's excelling. 

In addition to all the behavioral boundary challenging that is happening here, Victory is pushing her physical boundaries as well.  She believes no closet, cabinet, or drawer belonging to this house should be  off limits, and EVERYTHING inside those closets, cabinets, and drawers should logically be strewn around the house at all times.  I mean, really, what's the point of having "stuff" if you cannot see all of it at all times whenever you look in any direction?

Yesterday, she took the lava rocks from the fireplace and pushed them into the hole where the key goes to turn on the gas fireplace.  Yeah.  Please imagine with me, my Joy.  Next, she sneaked onto the back of my treadmill while I was running, and the poor baby has no skin left on one side of her face anymore.  Then, she tossed several toys into the toilet and tried to fish them out by herself.

But, look at the cuteness.  (Or actually, don't.  It can be hazardous to your resolve.)