A semi-normal life

I’m sprawled across the day bed in the lounge room at my parents-in-law’s house. The bed is from the palliative care team, and the idea is for my father-in-law to be in it, close to the rest of the household. But he didn’t like it here. So he’s in his bed, the waterbed he and my mother-in-law have had for years and years. It’s comfortable and familiar, I guess, and there’s privacy. He is sleeping or at least resting, which is pretty much his whole life now. He hasn’t left the bedroom and ensuite for nearly two weeks.

It’s a funny kind of time. Waiting, but still living a semi-normal life. There are plenty of days when we wake up, get ready, go to work, come home, make dinner, go to bed. Then there are the mornings we’re packing clothes into bags so one or both of us can spend the night here. Some books and the laptop and some paperwork too, because we might be here all weekend. Meanwhile, at home, our housemate is alone, usually resting in the midst of her illness, and the chores just aren’t important enough right now. Hopefully we’ll get time to stock up on food for the week of work. If we can eat right most of the time, we’ll have enough health and energy to get by.

We haven’t dropped everything to be here every day, but at some point soon I expect we will. So it’s hard to make plans. All plans are tentative, knowing a family emergency could be just around the corner. But we still make them – dinner with my sister, chill out with a friend, health appointments.

It feels like I’m not doing very much. I’m not, really, when I’m here. I mean, right now it’s Saturday afternoon and the most I’ve done is go to acupuncture, shower and feed myself. If I were home there would be laundry hung on the line and another load in the machine and I’d be juggling half a dozen things in the kitchen and hoping someone else will do the dishes. I’d be noticing the clutter and the floors needing a vacuum and wondering when we’ll ever get that light fitting fixed.

But here, the household seems to be humming along with the attention of my mother-in-law, who is now home full-time as a carer, and my brother-in-law. Short of helping with meals and dishes, it’s just about being here. I think that matters.

Bulbs in glasses

Next to the day bed, my mother-in-law is growing daffodil bulbs in glasses, an idea she got from Pinterest.

It can be hard to engage deeply right now. With everything that’s going on, and a job that requires me to interact with risk and trauma in my clients’ lives, I don’t have much left to offer anyone else. Most of my relationships are one-way right now, with me on the receiving end of a whole lot of love and concern and prayer, and barely able to hear how anyone is going in return.

With my hands and body less occupied with all the things I normally do, I spend a lot of time in my mind. And my mind is often on the various entertainments and distractions contained in my phone. The Emma Approved webseries is my current favourite, with the story reaching its climax over the last few weeks, and the fandom large and creative enough to provide plenty of distraction in the interim, tweets and GIFs and discussions galore. It’s fun to immerse myself in the world of a story I know and love so well. Fun, familiar, and fiction. That’s one of my weaknesses as an INFJ, that I am drawn to superficiality and meaningless indulgences in times of stress.

But not all indulgences are meaningless, I think. I have a tendency to feel guilty about anything that’s not essential, whether because of expense or environmental impact or social responsibility or whatever. In some circumstances, though, indulgence is just good self-care, for being a social worker as well as a daughter-in-law to a dying man. I find myself craving sensations, things that make me more present in my body. Today it’s been the warmth of sunshine; stretching my legs and feeling my blood pumping with a walk; chewing on fresh spelt sourdough bread; freshly washed hair, wearing comfy clothes, and feeling attractive.

It feels like some kind of equilibrium at work. Like I’ve reached the end of thinking, planning, and doing, and all that’s left is being. There’s no guilt in that, because it’s not thoughtlessness that’s brought me here; no, I’ve intentionally chosen to have a quiet, simple life in this time of waiting and clinging to loved ones. Somehow, without meaning to, I’ve transcended the burdens of my personality and freed myself up for the simple pleasures, the everyday moments that are not everything but in so many ways make up a life worth living.

Everything you wanted to know

Well, maybe not everything you wanted to know. More like, Some things you might have wanted to know, assuming that you’ve read some of my previous posts and have spent a fraction of time wondering what’s happening in assorted areas of my life. But that doesn’t fit into a title so neatly.

Health

Yep, we’re still trying to get pregnant, still on the month-to-month roller coaster of hope and disappointment and starting again. Our health has improved in lots of ways and the signs are good – all that’s required is the BFP on a HPT. (Feel free to look that up.)

We’re still trying to eat well. Lots of organic food and home-cooked meals. Like this.

Home cooking

I pulled back on the coconut rice for breakfast because I wanted to quit sugar, and needed to find an alternative breakfast that was still packed with nutrition. I ended up with vegetable pancakes (latkes) topped with yoghurt and rocket. So yum, but more fiddly, so I’ve also been having easier meals like porridge and some homemade gluten-free baked goods like Paleo Inside-Out Bread.

On the topic of quitting sugar, I generally followed Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar 8-week program, except I had already been doing the first two weeks (cutting back on sugar without quitting completely) FOREVER so I went straight to Weeks 3-6. This week I hit one month off all sugar, so I celebrated by eating half a pear and adding the optional tablespoon of rice malt syrup to Leftover Veggie Bread, and a few days later I had the most divine pear pudding with ice cream and cream.

It’s amazing how many people get angry and defensive at the mention of quitting sugar. My decision to avoid sugar is not intended as condemnation of anyone else’s food choices. And I can understand the concern about not eating fruit (I supplemented with lots of vegetables for fibre and nutrients). But this is only temporary, and the point is to recalibrate my tastes so that I can eat fruit again without craving and devouring every other sugary thing under the sun.

Family

My father-in-law’s health is declining. We don’t know how much time we have left with him, but it’s not a lot. It’s really hard for all of us. Joel and I are trying to spend more time at his parents’ house. Prayers appreciated.

Wedding day hug

Congratulatory hug from my father-in-law on my wedding day

House

We’re in our new house! It’s lovely. We also got a housemate! Her name is Anne and she’s been a friend of ours for a number of years. I love living with Anne. (And with Joel too, I guess.) She has been struggling with her health, so prayers appreciated for her too.

Anne and me in 2009

Anne and me in 2009. As you can see, her name is Anne, not Corrie – der!

We’ve been hosting people for dinner, for a housewarming party, for my birthday, for Joel’s birthday, and for weekend stays. I love that we can do that so much more easily now.

The joys of home ownership: For nearly two months our plumbing was problematic. It was quite a saga to get it fixed: first because the bamboo in our yard needed to be chopped down and poisoned to access the mains pipe and diagnose the problem, and then because we had to get multiple quotes and the owner of the house next door to agree to pay his half. I don’t want to go into the unpleasant details, but we finally got it fixed. No problems since then! And we’ve got this lovely swampy mud in our backyard, yay.

The bamboo and the plumbing

What I’m into

I loved reading: Eat Pray Love (Gilbert), Dibs In Search of Self (Axline), The Language of Flowers (Diffenbaugh), The Bride Stripped Bare (Anonymous), Can You Keep a Secret? (Kinsella), Carry On Warrior (Melton), Animal Vegetable Miracle (Kingsolver), Campaign Ruby (Rudd).

I loved watching: Frozen, Bad Neighbors, New Girl (season 2), Emma Approved, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy.

I’m also loving: Libraries, chick lit, cooking, gardening, playing Ticket To Ride and Agricola.

Pot plants

Gardening in pots

When am I going to write more about …

The love story behind our piano? Or my one word for 2014? Or how I’m still finding what works?

I don’t know. But all of that simmers away inside me, and at some point, something may emerge.

Confessions of a child sponsor

I have a confession to make: child sponsorship makes me feel guilty.

Not the ads and letters and emails that tug at my heartstrings to encourage me to sponsor a child (or another child) in the first place. I mean, they sure do work, but I’m really happy with my decision to sponsor a few children from a few different organisations. I know how valuable it is and how much of a difference it can make, not just to one child, but to their whole community for many years to come. And I care about that.

It’s the guilt of not writing to my sponsor children.

I’ve read a lot about how much the letter writing means to sponsored children. It’s a really big deal to them. They love letters, they cherish letters, they share them with their friends and family and put them on their walls as decoration. They point to their sponsors as major influences in their lives. A big part of the value of child sponsorship comes from the hope the children have for their futures – it’s one of the crucial factors that separates sponsored children, who go on to succeed in many areas of life, from other children and even siblings who have benefited from the flow-on effects of the development program. So the encouragement of sponsors goes a long way to nurturing that hope. It makes them feel special.

Meanwhile, the letters I receive get put in a pile of “things to do”, often unopened and unread.

One of my sponsor children writes to me a lot. She cannot say enough how grateful she is for my sponsorship and how much joy she gets from writing to me and receiving my letters. One of her recent letters said she is “trying to brake your moments of silence” – I hadn’t written back for a while.

Every now and then I get a surge of enthusiasm for writing to my sponsored children. Tonight I hopped on the website and wrote a letter to each child online, attaching recent family pictures, updating them on my situation, asking them questions.

I think there are several factors at play in my lack of letter writing routine:

  • The length between when letters are written and are received makes an ongoing conversation difficult. Today’s letter asked about my sister’s health – my sister fell ill with appendicitis at the end of last year, but it took a few months for my letter about it to get to my sponsored child and hers to get back to me.
  • There are a lot of topics I’ve been advised to not talk about (depending on which organisation I’m going through) – religion and politics can be problematic, but so can mention of houses and possessions because they invite comparison. Should I have told them that Joel and I bought a house?
  • Space is limited (whether online or on paper), and a lot of the space goes to greetings, responding to questions, and providing updates – it’s hard to get into a flow. I find myself writing short paragraphs and leaving out a lot of detail, which I would gladly share if I were corresponding with a friend in long emails.
  • I got a bit upset a few months ago when my sponsored child wrote about attending a conference where she learned that people who compose “worldly music” are “real devil worshippers”. While I am happy for the children to receive a Christian education (part of the reason I sponsor through Christian organisations), in that case I was concerned that it might be too judgey-judgey, which could influence the kids to be close-minded and unkind to the people they have been taught to fear.

I feel like this should be something I’m good at – my strengths lie in building one-on-one relationships over time, so I wish I could be better at writing to my sponsored children. But I’m not.

And it makes me feel guilty. In a good way, though – if guilt is the prickling of the conscience, inviting us to do better or make amends, then it has worked today. My letters are done for now.