The Best Laid Plans

We are in the home stretch—just three weeks until Rose’s wedding day. My list of things to do has been growing shorter lately, but we’ve had a couple of setbacks and a few woes. I’m trying very hard to not hyperventilate.

In early May I started working on the gardens and the yard in the hopes that they would look beautiful by Rose’s wedding day. Over Memorial Day weekend in record-breaking heat, I spread 10 yards of new mulch and sprinkled grass seed in spots worn by the dogs during the winter. By the end of June, everything was shaping up and looking fantastic. Over the July Fourth week, my son-in-law (Kate’s husband) agreed to wash our deck and put on a new coat of stain. Working in 100-degree temps (another heat wave), he did a great job but he made the decision to not use tarps on the flowers and grass. I didn’t want to be a bitch mother-in-law, so I let it go after twice mentioning it to him. My guess is that when he comes to the wedding, he’ll be wishing he had used the tarps. All of my gorgeous peony bushes are covered in a brown-colored chemical burn. And a large area of the grass is completely dead. It will come back next spring, but it won’t be green for the wedding. I could easily become a fanatic and replace the dead sod (grass seed won’t have time to grow) and put in new bushes, but I’m not going there. The way I see it, this can go one of three ways. It will be another record-breaking heat wave on the big day and no one will go out on the deck so no one will see the burnt bushes and dead grass. Or it will be torrential rains and everyone will stay inside. Or the ugly sight will stand out and my son-in-law will never choose to not use tarps again.

I started to do some “touch up” painting to cover some nicks and dents and scuff marks that come from just living in a house. The folks at the local home improvement store did a perfect match of the color, but we couldn’t get the paint finish right. Every sample I tried had too much of a shine. I’m beginning to wonder if I have paint on my walls or if it’s primer! I really don’t want to have to paint the whole main floor, so I’m determined to keep working at it until we can find a good enough match. This is taking more time than I planned.

In the “hindsight is perfect” department, I should have predicted Brianna would have a meltdown or two as we neared the big day. She is no longer cooperating about going away to treatment. She is choosing to not follow simple house rules (clean up after herself, no overnight guests, home at curfew), so we’ve had to re-establish boundaries (again!) and offer up consequences. Instead of Brianna coming in at all hours of the night (sometimes with guests in tow), we’ve been locking the dead bolt at curfew. The first couple of nights she was pretty upset and I have no idea where she slept, if she slept at all. One would think that after being locked out once she would change her behavior. Unfortunately, she hasn’t slept in her bed all week. At this point I am saying a lot of prayers that Brianna doesn’t choose to throw a tantrum in front of one hundred wedding guests.

Constantly being on guard for what Brianna might do next is extremely exhausting—mentally and physically, and not easy on relationships. I’ve had to be kind to myself and not work so hard on my “to do” list, so I’m behind schedule with many tasks. And I’ve been careful to pay extra attention to my husband and remind him how grateful I am to have him in my life. At this point I just want to get as much done as I can for the wedding, do what I can to give Rose a special day, and then worry about our next step with Brianna. But I’m fully aware of how quickly the best laid plans can change.

Rose has been holding up well, despite working full-time and unexpectedly having to take two summer courses at her college. (She learned at the end of spring term that she needed two more classes to be admitted into the final year of her nursing program.) She and her fiancé finally applied for the marriage license and registered for bridal gifts. It took some forceful persuading on my part, but I finally got the ever-spontaneous Rose to the store to look at wedding dresses. She found one she likes and it’s in alterations now. It will be ready in time! And I finally found a dress. Thank God!

The RSVPs are coming in and I’m discovering that Rose did not follow “the plan.” Instead of a “normal” wedding, Rose is having three events. This required three different versions of the wedding invitations and a clear and concise list of which version goes to each guest. Another hindsight moment, I am regretting not being more involved in the assembling and mailing of the invites. Rose has had to make more than one phone call to apologize for not inviting someone to the second or third event—including her dad! Ugh!

This week Rose suffered a tragic loss of a friend—an unexpected death that could have been prevented. She has never lost anyone close, so this was a tough moment to overcome, especially given the cause. And she and her fiancé have had a few disagreements, normal in the days before a wedding. Stress can be nasty and we learn so much about ourselves and others in those times. I can only pray it will make them stronger as a couple.

Emily had another sport-related injury, so I spent an afternoon with her at the doctor’s office. I could have said something to her about never communicating with me unless she wants something, but I didn’t. It would have fallen on deaf ears. She ended up with a cortisone shot and some swallowed pride. She was polite and appreciative, but she needed my help. I don’t know when that will change. Something else I need to think about after the big day.

We had unexpected company from out of town, so I’m re-cleaning the guest room.

My husband offered a bed to another out-of-town wedding guest, but he forgot that we already promised that bed to someone else. There is no more room at the Inn!

Today is my birthday. I’d like to take the day off and not do a thing, but I wouldn’t enjoy it. No matter how hard I try, I’ll still hear my “to do” list screaming at me from the other room. Next weekend we will celebrate my granddaughter’s second birthday. It will be a fun weekend, but not much will get crossed of that dreaded list.

I do have faith that everything that needs to get done, will get done. And in the final few days before the big event, I know the troops will rally and I’ll have extra help and it will all come together. It always does. So the real trick will be to keep my breathing level, keep the hair on my head, and get some sleep. One day at a time. For the next 21 days.

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There’s Room for One More

In less than a month, my second daughter is getting married. As we approach this milestone, I am reminded of the day she came into the world. Rose’s father and I are no longer married, but I do refer to him as my husband in the story I’m about to tell.

It was precisely 4:20 in the morning when I felt a tugging on my hand. I had been deep in sleep and was a bit confused as my brain made the switch from dreams back into the real world. The word surreal defined the moment, as I realized my cat was gently tugging on my hand with her mouth. She had never done this before and I was still too drugged with sleep to wonder what it was all about. I pushed her away and was hit with the overwhelming need to pee that only women pregnant in their ninth month can understand. And just as quickly, I felt as though I was going to vomit. Millie, the cat, jumped back up on my bed and began to meow at me, only it was more of a moan. Something clearly wasn’t right with her, but something clearly wasn’t right with me either. Again I pushed the cat away. I slowly rolled out of the bed and managed to make it to the bathroom and back.

I lay in my bed quietly, completely attentive to every sensation in my body. My two-year-old daughter was asleep in the next room and my husband was finishing up his night shift at work. He’d be home in about an hour or so. Kate was recovering from a bout of the flu, and I wondered if I had caught the bug. Pretty rotten timing on my part. Christmas was a week away, I was due to give birth any day, and the stomach flu comes into the house.

What if? I wondered. No, it didn’t feel like labor at all. But it didn’t feel like the flu either. Millie was once again on my bed, moaning and pacing. “What is your problem?” I asked her. Another wave of nausea hit me and I rolled over onto my side. I stared at the phone on my bedside table and decided to call the hospital and talk to the nurse on duty and get some peace of mind. My call was logged in at 4:30. As it turned out, the on-call nurse was the mother of one of my husband’s friends. She was always so practical and not one to exaggerate. Instantly I was comforted knowing I could trust whatever she told me. We talked through my symptoms and the fact that Kate had the stomach flu. We both agreed I just needed to take it easy, drink lots of fluids, and get some extra rest. As we talked, the cat was having another fit of moaning and I decided she needed to go outside. I stood up at the side of my bed, about to hang up the phone, and with a thud I felt the baby drop and my water broke. The nurse and I laughed. It wasn’t the flu after all! I told her I’d get my stuff together and I’d be headed for the hospital shortly.

My mind was racing like crazy now, and I headed for the bathroom for a towel, wondering how I was going to clean up the mess of “broken water,” who I should call to watch Kate until her dad got home, who could take me to the hospital this early in the morning, and what in the world is going on with the cat, and then, an overwhelming urge to push. Oh. my. God! I made it to the doorway of the bathroom when a contraction hit me like a brick. Down to my knees I fell, out of breath and in complete agony.

Breathe!! My brain screamed to my lungs. On all fours, I breathed and puffed and got through the contraction, but I was exhausted. I rolled over and lay on the bathroom floor to catch my breath. There was still enough oxygen in my brain for me to realize I was all alone and in serious trouble and needed help. Unfortunately, it was 1987 and portable phones were not yet on the scene. The only way I was going to get help was to make it back to the phone in the bedroom or to the phone in the kitchen. I decided the phone in the kitchen was the best one to get to as it had a really long cord and I could probably stretch it down the hall to the bathroom.

I was about to get up and get the phone when another contraction slammed hard and took my breath away again. I puffed and focused as best I could and as soon as the contraction was done, I moved as quickly as I could to get to the kitchen phone. One of my sisters lived five minutes away and she could get to me the fastest. Her husband answered the phone.

“I’m in labor,” I told him. “Dave’s still at work and I need help fast.”

“We’re on our way.”

I hung up the phone and fought through the beginnings of another contraction as I made my way back to the bathroom floor. I lay there, knowing help was on the way, and tried to relax. And then I realized, the front door was locked. It was a steel door and there was no way anyone was getting in the house unless I unlocked it. Another contraction hit and I followed the breathing exercises I had learned when my first baby was born. I focused my thoughts on how long it would take me to get up, get to the split-entry stairs, get down the first flight to unlock the door, and then get back to the bathroom. Contractions had been about two minutes apart and I figured I could do it. As soon as I did my cleansing breath, I was rolling onto my side and making my way to the front door. What I hadn’t figured into my equation was the force of gravity. I made it down the flight of stairs and unlocked the front door, but was knocked to my knees again when another contraction came much sooner than I had predicted. I lay with my feet at the door and my body pressed into the steps, praying to Blessed Virgin Mary to help see me through this.

The contraction wasn’t fully over, but it had lessened enough that I could move and I crawled up the stairs, down the hall, and back into the bathroom. I knew another contraction would be coming and I wasn’t disappointed. I told myself to relax and breathe through it. I can do this! Help is on the way!

(Many years later my brother-in-law told me my sister was in such a hurry to leave her house to get to me that she forgot to put on a shirt. She got outside in the cold winter air and screamed. She ran back in and grabbed a sweatshirt while he got the car started.)

As the contraction ended I heard the front door fly open and hit the wall, then heavy footsteps on the stairs. My sister and her husband stared at me, and what a sight I was. My nightgown was a mess from when my water broke. And I lay half in and half out of the bathroom. My brother-in-law tried to tell me he could take me to the hospital (it was a thirty minute drive on a good day, and this was a bitterly cold and icy winter morning). I looked at my sister and told her to call an ambulance, just as another contraction hit. My sister bolted to the kitchen phone and my brother-in-law gave me his hands to hold onto. I squeezed his thumbs, evidently with super human strength, and he cried out in pain. My sister came running with the long-corded phone. The police dispatcher had put her directly through to the doctor at the hospital. My good luck was extended—the doctor on call that morning was my doctor.

And so we waited. I faithfully did the breathing exercises and the puffing to prevent pushing with each contraction. My brother-in-law sat in the hallway at the side of my head, trying to say soothing things to me but essentially had no idea what he was saying or doing. And my sister stood in the hallway on the long-corded phone giving updates to the doctor at the hospital. Once in a while she would come into the bathroom and look to see if a head was crowning. It was a complete miracle that Kate managed to sleep through all the commotion.

My brother-in-law couldn’t understand what was taking the ambulance so long. And he thought the police should have been there by then. (A couple of days later we learned two police cars had circled the house waiting for the ambulance to arrive first.) My sister was growing nervous that she might have to deliver the baby.

I lay there helpless on the bathroom floor. Another contraction hit and I heard familiar footsteps come up the stairs. My husband was home from work an hour early. That never happened! Another stroke of good luck.

“Thank God!” my brother-in-law shouted. “What are we supposed to do?”

Dave looked at him and shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t a clue.”

I directed them both to a maternity book (about 600 pages long) that I had on my bedside table and told them to look at the chapter on emergency births. They looked at each other as if I had just spoken in Greek and another contraction hit. My husband knelt at my side and talked me through the breathing. What a relief it was to have him there.

And then the ambulance crew arrived at 4:50. And right behind them were two police officers. The two EMTs crowded into the small bathroom with me and the two police stood in the hallway with my husband, my brother-in-law, and my sister—who was still on the phone with the doctor.

There wasn’t any time for introductions as another contraction came hard. The EMTs unpacked their bags and tried to create a somewhat sterile environment to welcome the baby.

“Okay, when the next contraction comes I want you to push,” the female EMT instructed me. I pushed and the EMT exclaimed, “I see a head.” But no progression. We tried it again and again the head crowned but no baby was birthed. My husband realized I was growing nervous and tried to calm me down. My sister was no longer on the phone. (Unknown to me, when there was no progress after the second push, the doctor hung up the phone and got in his car to come to our house. Except he had no idea where we lived. He had heard an intersection on the police radio and headed for that spot, thinking he would be able to see flashing lights. But we lived another mile away from that intersection, so he couldn’t find us. A friend of ours just happened to be leaving his house headed to work. The doctor flagged him down on the road and asked him if he knew us and where we lived. Our friend recognized the doctor and told him where to find our house.)

“Wait!” The female EMT shouted. “We need to sit her up. She can’t be laying flat.”

My husband and brother-in-law each took one of my shoulders and propped me up. A contraction came and so did the baby’s head.

“Stop! Don’t push!” the EMT cried out. My husband and brother-in-law lowered me back down. The EMT worked her fingers around the baby’s neck to free the umbilical cord. “Okay, go ahead.” I pushed with all my might.

The male EMT exclaimed, “It’s a girl!” and placed the baby on my belly. The female EMT shouted out, “Time of birth, 4:58.” When my first daughter was born, she had been born with the sack stuck to her skin. So they had wiped her down quickly before handing her to me. This newborn was covered in what looked like cottage cheese and her skin was tinted blue. I must have registered shock on my face because the male EMT took my hand and placed it on the baby’s back. “You need to rub her,” he said gently.

And so I rubbed life into that precious little baby. She turned pink and cried out. Everyone shouted for joy, and baby Kate was finally awakened by all the noise and commotion. My sister went and got Kate and brought her to the scene on the bathroom floor. Little Kate, at two years old, understood exactly what had transpired. “The baby came out!” she said. And then I heard the doctor’s voice. “Looks a little crowded in there,” he said.

“We just made room for one more,” the female EMT said. “We can make room for you too!”

“I can’t believe you’re here,” I said to him.

“Looks like I missed another of your births,” he joked. Yes, my first baby had come while he had taken his supper break and the doctor on call ended up delivering.

He pushed on my belly and helped me deliver the placenta, then checked out the precious new bundle. (An hour after her birth, Rose weighed in at 9 pounds 4 ounces!) The doctor was satisfied that all was well and the EMTs began to pack up their things and bring in a stretcher to take me out to the ambulance and to the hospital.

At-home births were pretty rare in our area in 1987, and Rose’s birth made the front page of the county newspaper on Christmas Eve. The whole experience sure proved to us the miracle of birth and the blessings of Christmas.

The two EMTs have remained in our lives all these years. The female EMT is coming to Rose’s wedding and bringing a very special surprise for Rose. The EMTs were given an honorary award and a special patch for their uniforms for helping me with Rose’s birth. The female EMT has created a shadow box with the patch and a certificate and some newspaper clippings and will give that to Rose as a wedding gift. I can’t wait to see the smile on her face when she opens the gift.

And for those of you who are cat lovers, there is a Part Two to this story. Four years after Rose was born, I gave birth to Emily. My doctor was afraid of another quick birthing, so he insisted on inducing me. All went well. But two years later, I was pregnant again but my doctor had retired and the new doctor wasn’t too concerned about a quick delivery. Millie the Cat was still a part of our family, and thank God for that. About 1:15 in the morning I was awakened by Millie pacing back and forth across the end of my bed. I started to ask Millie what her problem was, but realized the answer before the words got out of my mouth. My husband was working the night shift and I was home alone with the three girls. Again I called my sister and told her I needed a ride to the hospital.

“How far apart are the contractions?” she asked.

“I don’t have any yet,” I answered.

“Are you sure you need to go?”

“Trust me.”

About ten minutes later my sister and her husband arrived and we headed off for the hospital. Contractions started as soon as I got in the car and I laid down on the back seat and began my breathing patterns. It was a terribly foggy night but my brother-in-law was determined to get to the hospital on time. As a volunteer firefighter, he had access to a police radio. He called out to the dispatcher and gave updates to the hospital as we made our way. When we pulled up to the Emergency Room door, we were met by two nurses and a gurney. I climbed out of the car and up onto the gurney and the two nurses literally ran through the hallways to the birthing room. I was in between contractions when we got to the room, so I got off the gurney, stripped off my clothes, and climbed into the bed. Another contraction hit. A few minutes later, Brianna was born. From the time we arrived at the Emergency Room to the time of birth was five minutes. If it hadn’t been for Millie the cat, Brianna would have been born at home as well.

The Lost Window

Hindsight is always perfect vision and we almost always can learn something from the experience, but learning something doesn’t lessen the sting of the moment. Statements such as “I know better” or “I should have seen this coming” flood one’s brain and, at least for me, shame and guilt are the sludge left behind. The fact is the moment is past and nothing can change that.

Now as I sit down to write about my recent hindsight lesson, I feel some will say I’m being too hard on myself and that this isn’t “the end.” There are still options available, just not the options I wanted when I wanted them. But my instincts are screaming like a banshee telling me the window of opportunity is gone.

More than three months ago I began a frantic search to find a residential treatment center for my daughter Brianna. It took nearly a month of phone calls on my lunch breaks to get all my questions answered about insurance coverages and available programs for young women still in high school, and then more information on the limited options available to meet Brianna’s needs. The last week of April I was told we were on a wait-list at the one facility that deals with Brianna’s many issues and that an opening would likely occur in six to eight weeks. Two weeks later I asked where we were at on the wait-list and was told Brianna wasn’t actually on the list yet. We quickly jumped through some more hoops and then began a practical lesson in patience. Every week I called and checked in and every week the answer was the same: six to eight weeks.

We are still waiting.

At noon on the Fourth of July my cell phone rang and the treatment center asked me if Brianna was prepared to come right away. My brain yelled, You’ve got to be kidding! but my mouth stayed silent. I took a deep breath and reminded the admissions counselor that we live eight hours away. I swallowed my frustration at her inability to understand it was a holiday, that we had family visiting, and it was not the best time for us to travel. I’m sure the counselor was a bit frustrated at my inability to get in the car and make the trip at a moment’s notice, holiday or not. They had a bed available and they were going to fill it with the first available client. Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t a good time. And it’s more complicated than it being a holiday.

Brianna’s older sister is getting married on August 10. All along we’ve assured Brianna she would be home for the wedding, but that was when we thought she would be embarking on her journey at the end of May or early June. When I mentioned this life event to the admission’s counselor on the Fourth, I was told that if Brianna came to the facility now and wanted to leave for the wedding, she would not be welcomed back. Okay, I totally get that. The counselor assured me—but I’m having great difficulty trusting this—that Brianna would remain on the wait-list and they would call us again when another opening occurred. I haven’t heard from them since.

Well, I started to do the math. Once the wedding is behind us and all of our out-of-town guests leave, it will be August 15 before I can get Brianna to the facility—and that’s if we’re fortunate enough that there will be an opening. Her birthday is September 13 and she has cried buckets about the fact that I cannot, must not, torture her by making her be in treatment over her birthday. “There will never be a good time,” I said. “Then I don’t need to go,” Brianna replied.

Indeed, there will never be a good time. I liken Brianna’s need to that of a person fighting a life-threatening illness, who desperately needs surgery, and who insists that it can be put off one more week. She is a time bomb and we have no idea when she will blow up and whether she can be saved once she does.

I approached the topic with Brianna again tonight. She’s had time to think and scheme and now she wants to debate a new plan of action. She wants to enroll in our community’s high school for fall semester and finally get the last of her credits and receive her diploma. Then she can plan to go to the facility after the new year and enter their women’s facility instead of the teens’ facility. Sadly, I’ve come to believe we’ve lost our window of opportunity.

Oh, this parenting business is so challenging! Brianna’s symptoms have flared so much in the last few weeks and she needs help that I cannot give her. But I also have a good deal of compassion. And I am weak. It has been such a long wait.

To Brianna’s credit, she has improved in some areas in her life. She has made no improvement or even slipped backward in other areas. She has not been treated for her symptoms, she has not been taught the important lessons she must learn in order to live in the real world with her anxieties and paranoia. She is still dangerously self-medicating with prescription drugs. Nothing has really changed.

Except I feel beaten. At the beginning of the year I struggled with my decision to force treatment on Brianna but wisely came to the conclusion that she needs more help than I can give. I had hope that we had found a place with experts who can guide her and show her ways to adapt and be successful as an adult. Now I am discouraged and without hope for a bright future for Brianna. My own fears have begun to rage in my subconscious sleep. I will never be free of Brianna. She will never live a “normal” life as an adult. Irrational fears, I know. They speak of my own anxieties and tell a story of the stress I am suppressing. My anxiety and fear are a measurement of the sludge that is now present in this hindsight moment. And once again, I am searching for answers.

“I’ll think about that tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day,” Scarlett O’Hara liked to say. In my case, I’ll think about it all in the middle of August. Maybe I will have learned something from my hindsight by then.