The Medicine of Words

 

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A new generation began the day my grandson, Grayson, was born into this world.  The first grandchild on both sides of his family, he will pave the way for many more to come.

I watched with anxious eyes as he passed the threshold of his mother’s womb to a place where there is air to breath. His lungs surprised at this.  His body traumatized by the brightness.  And, the cold.   Purple.  His head misshapen – and purple.  My daughter, now Aunt Gracie, and I, the sideline observers, frozen in silence, unbeknownst to what is normal.

And what is not.

Within an hour, fresh color warmed his skin and his little head settled into a perfect shape.  A miracle, we breathed.  Awed.  The color came back to our own faces.

Along with Grayson’s arrival, an entire new shipload of worries set port in my mind.

Scrolling Facebook, a dear old friend who belongs to the Grandma Club, posted an article as a “must read”.  I trust what she posts, so I felt a sense of urgency to read it.

The headline, “Letter to Doctors About the Dangers of Insufficient Exclusive Breastfeeding“.  Apparently, one in four newborns do not get enough milk from their mother’s breast milk the first days of life and this deficiency can lead to “long-term neurodevelopmental impairments including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, severe speech delay, seizure disorders, motor impairments and mental retardation.”

Oh, Heavenly Father.

I felt nauseous and then immediately messaged my daughter to find out how much Grayson had been eating, if the jaundice was improving, were his diapers wet?  Waves of panic sent hot flashes to my already menopausal self.  What should I do?  Perhaps I could buy them a baby scale?  How else would they be able to monitor how much milk he’d be getting?  Perhaps they need to try formula and just forget about breastfeeding.  I kept asking my daughter worrisome questions, but my mind would not rest.  She assured me that the doctor said everything was normal.

“What do they know?” my fearful know-it-all-experienced-mother-self taunting me.

Later that evening, after I’d calmed down a bit, I was drawn into a movie called Spy Games that my husband was watching.  I sat down for a bit.

“Geez, Robert Redford has a lot of lines on his face in this movie,” he said.

“Well, those would be wrinkles my dear, and don’t let the hair fool ya, I think he’s almost 80,” I replied.

“Seriously?” he asked.

“Yup,” I said.  Now, I wasn’t really sure.  I just know that Paul Newman died and they were buddies.  I think.  Well, they were in movies together.  Well, at least that one. . .

I grabbed my Smart phone to double-check my statement.  Fact checking.

“Yup, right here it says he was born August 16, 1936.  He will be 80 this August,”  I have to make sure to let him know that I was spot on with this one.  It’s not all that often I’m right.

I continued to read Robert Redford’s biography, now distracted from the movie.  An interesting heading catches my attention: “The Heartbreaks That Robert Redford Hides“.

He has authorised a new biography – but it is the personal tragedies the actor doesn’t tell us about that make the book remarkable…

On a cool November evening in 1959 Robert Redford kissed goodnight to his 10-week-old son Scott and lay him down in his cot. The rising young star had just moved into a large apartment on West 93rd Street in Manhattan and days earlier had opened on Broadway in new drama The Highest Tree. With his bride of barely a year Lola and still heady from their elopement to marry in Las Vegas, Redford seemed on top of the world. But by the next morning Scott was dead, the victim of cot death, a syndrome that back then did not even have a name. It was the heartbreak of Robert Redford’s life, a tragedy that forever altered his psyche, plunging him into a depression that he only escaped by immersing himself in acting.

Oh Mylanta, Georgia.

Crib death.

Why would God put this article before my eyes tonight when He already knows I’m freaking out about the breast milk?  Seriously, God.  Help me here.  What are You thinking?

I put my phone away and tried to focus on the movie.

After I messaged my daughter.

I just don’t remember these anxieties when I was having my babies.  I’m pretty sure it’s because I was exhausted and just trying to survive.  Or, maybe my mother stayed with me for a few days.  Could it be that I just didn’t have the anxiety that I have now?

No.

It’s more than that.

The internet feeds anxiety.

Any small infraction of abnormality leads me to the worst possible scenarios.  And, I will find them.  Trust me.

It was way better when I didn’t know.

There is a dear wonderful writer whose words I frequently visit.  Her name is Emily P. Freeman and she writes a blog called Chatting at the Sky.  It’s lovely.  The morning after the breast milk/crib death/anxiety/hot flash meltdown, her post showed up in my inbox. On this particular day, she shared the thoughts of a new-to-me writer, Christie Purifoy.

Christie’s words were medicine:

I have always been a follow-the-rules, keep-it-under-control, anxious-to-please kind of girl. Which means I am, more often than not, anxious.

The hum of impending disaster is the white noise of my day. Whether weeding my garden or reading a bedtime book, I am on high alert: for the cough that might be asthma, the rose-bush harboring some soon-to-multiply pest, the crock pot I must remember to fill and start at 11 am exactly. And woven in and out of these small, weedy worries are the invasive vines of my anxiety: the writing deadline, the big decision, the older child who seems, unusually and inexplicably, sad.

If the moment is without crisis, then it is up to me to keep it so.

I stopped reading and shut my laptop and looked around.

Then, I opened it back up to keep reading.

Her first baby, a daughter, was difficult.  Ah-hem.  Mine, too.  But, she writes, this breaking point of feeling out of control is what led her to be grateful for the small moments of grace.  And then, she writes more:

She and I both grew, and my tears dried. Three more babies joined their older sister, and every year I harvested another crop of worries. I grew large again, and the shadow cast by that world on my shoulders obliterated all the tiny, wonderful things.

Umm, yes, me too.  Three more babies.  All more worries.

And finally . . .

It hurts to be sifted by sorrow, and I can glimpse no end to the hurt, and yet I find myself grateful. To be sifted by suffering is to find that all your usual worries have settled down into their proper places. Large uncertainties land in your prayers, plans for the future edge your daydreams, and the small anxieties that once loomed so large on your shoulders float down and far away where they look like just what they are: the dust beneath your feet.

Now lift your eyes and look around you.

Here, at last, is room for each given breath. The doorway is wet with tears, yet this is a spacious place and a land of small wonders.

I can’t even.

How is it that another human being can so precisely craft the words that are the exact replica of the life that you are living?  I am frequently gifted with words from others in this way.  God uses writers (and artists and doctors and musicians and ministers and human beings, basically) to speak to others.  All of us are just messengers.

Immediately, Christie’s words are printed in order for me to reread and talk back to, to Christie really, my new writing friend (all authors I love are my writing friends) pen in hand, jotting down my own thoughts to these words.  Authentic “close reading” at it finest.

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She is me and I am her.  Some words are meant to marinate in the brain, to savor, to digest in such a way that the message is so clear, so understood.  These words were meant to teach me.  It was my job to study them. There are big lessons in here.  Not surprisingly, lessons that have been taught to me before, many times before.  However, I am in a new context – as grandma.  The lesson needed to be retaught.

In education, we call this transfer.  I remember years ago, teaching a listening lesson to third graders.  Later on, a student asked me, “Should we listen here, too, like we did this morning?”

How are we to know that our lessons learned are to be applied in many different circumstances?  Why do we forget?

Because we are humans.

Thankfully, we have teachers and writers to keep reteaching us.

It’s okay.

God knows we’ve got this.

It will all be okay.

I need to look for small wonders.

I receive a text from my daughter after Grayson’s one week dr. visit –

“The dr. said we don’t have to worry about jaundice anymore because he’s gained 6 oz. since Friday! So, I can stop the extra formula, too!”

Okay.

I guess they do know.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Medicine of Words

  1. Welcome to the wonderful grandma club. I was in your spot just 1 short year ago, first grandbaby and an avalanche of worries and thinking I was sure I didn’t worry so much with my own. It is all ok. These daughters of ours show us they are incredible mothers and the joy of watching them in this new role surpasses all other worries. Joy, just pure joy awaits you. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to agree with you about our daughters being so capable. They know way more than we did as new young mothers as they are a little older and more mature. And, boy those new daddies sure play a partnership role in parenting, too. It is so fun to watch. 🙂

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  2. Lovely post, Shari. I feel like you were speaking to me. I am the queen of rehearsing disaster. I think that if I don’t worry about it, then it might really happen and, if it does, I’ll be prepared. Woah! Lots of wasted time there. My oldest daughter is getting married at the end of July. I have been thinking about what it means to be a grandmother. I hope you write more SOL’s about this experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Elisa, so much for your kind words and encouragement. I often ponder about my topic choices and wonder if grandmotherhood is a topic that is written about too much, but like parenthood and education, we can surely hear a different spin on things from each writer’s perspective, which is what I enjoy about reading.

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