DIVINE PLAYDATE

divine playdate

by Beth Ann Morgan

One of the beautiful things about being around children at any stage of life, including times of crisis, is benefiting from their incredible ability to simplify the complex.

While my older children spent the afternoon at a recent playdate, my youngest and I took part in a wonderful conversation in the car. Abby’s smile wasn’t as bright as usual, her happy banter nonexistent as she stared out the window.

I couldn’t figure it out. After all, she was my shopper. My Abby Mae has been known to raise her hands and shout, “Yea! Aldi’s! Shopping!” while passing her favorite store, but today, I wasn’t sure she even noticed the colorful sign.

Then it dawned on me.

“Abby, would you like to have a playdate?” Big nod. “With who?”

“God.” Pause. “At His house.”

We proceeded to have a delightful conversation about how God probably has a big playground complete with slides and swings right inside His house. Her faced shone, and she clapped her hands together in delight, pouring out her beautiful two-year-old fantasies. I asked her what she would do first.

“I want to hold Him.”

I nearly ran the car off the road as tears filled my eyes. In an instant, my mind left behind its clutter of cares like the mother who leaves a stack of unwashed dishes on the counter so that she can run barefoot through the field with her little ones to receive a fistful of hand-picked dandelions and glimpse a rainbow spreading across the sky.

I put the car in park and then turned to look my daughter full in the face.

“Me, too, Abby,” I said. “Me, too.”

HERE THERE AND EVERYWHERE

sleeper

by Beth Ann Morgan

One thing I did not expect to have after our dark season of trauma was post-traumatic stress. It came out of nowhere, manifesting in different ways at the most unexpected of times. Sleeplessness, depression, nightmares . . . it was terrible.

As we attempted to assimilate back into routine, all of the children had bouts of nightmares. Little Abby had an especially difficult week during a rather trying season, and for the life of us, we couldn’t figure it out.

For years, she had been in love with our next-door neighbors’ dog, Biscuit (she dubbed him Bo-Bo before she could pronounce his name). She would run to our back door with every bark and beg to see the handsome white terrier. We obliged her crush as much as we could, even consenting to piping Biscuit’s picture on her birthday cake.

But then early one morning, she woke, screaming. The blood-curdling kind. I raced to her room and did my best to console her but failed to find the source of her outburst. The scene repeated itself the following night and then every naptime and nighttime for an entire week, her screams often waking us several times each night.

We were beyond desperate for a solution, and finally, we got a hint as to what had happened. One afternoon while the kids played in the backyard, Biscuit bounded into his fenced-in area, barking playfully at my little Morgans through the fence. Abby screamed and raced toward the house. I hurried to her with outstretched arms. She bypassed the arms and lunged at my neck, wrapping around me like a boa constrictor, sobbing.

“Sweetheart, it’s Bo-Bo, your friend.”

“No, he’s not my friend!” Big pools welled in her eyes, confirming her devastation.

“Really? What happened?”

“Bo-Bo,” she said between sobs, “eat me . . . and my bed!”

“What?” The pieces fell into place. “Did you have a bad dream about Bo-Bo?” She nodded, tears streaming down her face. “And that’s what’s making it hard to sleep, when you hear him outside?” More nodding.

“That’s a very scary dream! I’m so sorry, Abby. But you know what? We can fix it.” I told her my plan to move her bed into another room on a different side of the house so that she could no longer hear him barking. “Let’s try it!”

We tried it, and even though the incidents improved slightly, fear followed her into her dreams and continued to torment her the following night. I was spent. I knew she was desperate to conquer this fear, but how was I supposed to help her, to reassure her, to give her something tangible to turn to?

I stared at her bookshelf, and my eyes landed on her favorite book, Jesus Is with Me by Debby Anderson. It’s a simple story that can be sung to the tune of Jingle Bells. I picked it up, and she snuggled into me as I began to sing it to her.

My eyes widened as hope filled my heart.

It was perfect.

“Abby, whenever you have a bad dream or start to feel scary thoughts, you know what you can do? Start singing this song and remind yourself that Jesus is with you . . . ‘here and there and everywhere, Jesus is with me!’ He will help you, Abby, if you ask Him.”

The thought soothed her greatly. She tried it and found great relief, so much so that the book didn’t leave her side for several weeks. We had a few bumps, but within days, Abby was back in the saddle, napping and sleeping like a rock star.

We’ve used the book on several occasions, when we are “here and there and everywhere” as the song goes, so that no matter what’s going on in Abby’s life, she knows she doesn’t have to face her fear alone. I even overheard her start singing the song to her brother, John, when he started talking about Biscuit shortly after the whole ordeal.

John smiled at her. “That’s right, Abby. Jesus is with you.”

She chuckled. “I know!”

 

PAJAMA PICKOUT

pajamas

by Beth Ann Morgan

We all need something to look forward to, especially in the darkest of times. About four years ago when our son, John, clung to life in the hospital, one simple request back on the home front ended up creating some of my daughter, Hannah’s, happiest memories during the most tragic times of her life.

I spent Saturdays at home during John’s extended stay, so I made a big deal about seeing Hannah and getting to spend time with her. On such a night, I’d battled three extra hours of traffic and returned from the hospital much later than I’d wanted to, totally and utterly exhausted.

She threw open the door with bells on. I greeted her royally and then grabbed my duffel bag.

“Come on, Sweetheart. Let’s get ready for bed. You have a big soccer game early in the morning.”

She bounded up the steps after me. We chatted for a minute while I unpacked my things.

“Hannah, would you please hand me some pajamas?”

“Sure, Mommy.” She leapt up and yanked open the drawer. “Which ones did you say?” Before I could answer, I saw her scoop out a top, then a nightgown, then another. “Wow! You have so many pretty and fun pajamas to wear.”

“Would you like to pick out the ones I wear tonight?”

Sharp gasp. “Really?” Her hand flew to her chest, then back to the clothes. “I would love to, Mommy!” She dug around and pulled out every item of clothing, finally deciding on a turquoise and white matching capris set. “This one!” she shouted.

It was one of the best things I ever did. Without realizing it, I had given her something fun and pretty to do but more importantly control. I saw in that moment how much that choice meant to her and made a decision of my own.

“Tell you what, Hannah, how about you pick out my jammies every Saturday night?”

“Really? You mean it, Mommy?” She clasped her hands together. “Yes, yes! I will! Oh, thank you, Mommy. I love you.”

In months to come, she looked forward to Saturday nights more than ever. She made plans about which pajamas she would pick and frown if I wore on Friday the pajamas she planned to pick on Saturday.

“Take them off!” No rest and no peace until they were back in my drawer.

It wasn’t always convenient, but I didn’t mind. She needed it, depended on it, perhaps too much, but in some way, I believe it helped her immensely.

Something simple yet fun, something to look forward to. May God grant us all some small thing such as pajama picking in the midst of every storm.

TABLE TIME

dinner in front of tv

by Beth Ann Morgan

Have you ever gone through a period of time with an empty seat at the table? If the vacancy continues indefinitely, the pain of a loved one’s absence can turn mealtime into a dreaded affair.

A little switcheroo might be the best thing on the menu.

While Abigail spent many weeks in the hospital over the course of her first 18 months of life, our family developed a coverage system so that either Chris or I would be with Abigail all of the time. The other parent stayed local with the other two.

We hated it. Every minute of it. The not-having-everyone-together in the same physical location while a Morgan literally teetered on the brink of death day after day after day was horrible.

So, a few weeks into all of this, I realized I dreaded coming home on the weekends. I was thrilled to see Hannah and John, of course, but I mentally shut down at suppertime. Unless a kind soul had delivered a meal on Friday night, I served my kids chicken nuggets, corn, and applesauce. For weeks.

What kind of pediatric dietitian does that?

One that’s hurting. My husband’s empty spot at the table served as a constant reminder of Abby’s fragile state, and I had a very hard time eating at all during those days. So did my kids.

Guess what we did? A little switcheroo. We sometimes ate at the coffee table or the dining room table so that the loss wasn’t as obvious. I’m not a huge fan of eating in front of the TV, but some days, assembling a chicken nugget platter and popping in a DVD was all I could muster.

Sometimes you do what you’ve got to do. And “changing up” your table time might make a big, much-needed difference. For everbody.

 

LITTLE QUESTIONS

DRIVE

by Beth Ann Morgan

Have you ever had one of those moments after you’ve felt tremendous healing and renewed strength post-crisis when all of a sudden, out of the blue one simple question sucks the wind right out of your sail?

I had one of those yesterday.

The kids and I were chatting in the car about how God had used John’s amazing doctors to “fix” his gastroschisis, a birth defect in which his intestines formed outside of his body. Thankfully, he no longer takes medicine, and his gastroenterologist discharged John from their service roughly 18 months ago.

Then, we talked about Abby’s wonderful physicians and how they’d helped her. Such conversation is normal for us and evoked no negative emotions, only sheer thankfulness.

Not until Abby asked her question.

“But, Mommy, did they fix me?”

When did she get so old? How is it that a two-year-old is asking such a question, a question that I don’t want to answer? The answer will change her life forever. As a parent, I want to protect her, to shield her from the knowledge that her life is fragile, more than most, and that no, she is not “fixed” – and may never be.

“Sweetheart, everybody’s different. You’re doing great today, but you need to keep going to your heart doctor because God has given you a special heart to keep forever. The doctors fixed it really well, but they want to keep making sure it stays fixed. Does that sound like a good plan?”

Big nod. Big smile.

One little question took my heart down a million paths like the tour guide who grabs your arm and propels you toward the edge of the Grand Canyon while you thought you were at the souvenir shop buying a t-shirt. I expect emotional detours when I’m writing, not when I’m driving along, having happy conversation with my children on our way to the playground.

These unexpected trips have become less frequent as time goes by, but they still come out of nowhere, blindsiding me, rocking my world for a time. The questions, or shall I say the answers, will not get easier the older Abby gets, but with each passing day, our family is learning more about what it means to live full of hope despite challenges that may lurk ahead.

We choose to press on, focusing not on the eventual outcome but rather on, by God’s grace, doing today together the best we can, grateful for the gift of one more day to encourage other families while enjoying and loving ours to the max.

And for those seasons when the tough questions come?

God will be there. Just as He was in the car with us yesterday when the question came, He will be there, possibly with an answer but more importantly with Himself.

I’m forever grateful.

 

BEAN BINS

sensory play beans

by Beth Ann Morgan

Crisis of any kind challenges even the bravest to handle it well, but without wisdom gleaned from several years of life experience, children dealing with crisis tend to resort either to retreating in or acting out.

Ours acted out. In an all-or-nothing kind of way, a way that was totally out of my league.

I remember the first time Lisa Hayslip, one of our Early Intervention (EI) therapists, came to our house with a boot-box size bin filled with hard, dry beans. After sitting on our family room floor, she popped off the top. Hannah gasped with delight as Lisa plunged her hand deep into the bin, wiggling her fingers all around.

Without hesitation, Hannah followed suit and played in the wonderful tub of beans, enjoying the silky smoothness and pleasant weight covering her hands. I hadn’t seen her smile like this for weeks, yet here she was, digging around for plastic teddy bears like a mole tunneling toward a big juicy worm. She scooped and dumped, slow and fast, swooshing and splashing into the tub of dark red bliss.

For a full thirty minutes.

As the session came to a close, Lisa closed up her box. Hannah’s pretty face fell. Her thirty minutes of peace and purpose dissolved like a mountain of snow on the Fourth of July.

My heart broke. That parental, “I love you so much and want to obliterate the big horrible beast that’s causing you so much pain, but if I can’t, I’m going to do everything in my power to help you through it” feeling rushed through me as we waved goodbye to Lisa.

My mind crumpled up today’s “To Do” list and tossed it into the trashcan. I picked up my keys with a smile.

“Want to hit the Dollar Tree, Sweetheart?”

THE VERY CRANKY BEAR

the very cranky bear

by Beth Ann Morgan

The timeless power of a good story continues to blow me away. Stories have the unique ability to make people relate, feel emotion, and motivate change. If you’re looking for a great parenting resource about how to deal with agitated people, I recommend a simple story titled “The Very Cranky Bear” by Nick Bland.

Even though it sells in the children’s market, I recommend it for every person on the planet. Without giving too much away, the story is about how four friends attempt to cheer up a very cranky bear. Each one tries in their own way, but one of the friends bests them all because she listens to the bear’s need without being turned off by his outward behavior.

This book changed the course of our parenting and gave us a tool that our children could not only understand but also use to better relate to each other when one of us is not at the top of our game.

Shilpa Barrantes, another Early Intervention therapist that helped our family navigate through crisis, brought this book to a session she had with our daughter, Hannah, during a tumultuous time in her two-year-old life. She loved the story and immediately began rattling off times when different members of our family had been cranky bears.

When my husband came home from work later that day, Hannah could hardly wait to tell him about the book. She recounted the tale to him as best she could and chattered happily about the ending. Her enthusiasm moved him, for she’d not responded to something like this in a long time.

He glanced sideways at me and whispered, “Buy the book.”

It arrived within the week, and we enjoyed reading it over and over again. My husband and I often chuckle when we use the phrase “very cranky bear” with each other when anyone in our family, even an adult, becomes a little grouchy. We then try to encourage each other to be “plain but thoughtful sheep.”

Complete with cute little “baa,” of course.