Thursday, July 31, 2014

It Could Be Worse

*This article was originally featured at Brain, Child Magazine.

It could be worse.

It could be worse.

It could be worse.

I repeated those words in my own mind for months leading up to the heartbreaking news that I had just received. 

My baby, my first born, my son was in desperate need of another open heart surgery.  Except this time, his fragile, tiny heart needed a titanium valve to save his life. 

It could be worse.

As I watched him grow weak, sick and lethargic over the last few weeks, I knew something was wrong.  I knew in my heart, my gut; that something was wrong with him. 

His increasing need to be by me, with me, on me all day long seemed different.  He cried for me; to be in my lap, to rock in the chair and to sleep in my arms.  I wearily complied through exhausted eyes and rocked, cuddled and cried wondering what was wrong with my baby. I craved for normalcy.  Why did my baby have to be sick?  Why couldn't he be healthy and happy?

No, stop it.  It could be worse.

As we went to the doctor's office, I hoped and prayed that they would have answers for me.  With a glimmer of hope, we stepped into the waiting room.  I held him in my lap for the fear that if I put him down he would begin to cry inconsolably again.  As I held him, I looked around the waiting area at the pictures hanging on the wall; gleaming smiles of other little children that this doctor had saved.  Some of them obviously had other health issues, not just heart problems.  I sighed.

It could be worse.

The friendly nurse called his name and we went into the examining room.  After hours of tests, multiple doctors, and nurses rushing hurriedly around me, they told me the news.  "He is experiencing Congestive Heart Failure."

Failure.  Funny choice of words, because that was exactly what I was feeling at that moment.  My baby was suffering, hurting, dying and I was powerless to fix it.  I felt completely out of control and had no way to help the situation.  I fought back the tears as they admitted him immediately to the Children's Hospital. 

The next few days were a total surreal experience as they tested, poked, x-rayed, and prodded my eight month old baby.  I sat on the sidelines, nodding and smiling; trying to understand all the medical jargon that they were throwing at me. 

"Uh-huh. Ok. Mmmhmmm."  Whatever, doc.  Just fix my baby, ok?  Make him be normal.  Make him laugh again.  Let him grow up to be a happy, healthy boy that can live and love like he deserves. 

"Luckily, he has a pretty good chance at living a full healthy life after all this.  It could really be worse." they said.

It could be worse.

It could be worse?  What could be worse than this?  My infant is getting ready for a surgery in which you are about to open up his chest and reach in and replace a part of his heart with a piece of metal!  It could be worse?

Turns out they were right.  It could be worse.  And in the days following his surgery, I met worse.  While my baby came through surgery with flying colors, I saw many other children on the pediatric floor that didn't. 

While spending the next nine days in PICU, I met quite a few other parents that were equally as weary as me.  While our dreary eyes met across the hall, we gave a polite smile or sometimes a glazed stare. 

We knew what the other was going through; thinking.

We knew the feeling. 

We knew that dread that we faced every time we returned from the bathroom, the cafeteria, or the vending machine for lunch.  That dread that hits you in the gut when there are three doctors standing in the room. 

What's wrong?  Why are they all in there?  What happened in the five minutes I was gone? 

Oh, nothing?  Just some residents doing their rounds?  Ok, good, let me just take a moment because I think I stopped breathing for a minute there.

While spending those days on the PICU, I couldn't help but notice that it could be worse.  While my guy was getting better each day, breathing on his own, eating, sitting up, and playing with toys; others were not.

While they removed lines and tubes from my baby, others were being wheeled down the hallway for more tests. 

While the medicine drips slowly disappeared in our room, they popped up in the neighbors' rooms. 

While I was finally able to hold my fragile baby again, other mothers' arms were empty.

It could be worse.

As the days passed, I met a mom whose baby had been in PICU for months.  Her son was sedated and hooked up to so many machines, I lost count after about ten.  As we chatted here and there, we became friendly and I found out that her baby was born with gastroschisis, which is a congenital condition in which the baby is born with the intestines on the outside of the body.  Her little boy had underwent several surgeries to repair it and they were still trying to fix him.

It could be worse.

As we exchanged glances through the window that separated our children's PICU rooms, I felt for her.  I felt guilty and selfish because I was cursing nature and God for making my baby suffer.  Meanwhile, this mother was feeling the exhaustion and anguish of her own struggles.

One day, as we were chatting, she told me how her husband had to stay in their hometown, which was about 100 miles away, because they couldn't afford for both of them to miss work.  He would visit on the weekends and she would stay in the hospital with the baby.

I felt lucky because we had the luxury of living within driving distance of the Children's Hospital.  My husband and I were able to see our baby every day.  My heart sank for her, having to face all this hardship alone without her husband by her side.

It could be worse.

Although, as we talked more, I realized how upbeat she was considering her situation.  She seemed so positive and optimistic.

During the course of a conversation, she looked to me and then her eyes motioned to the room across the hall.  There was a flurry of activity going on in there, with doctors and nurses rushing in and out;  family members crying and holding one another. 

She said to me, "You know, this kind of stuff really gives you some life perspective.  You know, how you think you got it bad and then you see others like that." She motioned again across the hall with a nod of her head.  "It could be worse."

If you would like to read more about Ivan's story go to A Heartfelt Post Part 1 and A Heartfelt Post Part 2. 

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

It Takes Time to Get Here

I pulled the blankets up over his little body and he looked at me with such innocence when he asked, "Mom, were you and dad always rich? Like....did you always have a king size bed and stuff?"

Not quite the bed time conversation that I expected to have, let alone the earth-shattering discovery that we were considered 'rich' in the eyes of our son. 

I replied gently as not to crush his assumption that we are rich, "No, honey.  Dad and I weren't always rich.  When we were first married we slept in a full size bed just a little bigger than yours.  Can you believe that?  Can you picture me and dad all crammed into a little bed like that?"

Fits of giggles filled his small room cluttered with Legos, too many stuffed animals and books.  A quick look around the room opened my eyes to what he saw. 

We were rich.

He had everything he could possibly, games, cool clothes, shoes.  You name it, he's probably got it. 

As I kissed him good night, I spent some time thinking of that conversation.  In fact, it's been on my mind for several days.  Since then, we have had several good conversations about where we've come from because I think it's important. 

We want to teach our kids that we accumulate material wealth over time, with loads of hard work.  We didn't just wake up one morning in that king size bed and say "Oh, look at that!  Where did that big screen TV come from?  What about those cars?"

We want them to realize that mom and dad didn't always live in a nice house, in a great neighborhood with all the bells and whistles.  We want them to know that we had to earn every single thing that they see in our home. 

We hope to teach them that one day they will wake up and be full grown adults and there is not going to be someone there to hand them all their worldly desires.  We want them to know that nothing in life will fall into their laps without hard work and a price tag.

So we have had the discussion that yes, we started out in a small house in the not-so-great part of town.  We saved our money and bought things one at a time.  We didn't just get married and puff! there was all this great stuff.  I have explained over the last few days that there have been many times that we have had to save up to make a bigger purchase and sometimes we changed a plan or went without.  We've had to make sacrifices to get where we are today.  There was once a time that I was in fear that we would lose everything when our family business closed.  But we stuck together, wiped our tears and started over. 

Hopefully, someday they will understand that being rich doesn't always mean wealthy in a material sense either.  I consider us 'rich' in love, spirit and gratefulness too.  I can only hope that they learn being rich in a material sense doesn't always equal happiness.  I would like to think that we lead a good example of being rich in a non-materialistic way.  We all want the best for our kids and I hope that they can understand some day that hard work, sacrifice and determination can lead to wealth in ways other than TV's, cars and king size beds. 

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Marriage is Like Canoeing

Last week I had the opportunity to do something that I had never done before. We went canoeing.  With some friends and their families, we rented a few canoes, packed the coolers, grabbed the life vests and set out on an adventure.
With this being the first time I have ever canoed, obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. We loaded all of our gear into the canoe and away we went. A wobbly, shaky mama stepped into the boat and hoped for the best.

As we started out, my hubs told me just to sit back and relax and he would do all the work. He had canoed before and was obviously a pro. So I sat in the back of the boat with our daughter between us. I took pictures, admired the scenery and laughed at our friends.

Every now and then he would have me paddle on the right or steer on the left to help him out, but for the most part, he did all the work for the first hour and half or so. As we stopped a few times, he told me that his arms were starting to hurt a little. I offered to help but he relented.

Finally, about half way through the trip, I offered to paddle and he accepted. During this half of the trip it occurred to me the similarities between canoeing and marriage.

As we started the journey, he wanted to do all the work while I sat back and relaxed. In marriage, when one person is doing all the work, they quickly get tired and resentful to the slacking person. Two people are in the 'boat' together and have to work together. If one person is pulling the weigh of two, bad things are bound to happen.

When we were working together, it was hard at first, mostly because I didn't know what I was doing. But as we strolled along, he coached me through the process of navigating corners, how to avoid flipping over and what to do when you get stuck in a downed-tree. Through communication and patience, we worked our way through the rough parts. At times, it got a little scary and stressful and some shouting happened, but we worked together and got through it. There were parts when the water was calm, the current was steady and there weren't many obstacles in the river. Those were the good times.

As the trip continued on down the river, we learned how to row in sync. We learned the pattern that the other was following. As we looked down the river together, we were able to anticipate rough patches and we discussed what direction we would take to avoid a tip over or crash.

As we navigated the unknown together we also had to keep in mind that not only did our choices affect us, but also our daughter that was in the boat between us. If we made a poor decision, not only would we crash and flip, but she would too.

As I watched our friends carefully navigate the river, I watched as they too talked, discussed and at times, yelled trying to avoid the crash. Ultimately, when they did crash and flip, they were able to work together and gather up the remnants of their boat, collect their things and continue their journey. Sometimes life throws curves at us and we crash. It's up to us whether or not we drowned or collect our things and get back in the boat.

I am happy to report that we never tipped that day, but that's not to say that we won't in future canoe trips. But I know that we work well enough, as a team, that we will collect our things, laugh it off and get back in the boat.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Cheap Summer Fun in Central IL

If you're like me, you are always looking for fun and entertainment on the cheap.  With summer in full swing, I thought it might be helpful to assemble a list of resources and things to do in Central IL, mainly the Peoria area, this summer.  Feel free to comment and share any additional ideas you have!

Fondulac Farm Park- East Peoria

This is one of my family's favorites because of the small size and availability to pet the animals.  They have goats, chickens, horses, donkeys, rabbits, ducks, geese, and other farm animals.  It's one of my faves because Tuesdays are free in the summer!  Additionally, you can pick up an animal feed cone for $.50 each.  We like to pack a lunch and eat at the little park across the parking lot and then play on the playground.  The Farm Park itself has a strict no food/beverage rule but they also have a small snack bar if you don't want to pack a lunch. 

Hours-  Tuesday- Sunday 9:00-3:00  (Closed Monday)
Tuesday- Free
Children (ages 1 to 15) $2.50/child
Adults (ages 16 & older)  $3.00/adult

Willow Knolls 14 Theater- Peoria

Kids Summer Movies begin Monday, June 16! See movies for $1 each, Monday through Friday at 10:00am.
Photo from
Peoria Park District-  Forest Park Nature Center

You and your family can enjoy the splendor of the outdoors on the trails at Forest Park Nature Center. With seven miles of hiking trails, the Trails Head Nature store and bird observation room you are sure to find something for everyone.  The trails are open daily dawn until dusk.  Check their website for additional musical or educational programs.

FPNC A Frame in summer
Chillicothe Park District: Santa Fe Park

Situated in Historic Chillicothe, Santa Fe Park offers an abundance of activities for kids.  The recently renovated park boasts a 1/4 mile walking trail, a splash pad, pavilion, baseball diamond, train themed playground and 30 foot tall twisty slide.

Peoria Riverfront Farmer's Market

The best kept secret in the Peoria area happens every Saturday morning 8-12 on the Peoria Riverfront.  Situated in the parking lot next to the Historic River Station building, the Peoria Riverfront Market offers live music, demonstrations, fresh. local produce, meat, eggs, art, jewelry and more. 

This is one of my favorite weekly activities with the kids.  We love to cruise down to the Market to buy our produce, grab a muffin or sweet roll and sit along the river to people watch.  Check out their Facebook page for up-to-date information for this week!  Also check out an older post about my experience at the Market here and here

Peoria Riverfront Market
Saturdays 8am-noon
Photo from Riverfront Market's Facebook page

Wildlife Prairie Park- Hanna City

Just a short drive from Peoria lies a hidden jewel...Wildlife Prairie Park.  The park is home to many native Illinois animals and offers fishing, educational programs, lodging, a train ride and more!  Check out their website for all the details! 

Seniors 65+  $7
Adults 13 and up $8
Children ages 3-12 $6
Children 2 and under FREE

Open 7 days a week through the summer 9:00am-6:30pm

While the admission prices aren't that expensive, if you plan on visiting more than once in a summer, I highly recommend opting for the family membership that starts at $75.  We purchased the family membership and love it!  Read more here and here about our experiences at WPP. 

Peoria Public Library

I wouldn't be a good teacher if I didn't mention that the Peoria Public Library offers tons of free programming for kids and adults!  Avoid the "summer slide" in your kid's reading and pick up a few books to read! 

Visit their website and you can download kid events by month. 

They have so many things going on, I can't possibly list it all here.  Just to highlight:  Book clubs, summer reading program, toddler storytime, Lego building club, music, crafts, art, and many, many more! 

Bicycle Safety Town- Peoria Park District

If you have never been to Bicycle Safety Town, you can't waste anymore time!  This is the best bike course for kids.  It teaches them safety, being a responsible bike rider and the rules of the road.  Riders are required to wear a helmet.  Bring your own bike and helmet. 

Open dawn until dusk.
Free admission. 

Bicycle Safety Town track

Spirit of Peoria

Spend an afternoon cruising the Illinois River on the Historic Spirit of Peoria Riverboat.  Your kids will certainly be impressed with the old fashion paddlewheel and tall fluted stacks.  The sightseeing tour allows for an hour and half cruise up and down the Illinois River. Right now they are running a $3 off coupon when you order online. 

Sightseeing Tours: 
Wed. Fri. Sat. and Sunday June through Sept.

Boarding at 1:30  cruising 2:00-3:30
Adult $16
Seniors $14
Kids 4-12 $10
3 and under FREE

The Spirit of Peoria in the narrows

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