Brave face….in the face of loss

Our house has been on the market for over a year.  It’s a torturous process.  An agent calls, we work into the wee hours of the morning to clean up all remnants of 5 little boys, we vacate the house (often hanging out at my mom’s)….I carry 8-10 large plastic bins of cleared items (including the countless sippy cups and sippy cup parts from the countertop) down into the basement, stack them up among the 30-40 other storage bins already down there….and then slowly bring them all back up one by one in the days after a house showing as we remember things we need next.  Well, it’s usually me wondering things like, “where’s the bundt pan to make this cake?”… “what happened to the metal spatula that I like using to get the cookies off?” … “where do all the sippy cups keep going?” (some of them do find their way behind the couch or under the seats in the car, only to be thrown away once found if they meet the black-inside criteria).

All this is to say that having one’s house on the market is a Pain with a capital P.  But what has really been troubling me (other than my back when carrying all those bins) over the past year is a sense of a slow leak…a slow, yet accumulating loss of things.  I find myself often thinking, “I wonder where I put that x, y, or z the last time we packed up the house?”  “I can’t remember where I put….”  And, it’s almost like Christmas to the boys when we go to my mom’s house and they find one of the bins with their toys in it “Oh, look, it’s our Batman-mobile!!  Look, here’s our tractor!!”  I get the same joy occasionally – “Oh, look, here’s a bin full of cereal boxes…most of which have expired!”  But generally, I find myself frustrated and grieving the loss of items which I used to rely on.

Naturally, these simmering feelings were blown into gargantuan size this past week with the burglary of our house.  Frustration, grief, anger, sadness.  Kathy was on the local news the next day telling our story.  A friend called to tell me she was “coming up” on the news as I pulled into the driveway.  “Oh, I’ll run inside and watch,” I said….followed quickly by “oh, we don’t have a TV.”  Noah falls asleep in one of his unique, semi-unsafe positions and I long to reach for the camera and capture another “Noah sleeps” moment.

Yet, all of that is nothing compared to the loss of my memory.  I have sudden amnesia. Sudden Alzheimers.  And yet, I am not sick.  It’s just that I entrusted my memory to a machine because there was so much within my brain and now that machine has left me….and so has the memory of Micah’s first word and when he learned to walk.  So has the memory of how many classes I’ve done for “continuing medical education.”  So has the work that I’ve put into building a crisis nursery….hours upon hours of work….gone.

So I spent the week walking around with an ache inside and a brave face in front.  “Doing okay,” I’d say and then tell the story of how Bazer the police dog chewed up the furniture.  I’m really good at telling a funny story.  It keeps my own emotions in check.  And people have told me all week “Wow, you’re brave. You’re strong.”  And most of the time I feel like I am and then I crash – big time.  I come home late one night and the older boys are in bed without their respective pull-ups on….and the blankets and the sheets and the jammies are soaked through….and I explode.  Fueled by my anger of loss….it actually doesn’t matter what small thing sparked the explosion.  Fueled by an older son who does not want to hear that his dearest “blue blankie” is saturated with urine and thus must be washed NOW.  Fueled by the audacity of someone to invade our privacy and safety.   Slamming doors, kicking, muttering under my breath….I finally lay in the bed and sob.  That’s where the brave face falls apart sometimes.  And the words of Mandisa’s song “What if we were Real” run through my head:

“Well, I’m tired of saying everything I feel like I’m supposed to say

I’m tired of smiling all the time, I wanna throw the mask away

Sometimes you just have a bad day, Sometimes you just wanna scream ….

We keep trying to make it look so nice, And we keep hiding what’s going on inside

But what if I share my brokenness, What if you share how you feel

And what if we weren’t afraid of this crazy mess, What if we were real.”

What I’ve slowly come to realize in my week of working through this, is that while it’s important for me to be strong and protect my children – that’s the only face I show them most of the time.  The face that says “Mommy has this all altogether.”  I rarely show them the “real” me.  The hurt me.  The angry me (well, no – they know that one really well).  The sad me.  They need to see those faces sometimes too so that it’s safe for them to be “real.”  So tomorrow we’ll buy a dog bone for Bazer in case he wants to come back and visit sometime and we’ll all practice being real.

“Will the robber take me too?”

How do you answer a question such as this from a 6-yr-old boy?  Why would you ever want to be faced with the question?

Well, this week I was.  I left the house Monday morning to take the kids to daycare.  I went to a meeting as part of my foster parenting requirements (one of those in which the facilitator just reads a powerpoint presentation to the audience…and I try not to roll my eyes).  I returned home planning to knock out an hour or so of work on the crisis nursery project before heading to teach a class to medical students.

As I came up to the back of my house, the back door screen was propped open with Seth’s diaper box.  Not too unusual…my dad sometimes stops by to do some work around the house. I headed into the dining room and noticed the front door open as well….I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911 while calling out “hello?”  I passed by the stairway and felt a coolness and brightness of air change….looking up there was a gaping 8 foot x 4 foot hole in the staircase where our beautiful stained glass window had been less than 2 hours before

I hit send on the phone and ran out the back door.  In minutes, an officer was patrolling our house with a machine gun poised and ready. Bazer the police dog was “sweeping” the house for intruders (but finding only a couch and a mattress to shred to pieces).  No people were found….as were none of our electronics.  TV, computers, digital cameras, the Wii system (including the balance board under the table), jewelry…everything.  To make matters worse, the idiot that I am had left my safe in the office upstairs and that was cleaned out of all my important documents as well as the back-up external hard drive for my computer (I backed up the files for virus protection…but never thought about needing to hide it from robbers!).  Gone is my passport, birth certificate, social security card – my identity paperwork.  Gone is the birth certificates and adoption certificates of my sons. Gone is my work on the crisis nursery nonprofit and all my professional and personal life.  My stomach dropped to the bottom of my soul.

It’s amazing how long the state of shock lasts.  It’s amazing how much more hyper-alert I am.  Where an out-of-place kid’s toy was once cute, it now appears threatening in the middle of the floor at night.  The random noise makes the heart stop.  That sense of safety is now fragile.  The disbelief rings out through the silence.  The ache of loss seeps throughout the daily rhythm.

For the boys, there is a missing TV.  The excitement of possibly falling out of the missing window is replaced by the starkness of plywood. The fact that the police dog chewed up the living room couch brings smiles to silly faces.  But for the older boys, there are also some questions.  As Micah fell asleep that night, he asked “Will the robber take me too?”  It pierced my soul.  “No, my child, you are safe.”

For after the excitement died down – the police had come to fingerprint the area, a kind man arrived to put up the huge sheet of plywood to keep the impending rain out and the children in, and the children were tucked in bed – I found Noah sleeping on the staircase landing under that big window.  The image is imprinted in my cortex. He was curled in a fetus position of absolute comfort.  He trusts that he is safe.

And I realize that this is what we as parents do for our children.  In the moments of the storm, we tell them “You are safe. Mommy is here.  I protect you.”  When gaping holes appear, we find the patches to block the winds.  When pieces of their world go missing, we stay by them and remind them that we are not leaving.  When there is stress and anxiety and worry in the air, we hold them tight and kiss them softly.  You are loved.  You are safe.  You are my child and I am your mother.  I am here. God grant you peace, my little one.