Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Just an Average Day

Just to show you that life is always interesting at our house -- even on just an average day. See, because of our fast-paced, unpredictable, complex life, we by necessity expect our kids to be self-sufficient. Our kids, in turn, have taken that challenge and now assume they are to be self-sufficient unless given direction to the contrary. Thus begins our story...

We sat down to dinner last night to have burrito bake. Addison made it -- see, self-sufficient! We've trained her well. The middle kid is still in training. He's recently decided that he likes his food a bit spicy -- anything to enhance the experience -- or up the ante, depending on how you view it! So, he gets the HOT sauce out of the fridge and procedes to pour -- not squirt or spoon, but pour -- some on his burrito bake...and totally covers it. Realizing his mistake, we get the "Uh-oh!" with the implied question of "Can you fix it?"

"Why sure" comes the response from Super Mommy! Cristi immediately goes to the cabinet and pulls out the jumbo syringe -- yes, a syringe. You can see Cristi performing the operation in the picture. Good thing we've got all those medical supplies hanging around the house! By the way, those jumbo syringes can also be (and have been) used as turkey basters.

With the official hot sauce removal process complete, Brennan ate his dinner and thought it was delicious. Crisis averted.

On a separate but related note, Cristi realized just how jaded we've become: The kids only have 5 doctor appointments this week -- an easy week for a change! Simple family...complex life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Confessions of a Tween Dad

Facebook is awesome! It has reconnected me with friends that I haven't talked to in a long, long time and brought me closer to them now than I ever was then. I even got the chance to see one of my good friends from high school last weekend...but it came at a price. You see, my friend Big Bob Pinkley (you can probably see from the picture how he got that nickname; I'm not that short!) works for a company that does transportation/logistics for entertainment groups on tour, and was coming to DC...with the Cheetah Girls. He offered to get me tickets to the concert if I would just come downtown to see him. I'm not sure how strong of a lure he thought that would be, but Cristi thought it would be a nice treat for Addison.

Now, Addison's pretty level-headed (much like her mother!). She doesn't just go ga-ga over all of these Tween things like Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers, and the Cheetah Girls, but when she found out we were going, she was excited. We Metro'd down to the Verizon Center and met up with Big Bob to pick up the tickets, then stood around in the lobby for a few minutes catching up on the last 17 years of our lives. Then, we really got the red-carpet treatment. We went down to our seats...on the floor...on one of the center aisles, no more than 20 feet from the stage. Wow! I haven't had seats that good since the Def Leppard concert in college! He asked if Addison wanted a t-shirt, then brought back a t-shirt, a program, and this fancy tri-colored flashing light that separates into color bars when you shake it. Addison was lovin' it! He even brought a couple more of those lights for me to take to Brennan and Lauren!

We sat around talking some more while we waited for the concert to start, telling us lots of stuff about how they set up the show, how things worked behind the scenes, etc. After a while, Big Bob left to go take care of some stuff, and this couple comes in with their one-year-old -- I'm not kidding -- and sits down right next to us. They were the quintessential DC couple, too: Dressed to the hilt, little boy dressed in way-too-expensive clothes, and obviously way too young to be there enjoying the show, but little Johnny needs entertainment!.

Finally, the opening act comes out -- The Clique Girlz. I asked Addison if she had ever heard of them, and she said no; I hadn't either. The music was pretty decent, though -- except that this couple sitting next to us kept getting up in front of us -- to take pictures, to take the little boy out for whatever, etc. They must have crawled in front of us 4-5 times during the half-hour of the opening act. All the while, I'm thinking, "Just sit down and enjoy the show!"

When The Clique Girlz finished, Big Bob came back, and they announced there would be a 20-minute intermission, so we started talking again. All of a sudden, the couple comes up to us and asks if Addison and I would like to go backstage to meet The Clique Girlz since they kept disturbing us during the show. We're like, are you serious??? Addison certainly wasn't about to turn that down! (It turns out that the lady must have been some sort of publicist for them in this area, because she already knew them.) So we went backstage and met the girls, got autographed pictures (I picked one up for Brennan, too, since I knew he'd be disappointed if he was left out), and got Addison's picture taken with them.

Several minutes later, we were escorted back out onto the floor during the opening number for the Cheetah Girls. Now that's what I call an intermission! The Cheetah Girls were very good (in a pre-teen sort of way), and Addison really diggin' it in her shy-I'm-way-too-cool-to-acknowledge-this-is-the-coolest-thing-ever way. After the show, Big Bob led us backstage again so that we could avoid the crowds trying to leave. On the way out, he showed Addison the inside of one of the tour buses. Can you believe there's enough room backstage in those places to hold several buses and 18-wheelers?

Addison had an absolute blast...and I got Dad brownie-points...and I got to catch up with an old friend. All combined to make the outing a huge success and a great day. Even the 10,000 screaming girls were worth it for the smile on a little girl's face. Thanks, publicly, to Big Bob for the royal treatment and for being a great friend. Maybe next time you're in DC, we can do dinner.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Playing Hurt

OK, so I'm coming off a day that's been downright rotten. I won't tell you what happened, because I think it would just be too horrifying to most of you, but suffice it to say, today was not a good day for Brennan. Consequently, some days, it's just hard to believe.

I think about what Job must have felt like when he first lost all of his possessions and then, one-by-one, lost all of his kids. Did Job ever wonder if it could get any worse? Did he wonder if there would ever be peace and happiness -- the good life -- again? Did Job ever wonder if God really would uphold His promise that He won't give us more than we can handle? Did Job ever wonder why he learned to handle so much? I can tell you, on days like today, that I wonder. I can tell you that it was painful putting my girls to bed tonight, wishing I could do something, say something...something...but there were no words -- just hugs.

I can also tell you, despite all my doubts above, I have never doubted that God loves me and my family, that He's faithful, and that good will come of this...eventually...hopefully sooner rather than later (insert weak, hopeful smile here).

Tonight, I went to Praise Team rehearsal because that's what I do on Wednesday...and because it's my turn to sing this Sunday. I really didn't want to go. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I didn't want to sing. I just wanted to stare off into space. But I went because that's what I'm supposed to do -- because sometimes you have to play even when you're hurt. Fortunately, we're like a very close family. Several people noticed I wasn't my normal bubbly self and asked how things were going. When I told them a bit of what happened, they just listened (unlike Job's friends, who not only offered advice, they offered bad advice!), then asked what they could do. They didn't know it, but they had already done one of the things I needed most -- wrapped me up in care and concern. (Isn't it amazing how God provides?) I also asked them to continue praying. We will beat this. God has a plan, and He's in control. There will still be hard days, but we will beat this!

I apologize these last two posts haven't been as encouraging as others, but I'd be lying to you if I said that I was happy all the time. After all, this is real life, and sometimes life is really tough...and it takes a little while to lick your wounds and get back on top...but I will. After all, tomorrow is another day...

Meet Brennan

I know I promised this story a while back, but I've been busy...and putting it off. Lauren's story is easy. I've told it before -- many times -- and I've now got it down. She's also more in the maintenance phase. Yes, everyday is a challenge, but at least we know what to expect in a kind of unexpected way. Brennan's story is much more difficult for a variety of reasons...but, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me introduce you to Brennan:

Brennan is our 7-year-old son; he'll be 8 next month. We found out when he was very young (less than a year old) that he has food allergies. He's allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts. Since Cristi's allergic to milk, this wasn't an overly complicated adjustment for our family, but did require some. The downside is that he can't just go anywhere and have just anything. We eat at home a lot. When we do eat out, we have to stick to chain restaurants that we've been able to get a warm fuzzy from that they have safe foods for him. When he goes to birthday parties, he has to take his own cupcake. The upside is that we've now figured out a way to make almost anything you can dream up. A couple of exceptions are quiche and omelettes, but one you might be surprised at is cheesecake.

Growing up, Brennan has always been goofy. He makes up jokes that don't make sense, but they're so not funny that you have to laugh. We've frequently said we wonder if we're experiencing something similar to what Jim Carrey's mother must have experienced. This kid is G-O-O-F-Y! He's also got a big heart. Whenever he gets something new, he almost always thinks of Addison and that she should get something, too. He had an amazing yet unexplainable bond with Lauren while she was little. He was extremely loving and gentle, and she absolutely adored him.

Unfortunately, all that has changed. You see, Brennan never outgrew the Terrible Twos -- or their sequel, the Therrible Threes. Since Addison was a very strong-willed child when she was 2 and 3, we didn't think much about it. We didn't give it too much thought when he was still throwing horrendous temper tantrums when he was 4. By the time he was 5, we started thinking that we had an extremely strong-willed child and so we brought out our best parenting skills. We didn't let him get away with anything, and we never gave in to his demands...But it continued. By the time he was 6, he was getting stronger and harder to control -- physically. He was starting to throw things and break things and threaten -- but not hurt -- his mother and sisters.

We bit the bullet and asked for help. That was one of the hardest things to do. After all, we must be bad parents. It can't be some form of mental illness. There's this huge stigma with that, people look at you funny, it will affect his future if it's on his record, etc., so we'll just stick our fingers in our ears and go "La la la la la". Fortunately, we had become very close with Lauren's previous pediatrician (also the kids' pediatrician, but they didn't really need doctors), so we kinda talked to her informally. She told us to see the dreaded "P" doctor.

We went to the psychologist and did behavior therapy, but nothing worked. We tried reward charts, we tried time out, we tried it all -- no joy. We finally convinced the psychologist that it must be something beyond behavioral -- something that might require medicine to fix -- so they sent us to a psychiatrist (because they can prescribe medicine). He immediately diagnosed him as "classic bipolar". Skeptical based on the circumstantial evidence (my perception), we merely tolerated the guy, knowing that we had philosophical differences. Things seemed to work okay for a while on medicine, but every time we thought we were getting somewhere, the bad behavior came back (it was beginning to get worse, by the he was physically hurting Cristi and Addison, but threatening Lauren, ultimately breaking that special bond he had with her). He also had many side effects. The psychiatrist kept wanting to treat each side effect with a new medicine to the point that we had a drug coctail that would make any pusher jealous -- and gave Lauren a run for her money -- all to no avail.

In the meantime, we found out Brennan was also having seizures. We took him to a neurologist, who put him on medicine to (hopefully) treat the seizures and the bipolar. Today, that medicine seems to be helping the seizures -- not so much on the bipolar; the behavior's as bad as ever. After the philosophical differences came to a head, accompanied by some unprofessional behavior, we fired the psychiatrist and got a new one. He's young, and concerned, but has not treated Brennan aggressively. He even indicated that there might not be a medicine that will work for Brennan and that we should work on behavior therapy. Compound that with the fact that the neurologist and psychiatrist aren't aggressively collaborating on a solution to two problems that appear to be significantly intertwined. Our pediatrician told us that, sadly, there aren't many doctors anywhere able or willing to work the seams between anatomical systems. We believe it because we've observed it.

I continue to doubt (but accept) the bipolar diagnosis. Something just doesn't seem right, and it just doesn't quite "fit", despite the ready diagnosis of "classic bipolar". Brennan has a measure of control over these rages, although there is some level of uncontrol. Couple that with the fact that the seizures happen in the part of the brain that controls emotion and emotional response. I think there's a significant link there. How to control it and/or rehabilitate it is the tough question.

I earlier alluded to several of our difficulties parenting Brennan. I really think we're good parents. But what we go through is enough to shatter anyone's self-confidence. Cristi gets beat up nearly every day -- many times quite literally. She constantly wonders what she's doing wrong. I'm left at work, totally helpless (he doesn't really do this stuff around me), and wondering what my response should be when I get home. I've tried everything from anger to apathy to sadness/disappointment to eye-for-eye violence. Nothing works. Nothing. It's embarrasing to take him out somewhere when he decides he's going to throw a fit. Can you imagine the looks we get? Not to mention the fact that he's almost too big for Cristi to handle now. This has been a very hard journey for us -- harder even than our journey with Lauren.

God taught us to trust Him with Lauren. We have tried to trust that all will be okay -- and we still do -- but it is a daily struggle not to feel helpless and hopeless. I freely admit to you that we have no answers -- that we pray daily for relief and answers. So far that prayer has not been answered. Yet we still believe. We still trust that God is in control and that good will come out of this situation in some as yet undetermined way. We cling desperately to that hope. We continue to believe God is faithful to those that hold on. We will continue to hold on. For those of you so inclined, we ask for your prayers as well -- prayers for wisdom, endurance, relief, answers -- for us and for Brennan.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lessons Learned from the 2008 Election

President Obama. That's painful for me to write. For some, it's probably just as painful to read. For others, you're rejoicing that "change has come to America!" I'll be honest with you: I'm very disappointed in the outcome and nervous for what that bodes for the future -- not just for the next four years, but the potential strategic implications that could affect us 20 years down the road...BUT, I've learned a few lessons along the way this election season that give me hope.

I'm reading the book, Battle Cry of Freedom, right now, about the Civil War. Yesterday, I read a section describing the 37th Congress that sat from 1861-1862. The author stated that it "did more than any other in history to change the course of national life". Yet as I looked at what it did, I couldn't help wondering what we would be saying about those "same" things now if they were election platforms. They passed an act authorizing the transcontinental railroad, seeded with government funds. They also passed several land-grant acts that benefitted individuals (free land to live on), corporations (land for starting/growing/expanding businesses), and universities (where many got their start). We look back 150 years now and are thankful for that because we see the goodness in it, right? After all, that helped form the foundation of our modern America! But these were all internal improvements -- most funded with government money, and done at the expense of foreign spending and foreign affairs -- mostly in opposition to current Republican philosophies. Well, let me back up: Not necessarily opposed, but lower in priority to protecting our interests globally because of a finite budget (i.e., we can't do everything on limited funds). My point is that these domestic issues (i.e., internal improvements) were what Barack Obama staked his claim on. Hopefully we can look back in 25-30 years and realize that we're much better off than we were domestically and that his foreign policy actually kept us afloat despite many Republican and military fears.

The second thing I learned is that Democrats aren't evil people -- a bit misguided perhaps :-) but not evil. I believe Barack Obama won this election because many people either believed he was the best person to help our country on one particular issue (like healthcare), or because they aligned with him on more issues than they did with John McCain. I do not believe that it was because the vast majority of Americans believed that Obama was all right and McCain was all wrong. (I believe the media helped significantly with that, but I'll just leave it right there.) That's what makes our republican form of government so great. We elect our leaders based on their platform and who can best lead our country and/or help us individually. Do I agree we made the right decision? No. But the majority of Americans feel that Obama can help them individually and/or that our country as a whole needs to go in a different direction. The rest of us hope they're not wrong...but we can also change that in 4 years.

On a similar note, I also had the chance to converse (well, okay, debate/battle) with a few friends during the campaign that are hard-core Obama supporters. What I learned from them is that relationships transcend politics. We debated several times. At the end, we always said that it was good we could discuss these issues openly and still be friends afterward. Last night, after it became clear who would win, I changed my Facebook status to "Tim is praying". Immediately, I had 5 people (the first two being two of my Democratic friends) say that they hoped my prayers were about the election and not because something was wrong with Lauren. What a great reminder to me to keep my focus on relationships and not on something that will pass.

Finally, God is in control. I must confess to you that as I watched Barack Obama win and as I watched others who were already learning that lesson (or trying to convince themselves to learn it), I was not ready to learn it. I am now. Because of all I've said above and other things I've written in this blog, I must believe God is in control. No matter what happens. The next four years could be great, or they could be lousy, or they could just be four years. It doesn't matter. Yet again, I go back to the challenge I was given October 3rd and 4th in Nashville to be fearless. Even if the worst thing imaginable happens, God is still on our side...if we let Him be. "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10)