Letters from Mom

Today while sipping her chocolate milkshake, mom paused to say to me (OUT LOUD):
"Dear Michelle, can you please turn off the answering machine? The beeping is going to drive me batty. Sincerely, your dear mother. X-O-X-0"
Me: "WHAT?"
Mom: "Jack told me it would be funny if I started talking in the form of letters." (which makes sense because when Jack leaves me voicemails they ALWAYS start with "dear michelle" and end with "Sincerely, Jack Stephens ESQUIRE." And who even knows what an esquire is? I think it is a male hooker. Which I hope he is not.)
Me: "Oh, that's funny."
Mom: "Yeah, he also said when Linda comes to visit tomorrow I should wear an eye patch and tell her I'm a pirate. He said I should tell her it helps my mood to have theme days and so the theme of the day is PIRATE. And I should try talking like one. Then everyone will think I've really lost it."
Me: "hee hee, that would be funny."
-Then Mom locks her brakes, stands up & starts walking away-
Me: "Dear Mom, where are you going?"
Mom: "Dear Michelle, see page one." (referencing her first verbal letter, she is going to turn off the answering machine)
-A while later when Mom is getting in bed for a nap-
Mom, yelling at me from her bedroom: "Dear Daughter, you should know by now that you shouldn't leave your invalid mother's room without asking, 'is there anything else you need?'"
Me: "return to sender. no longer at this address."
Mom: "That's not fair!"
Me: "Oh yes it is."
Mom: "Dear Michelle---"
Me, interuppting: "Mom you can't just start talking, that isn't how letters work. I have to open them first."
Mom: "It's a TELE-letter."
Me: "There's no such thing."
Mom: "Yes there is, I just disovered them."



Update on Mom

It has been 9 weeks since my mom had a stroke. Here's a look back...
Phase 1: Terror and Desperation - the day of mom's stroke was horrible. It was a mix of fear, adrenaline, frenzy and begging God to restore my mom. I worried about her having another stroke, losing mental capacity, being permanently paralyzed, and not being able to live at home anymore. I worried about my poor distraught dad and my grieving siblings. I remember the first few hours in the hospital I felt a feeling of exhaustion that I've never felt before- I was so anxious to get home into my bed. I felt like things were moving to fast but if I could be at home in bed I'd be able to process it all. I remember every negative and scary thing the doctors told us that day. I remember dad coming into the waiting room and telling us, "well, the doctor said things don't look very good guys," and then sobbing as we moved into the chapel for privacy. Ash & I went back home to clean up the house so that dad would not see the remnants of that awful morning when he returned home. The path between where she fell from her bed & dragged herself to the phone was a mess. Tables knocked over, the rug jumbled in the bathroom, her pajamas in the family room, footprints in the carpet from the barrage of paramedics who took her away, dad's flannel overshirt flung on the couch where he had discarded it in haste. We cleaned up the kitchen and the blueberry muffins my totally fine and able mom had baked just 12 hours earlier. It was surreal. Being in that house without my mom there made me feel sick and empty.
Phase 2: Euphoria and living by the moment- in the days after the stroke, we lived and died by mom's up to the minute status. We set our sights on the most immediate and minute milestones- when they finally let her sit up a little (instead of lying flat to reduce the risk of another clot), the swallow test that meant she could drink water, her first meeting with the neurologist. We clamored for any info we could get from doctors, and in the "wait and see" world of stroke recovery, this is hard to come by. We slept in shifts at the hospital. We communicated to anxious family by phone, text, blog, and facebook. Since mom was on morphine we had some funny things to share. You can visibly SEE the need for families to rejoice in these humourous reprieves- I am picturing my dad smiling, his cheeks pushing up his glasses, standing in the waiting room telling us something funny she did or said. The crushing, overwhelming feelings of "what will happen next?" become commonplace, always top of mind. They go from panic inducing to nagging and unsettling when - over time- you come to grips with the fact that planning anything is pointless, and there is nothing to be done but live in the moment, take each day as it comes. For me that was a major shift- I thrive on plans and this experience forced me to rely on the promise that God would provide. There was a powerful, emotional sense of euphoria and gratitude at mom's survival. It was a sunny, beautiful week. In the mornings I felt fresh, hopeful, and incredibly astounded at God's mercy and providence. We were knocked to our knees with thankfulness for the friends and family who flocked to us. Pride & independence were stripped away and what was left was probably what should have been there all along: complete exposure and vulnerability before God.
Phase 3: The Hard Work- this is where we find ourselves today. Mom's prognosis is excellent- but recovery is slow and hard work. Her spirits are up and down as is to be expected. She is stubborn, which works for us and against us :) Some days her & I are at each other's throats, but that doesn't alarm either of us. She told me yesterday: I'm in a bitchy mood, so don't take anything I say personally. And I said: ok, goes for me too. And so that is where we are right now- powering through this period of rehab. It is painful for her- she has torn miniscus in her knee and her shoulder's causing her lots of pain. These are old injuries exascerbated by her fall & stroke. The smell of bengay will knock your socks off when you walk in the house. Mom now wears knee high socks to avoid her leg brace from chafing. There are heating pads plugged into every outlet you can find. If her back scratcher is missing it constitutes a household emergency. We try all sorts of tactics to get along with each other: compassion, tough love, yelling, crying (mostly ashley, who adds snot bubbles for emphasis), ignoring, and laughing. I love when mom makes a snarky remark and then tries not to smile or laugh but busts out a cute and crooked smile anyhow.

The other day after a trip to the store (which is a lot of work for all involved) I said to Mom, "We're gonna look back at this time 6 months from now and think, 'WOW- how did we make it through that?!'" And I am sure this is true. We have an idea of how hard this is, but I know that we're going to look back at this and be proud of how we pulled together and through. This is semi-out of context, but my father in law teaches 1 Corinthians 10:13 in a way that is pretty neat. The verse is talking about temptation, but maybe it applies to the trials too. It says that God is faithful- he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will provide a way out so you can stand up under it. The part my father in law stresses is that GOD WILL PROVIDE A WAY SO YOU CAN STAND UP UNDER IT. So God is providing a way through this for us, and while we're in the thick of it, that promise is all we need.

Looking ahead...
Mom's walking is pretty impressive- she is gaining more & more control of her left foot. She is starting to do bathroom & bed transfers on her own with us there just to keep an eye on things. She can go up & down one step with 2 helpers. She likes to munch on almond m&ms in bed at night while she reads her book (propped in a napkin holder for easier page turning). She is bossy as all get out. She had her hair permed 2 days ago for sass. She is able to move her left hand a little bit. In another 5 weeks I'll be returning Mondays to work, and we're going to figure out Dad's back-to-work plan too. Mom has been smart about knowing what she can & should not try on her own, which makes us feel good about leaving her alone in the future. She is probably reading this & rolling her eyes at me big time ;) Mom- I love you so, so much. You don't rememember those first few days like I do, and so you can't fully appreciate how far you've come. I have 100% confidence that you will make a 100% recovery. All the sore muscles & aches & pains you're enduring now are speeding your recovery. You are the very center of this family & we need you for us to function. So keep up the good work- and remember to be kind to your local caregiver :)

Mr. Christopher Ropp

Wow. I did not know Chris was so dorky OR talented! Chris plays WOW. That's the geekiest computer game on the planet. Ash was trying to get chris to do his animal noises he refused until she promised him the new computer mouse he'd been wanting- a THIRTY-TWO BUTTON mouse. In the beginning he is explaining how this mouse will give him an advantage, but the best part is his animal noises. He lives on a farm and has the best animal impressions I have EVER heard! Jo is totally smitten too...

Mom turns 53!

This week my mom turned 53- a special milestone for a woman who has been through a lot in the last 9 weeks! We are so, so thankful she is alive and well- making progress each day. She is still using her wheelchair, but getting around better with a cane. She is working towards a goal of being able to be home alone in the next month or so, and she's starting to work on being more independent. Today we celebrated w/a bbq...

Mom got roseville & pottery from dad, and a pedal thing from us kids. If someone got me a workout machine for my bday I might take offense- but she really wanted this thing.

I guess this is a stephens kid talent, discovered by patty maybe? This is apparently the "black bear face." I'm late in understanding what this is about, all I know is I can make the face so i got to be in the pic. Nice opportunity to see 3 sets of tonsils.

Jack fell asleep at the party- honestly this was how he was sleeping on the couch.

Jo wanted to poke his nose while he slept.

Chris woke him up when he climbed on.


Walk & Roll

Jo saw this and said, "Hey Mom- Why don't you put this on the blog? Rockin' like that's my job!"

Watch Out

She'll get you.


Jessica got this adorable outfit for Jo over a year ago, and Kelly got her the crocs nearly as far back. I remember thinking: my tiny little baby could never get big enough to wear these! And here she is, big enough to wear them after all!

Sour Skittles

We gave Jo sour skittles today. Which may explain why she is STILL awake after being put to bed 1.5 hrs ago...

Naomee turns 13!

Last week Naomee turned 13. That means Dick & Sara are now parenting their 6th teenager! Naomee is such a fun sister- she likes to wake up slow, she is an amazing and talented gymnast, she has a mischievous smile, she used to crash into luke's room every morning to wake him up with monster tackles when she was 1.5, she has sunshine colored hair and she is a sweet, loving, BEAUTIFUL girl! Here she is opening up her new phone in true-to-13 year old cool, collect fashion :)


Survival of the Fittest

It may be an interesting day. Mom's crabby & I'm crabby. I told her only one of us may be alive come 5:00. Then I told her: "...and you know how it turns out for those lame and feeble gazelles on the plains of Africa...."


Baby Yoga

My aunt dug up this picture after reading the post about Chris's crazy flexibility. Apparently as a baby I was more flexible. Not as flexible as chris though....! PS- check out the cloth diaper. I'm pretty sure I was green before green was hip.


Tub Terd Protocol?

For the SECOND time in the last seven days I've had the pleasure of hand fishing poo out of my daughter's bath. GROSS. I'm not sure what protocol is...but I'm pretty sure we didn't follow it...
1. Spot 2 terds.
2. Yell HEELLLPPPP at husband.
3. Open toilet, move towels, set aside magazine for "catching" expedition.
4. In this amount of time baby has poo'd again and Luke is still nowhere to be found.
5. Pick up baby who is chewing on husband's toothbrush (well...that will teach him)
6. rinse her rear in fresh water
7. set her on the floor, husband arrives to see her chewing on a toothbrush that has recently been in a tub of terds
8. remove poo by hand, gag, & flush
9. drain tub
10. husband shows up to show me the new toothbrush he's gotten out of our stockpile (since looking for new dental care device trumps helping wife with child or terd removal)
11. Ask (in a VERY annoyed voice), "Will you get me the pinesol???"
12. Hand scrape skid marks on tub as it continues to drain
13. husband shows up and tucks the pinesol spray bottle into my waistband, which is funny to him and not to me
14. pinesol the heck out of the tub
15. rinse & repeat. Tired of watching, husband has abandoned us to resume his spot on the couch.
16. wash hands with lots and lots of soap.
17. recover baby who is now wet and crawling around in the kitchen, still toting the toothbrush
18. finally confiscate toothbrush & toss. as expected, baby begins to WAIL.
19. re-fill tub & re-insert baby.


Can you put your foot behind your head?

The great thing about growing up is that your siblings get married & bring some new people into the family mix. I got Chris as a new brother & Patty became my sis (she was already my cousin. well, luke's cousin, which should clear up any incestuous suspicions you had). At Jo's birthday party Ashley told us that Chris can put his foot behind his head. Chris is 6 feet tall and not the skinny-yoga-pilates type. We didn't believe him so after much begging & pleading, he showed us. Ash tried too, but she's not as flexible as Chris.
Not to be outdone, Jack gave it his best shot, and this is it.

Luke tried too. This picture sums up my marriage:

The Kiddie Pool!

Yesterday in Wilsonville it was warm enough to break out Rucker's doggy pool, which is now Jo's kiddie pool. Turns out no one notified Rucker about the repurposing of HIS pool, so he just hopped in too.

and cousin Julia, who Jo is mesmerized by (well really, she is pretty mesmerizing!)

Jo stuck it out in the pool until her she shivered. Then my dad got her out & dried her off, and she squirmed off his lap & crawled naked over the patio & lawn to get back in her pool. I was reminded (and impressed) of how we used to swim in the kiddie pool in my granny's back yard. My dear, loving, and accommodating Aunt Laurie used to use buckets of HOT water from inside the house to warm up the temperature of our pool. On my very BEST day I'm still not that nice or loving! Which explains why Jo's lips are blue...



I give Jo Ritz crackers. She has veggies & fruit & all that stuff...but she LOVES ritz. Jack & Patty gave her a snack pack of Ritz in her bday gift...and that was really all she needed to enjoy her birthday.

Tired Baby

We were up late one night at 11 & Jo woke up so we brought her into the living room. She was SO funny- tired & punchy & all over the place. so cute!
Look how contemplative...

Jo is ONE!

Jo's birthday weekend coincided w/Grama Jo's bday weekend! Here are a bzillion pictures of all the fun we had!
The "jo's" - Grama Jo, Sara Jo, Tera Jo, Johonna & Taylor Jo!
From 2010_05_01

Love this one of Taylor

Sad this is so dark :(

The Middlebrooks' got Jo this GIANT toy. It is supposed to be filled w/sand & water...but mommy thinks it is just as fun withOUT sand & water.

Party Dress!

Loves her daddy

Gramps BAKED THIS CAKE FOR JO ALL BY HIMSELF! Really Dad, I am impressed.

A good majority of the aunties!

Loves her grandma!

My Mother "In Law"

The term "in laws" has a negative connotation. Sometimes I say, "we're having dinner at my in laws tonight" and people give me a sympathetic look. Let me say this: I have the BEST in laws on the planet. They are amazing. And there are LOTS of them. When I got married my immediate family QUADRUPLED!

My mother in law recently had a birthday, and she is super low key about her own birthday. I'm ashamed to say we take advantage of that! We went to dinner @ a mexican food restaurant & shared a margarita. I love this woman, and I am a better human being because of her influence. I have never met anyone who LOVES people as much as she does. She has a great sense of humor, she has a hitch in her giddyup when she runs (or dances), she is my go-to for all parenting questions, she physically can't burp, when her hair is in a pony tail it really is as thick as a horse's tail, she loves me as much as her own daughters, she is reading this and thinking, "you ARE my own daughter!", she is great for advice, she mops her floor with her foot on a dishrag, she packs for trips using laundry baskets, she does NOT like to come home to a dirty house, the schedule she maintains makes my eyes cross, she watches my daughter 2 days every week and personally snuggles her to sleep every time she naps, she talks to me about the things my baby does like they are earth shattering and she says, "Do you know how advanced she is?," she has the most picked over fridge I've ever seen, she stops at costco like it's starbucks, when she laughs super hard it is silent and luke calls it her "silent laugh," she puts about 20k miles on her minivan each year, she is an amazing mom & wife. I love her to pieces!!!
Happy Birthday Sara!

Waxing Poetic

long story short: I waxed part of the pelt that is my brother's back. Gross.