30 April 2008

Volunteering my Life Away

I've been told on many occasions that I volunteer for too much. I do too much for too many people, and it's no wonder that I don't have time to do everything that I want to do. I should take better care of myself. I should learn how to say no. I should organize my time better. I should do less.... It seems like the majority of my time is spent in "volunteer" work for one thing or another.

The dictionary defines "volunteering" as:
"1. To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will.
2. To do charitable or helpful work without pay."
Well, I definitely do my share of charitable or helpful work without pay. But, how often do I really have the luxury or performing that service of my own free will? I feel like I'm "voluntold" much more than I "volunteer" to do things!

Don't get me wrong. I like to help out when I can. I feel like I should give back whenever possible. Besides, usually, I'm "volunteering" for something in which my kids are involved. I know that it is important to help out and to be involved in my kids' activities. That's what being a parent is about. It's just that sometimes I feel like I'm being taken advantage of. Then, I feel guilty for not being more cheerful in my service and I end up killing myself, bending over backward to fulfill commitments that I didn't even necessarily agree to.

Last night, for instance, I was up until 2:30 in the morning working on stamping gift bags for the preschool. I've done these gift bags every year since my son was in preschool 6 years ago. One of those years, I didn't even have a child in the preschool! When it started out, the preschool would purchase the gift bags through me from Stampin' Up! I would sell the bags to them at my cost, so I didn't make any money from it, but it did help me to make my quarterly sales quota, so I didn't mind putting in the extra work. Besides, it was only for two classes back then - I think it was about 30 or 35 bags. The next year, they asked me to do the bags again for them. I didn't have any kids in preschool that year, but it was on the same arrangement, so I figured what the heck? So I agreed to stamp the bags again, even though the number needed had gone up to about 45 or 50 . Each year, the number of bags that I put together has grown. That was no big deal, because it meant a bigger order for me... Until last year, when they decided that they could get the bags just a bit cheaper from another source. Still, I was expected to stamp the bags. I did, of course, because my daughter was in the preschool and I felt like I should help. This year, however, I was a bit irritated when the bags were brought to me (a friend works as an aide at the preschool, and the preschool director asked her to bring the bags to my house for me) - and no one even asked if I could stamp them this year! I'm sure I would have said yes, but even so, it would have been nice to have some say in the matter!

This isn't the first time that a task has been dumped in my lap without anyone bothering to consult me about it. I can' t even begin to count the number of times when I have been told at the last moment that I have been tasked to do something and people are counting on me to get it done.... Usually, I rise to the task and I do manage to accomplish whatever it is that needs to be done, but sometimes, it takes all that I have to do it - and often, I wind up pushing aside many of the things that I need or want to do for myself in order to take care of the things that other people have volunteered me to do. So why is it that I feel so compelled to take care of everything, even when I didn't have any advance notice or when I wasn't even consulted on the matter? I don't know, really. I just seem to have the type of personality where I feel like I should be taking care of everyone around me - like a big ol' mother hen.

I seem to push myself harder and work longer and more on those surprise volunteer efforts. Why do I do such things? No one would really blame me if I said no, would they? If I said that I just can't do it on such short notice... Take last night, for instance. When Aimee showed up and said that she had brought me the bags to stamp, she asked where I wanted her to put them. My first reaction was to tell her to dump them into the nearest trash can - and I blurted it out. Of course, she was pretty shocked, but when I backed up and explained my frustration, she understood completely. She even offered to come help me with the bags if I wanted. So then, I felt incredibly guilty for being so whiny about the "request" for help. I know that they have just gotten so used to having me stamp the bags every year that they probably didn't even think about asking me if I could do it again....

Anyway, I just sometimes get to feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated. Sometimes, I feel like I just can't carry the weight any more, and I just want to sit down and stop working. Then, I feel guilty for indulging in a pity party and I push myself harder than I really have strength to try to be all and do all for everyone. I guess I just need to find a balance....

So I guess that is why I'm grateful today. There is a volunteer appreciation dessert at the school this afternoon, and I was invited to come. Really, I don't do the things that I do in order to get praise, but it's nice to be recognized every now and again. I wasn't sure if I would be able to go to this today, because I couldn't find a babysitter for the kids. I called every friend I have (except for those who live too far away or those who work during the day), and I couldn't find anyone who could babysit for me. Finally, I called another friend from church. I knew that she would be invited to this volunteer appreciation event, so I thought I'd call to ask her what she was going to do with her kids. (I figured that if she was going to take hers along, maybe it would be okay to take mine as well.) It turns out that she had forgotten about it, and she wasn't planning to go - so she offered to watch my children for me!!! I'm so excited!

I know that it's just a little thing, but today, I just really need to have someone say thank you, you know?

22 April 2008

My Knees Hurt!

I've been reflecting a lot in the past few days about how lucky I am for my health and strength. It wasn't long ago when I couldn't even stand up or walk without someone to help me, let alone drive or climb stairs or any of the other little things that we take for granted each day!

A dear friend of ours who was injured in Iraq fell down and hurt himself last Monday because he was trying to do more than he is capable of doing right now. This, understandably, was somewhat frustrating for many of those who know him. If he could just accept his own limitations, things like this wouldn't happen. I get that, I really do. I understand how difficult and frustrating it is to see someone you love hurting simply because they are too stubborn to admit that they need help.

At the same time, I really empathize with this friend. What the others don't and really can't understand is how absolutely frustrating it is to suddenly be unable to do so many of the things that were second nature to you before. It eats away at you and makes you feel like you aren't quite a person anymore, somehow. It hurts, too, when people you know and love start looking at the injury and noticing the disability more than they see and notice you. It makes you want to push harder than you know you should, just to get some semblance of normalcy back in your life. You want to prove to everyone else that you really are still the same person you always were, and so you try to act like you always did. Sometimes, that brings painful (or just plain embarrassing) consequences!

I remember when I was at Relief Society Camp with some of the ladies from our ward here. We were out on the "lake" (more like a large pond, really) on a raft, just enjoying the day. Well, one of my friends suggested trading the raft for one of the paddle boats. I agreed to go with her, so the other ladies on the raft paddled us over close to the shore so that we could wade out and over to the paddle boats. I got off of the raft and started to walk to the shore. The water came up almost to my knees, so I was walking very carefully so that I wouldn't get my rolled-up jeans wet. (I hadn't thought about going out on the lake, so I hadn't brought any extra clothing with me. It was just an overnight campout, and I planned to wear the same clothes home in the morning and shower before getting dressed for real.) Anyway, I took about 2 steps before disaster struck. I thought that my right foot (the one that I can't feel anymore) was on the ground, and I lifted up my left foot to take a step forward. My right foot had not yet hit the bottom of the pond, however. So when I lifted up my other foot, I didn't have a leg to stand on, so to speak! I went down, completely under the water!! Of course, I found my footing and I was up again quickly - the whole episode took probably less than 30 seconds from the time I left the raft - and I played it off as just a silly little thing. But I have to admit that it was quite frustrating and embarrassing and even pretty scary.

I wasn't scared that I would drown or anything like that. I'm a very good swimmer with good, strong swimming arms, and like I said before, the "lake" was not deep at all. When I was standing, it only came up to my knees, after all! No, the scary part had nothing to do with the water. The thing that scared me was the thought that I may never be able to do all of the things that I used to do without giving it a second thought - all of those simple, little tasks that we do every day... and some of them aren't so simple anymore.

I am so grateful this week as I ponder on these things that I am regaining so much of my strength and ability. I still don't have full feeling in my right leg or left hand, and to tell the truth, if I were to get full feeling back now, it would probably throw me off just as much as losing the feeling disoriented me in the first place. I've gotten so used to compensating that I don't know what I would do if I could feel what I'm doing, you know?

Still, I sometimes forget that I have limitations. Sometimes, I still injure or embarrass myself because I forget to think about what I can't do easily anymore. This afternoon, for instance.

The kids and I went to the Post Office on base to send a small package to Phil. When we were finished, we were walking back out to the car, on our way to the Commissary to buy groceries. I looked over at one of the kids beside me to say something, and I forgot to think about the fact that the sidewalk slopes slightly down from the door of the Post Office to the parking lot. It's not a steep incline, really barely noticeable at all, but it isn't completely smooth, flat and level either. Suddenly, somehow, I lost my balance. I'm guessing that the high-heeled boots I was wearing just made the incline a tiny bit more pronounced to my senses, and it was too much for me. Without warning, without even really taking a step, I suddenly pitched forward and went down. I twisted my ankle and landed hard on my knees. I tore my new jeans (guess I'll be going shopping again sooner than I thought) and severely injured my pride. Of course, all of the kids came running to see what had happened. That wasn't too bad, because I could simply explain to them that mommy lost her balance again, but it was okay now. Unfortunately, we weren't the only people in the parking lot. A gal who had been just getting into her car witnessed the whole thing and came over to see if I was going to be okay. I really felt silly, especially since I really didn't have an explanation for what happened!

We made it through the Commissary and home again without further incident, although I almost went down again when Katie took hold of my hand in the Commissary parking lot and pulled on it gently to try to get my attention! I think that the worst part of the whole thing was that, in the fall, I managed to break the heels on both of my boots, so now my favorite boots are history!

But, you know, it could have been so much worse. I could have hit my head rather than my knees when I fell. Or I could have broken a bone. (It wouldn't have been the first time that a dizzy fall has given me a broken bone.) I could have been incapacitated in some way and left my kids with no one to take care of them... Pride is easily mended, and I will soon forget (at least, mostly) this incident. In the meanwhile, I will try to remember to be grateful that incidents such as this one are growing to be less and less frequent as I grow stronger. And if nothing else, this whole situation gives me a little inkling of understanding for a dear friend who is struggling to find a way to be the man he has always been, even as he comes to accept the fact that he may never be able to do all that he has always done.

20 April 2008

My Little Guardian Angel

Lately, I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping. As most of you know, that isn't an unusual state for me. I never sleep very well, and it seems like the earlier I go to bed, the more tired I am in the morning. The sleep study I had done in mid-February only showed that I don't have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. (I wasn't surprised by that, as Phil tells me that I almost never snore, and snoring is one of the main symptoms of Obstructive Sleep Apnea.) Anyway, I was disappointed by the results of the sleep study, as I was hoping that they would find something that could be easily remedied and I would be able to sleep. What a sharp disappointment to find that once again, the doctor's couldn't figure out what is causing my symptoms! Several people had suggested to me that my sleeping problems must be the result of my husband's absence - it must be depression, since I miss him so much....

Well, I grabbed hold of that thought with much hope (never mind the fact that I haven't slept well in at least 2 years - long before Phil got his orders to Korea) and told myself that I would sleep really well while we were in Korea visiting him. I'm sure you can imagine the disappointment I felt when I realized that I was not sleeping any longer or better there than I do here. The only difference was that I managed to get myself to bed much earlier each night while we were there than I ever do here. Still, I woke up several times during the night, just as I do here, and I was just as tired each morning.

I've been telling myself that the reason I followed an earlier bedtime schedule in Korea was because I forgot to bring any of my projects with me and I didn't have any reason to stay up. So when I realized this week that I've been staying up until the wee hours of the morning again, I determined to cut down on my projects and get myself to bed at an earlier hour. I know that, even though I'm still tired in the morning no matter when I go to bed, it probably is better over all to go to bed at 10:00 rather than 2:00 or 3:00. Even though I don't notice a difference in the level of my fatigue, there probably is a difference....

So yesterday, I made a point to get everything I needed to do finished by 9:00pm. I was so proud of myself! I was going to get to bed early and start taking care of myself better....

Instead, I found myself creating little busywork tasks to accomplish before bed, and before you know it, it was nearly 2:30am, and I was still up and about. That's when I suddenly realized that there truly was a difference when I was in Korea with my sleeping. It's not that I went to bed because I didn't have anything to do (I could easily have stayed up to catch up on our family blog), but because I wasn't afraid of not waking up. Last January, when I was talking to Dr. Boggan (my neurosurgeon) about the breathing trouble I've been having and how it sometimes catches me off guard and I realize that I am not breathing, how I have to sometimes consciously think about breathing or else I just stop... Anyway, Dr. Boggan reassured me by saying, "Don't worry too much about it. As long as you are awake, you will breathe." It hadn't really occurred to me before that comment, but if I have episodes when my breathing stops while I'm awake, it's likely that it occurs sometimes while I'm asleep. So what if one of these times, I don't catch myself and remind myself to breathe?

Anyway, last night, as I realized that I was avoiding going to bed, it suddenly occurred to me that the big difference between here and Korea was that I knew that if something happened to me while I was sleeping there, Phil would probably notice, and he could wake me up and get me to breathe again. Here, I don't have anyone next to me while I'm sleeping, and there's no guarantee that I would catch myself. I realized that, even though that fear is not the cause of my sleeping troubles (the fear came as a result of the sleeping troubles), it is amplifying them because now, I am afraid to even go to bed at all! It's less terrifying to simply take small naps here and there throughout the day, never getting into sleep deep enough to sleep through a breathing episode.

I can't just not sleep, though. Especially with Phil gone, I have to take care of myself so that there will be someone to take care of the house and the kids. So I went to bed. Still, I could not drift off to sleep. I kept thinking of other little things that I could do first. I felt like crying! Instead, I prayed for help and guidance with this problem. I prayed for peace and especially for the ability to sleep this night.

As soon as I said "amen" there was a knock at my bedroom door. I groaned. It just figured that, as soon as I prayed for help sleeping, one of the kids would need me and prevent that sleep anyway! I started to get up to go check on whoever it was. (I try not to let the kids come sleep in my bed at night, because I sleep so restlessly that having a small child in the bed often keeps me awake even more than usual.) Then, a thought entered my mind: Why not just have the child come in to talk to me? Then, I could send her (or him) back to bed, and I wouldn't have to get up. So I did. It turns out that it was Becky. She said that she had a bad dream, but when I asked her about it, she couldn't remember anything. She just needed a hug and to cuddle.

That's when it finally occurred to me: I had just finished pouring out my heart to my Heavenly Father, pleading with Him for a way to sleep, even though I was terrified of sleeping alone. I asked for comfort and a way to feel that I wasn't alone. That was precisely when my sweet little angel Becky had come to my room with a vague fear that could only be comforted by a hug from Mom. Wasn't this, in fact, an answer to my prayer? I broke my rule and made room for her next to me on the bed. She settled in and fell asleep immediately. I did too, and the 4 hours that I got last night were more refreshing than any sleep I've had in quite a while. I think I slept straight through the entire 4 hours!

It was amazing, yet it wasn't a first. Becky seems to be particularly in tune with the Spirit where my health is concerned. Maybe that's because she was only a month old when my brain tumor was discovered, and she has pretty much grown up in the doctor's office with me. Or maybe we just have a very special bond. Who knows for sure? But it always seems to be Becky who comes running to check on me just as I'm experiencing some difficult trial related to my health.

For instance, the last time Phil was in Korea, I decided to mow the lawn one day. The kids were pretty small back then (Ben was 6, Emily 4, Becky 2 and Katie not quite 1), and I was reluctant to leave them inside unattended while I was mowing, but I didn't want them playing around the lawn mower either. My neighbor, Kate, who lived just a couple of doors down, came to my rescue and offered to let my kids come play in her yard with her kids until I was finished and came to get them. Kate tells me that about 15 or 20 minutes after she brought the kids to her house, Becky announced that she needed to go home to check on Mommy. Kate told her no, she needed to stay out of Mommy's way, and Mommy would come get her when she was done. Becky was insistent, but Kate was unbendable on this one. Then, one of Kate's children needed something, and Becky snuck off while Kate's attention was diverted to come back down the street to our house.

Meanwhile, I had passed out just as I finished mowing the lawn. I remember that I had bent down to empty the bag on the mower and then I was on the ground. I was in and out of consciousness, and I remember staring at the grass under my face and thinking "I need to get up, this isn't good" but I couldn't fully pull myself out of it. Suddenly, I felt a little hand, gently shaking my shoulder, and I heard a little voice say, "Mommy, wake up." I looked up and saw Becky's concerned face, and that was enough to bring me back. I got up and looked around, but I didn't see anyone. I assumed that I must have imagined it, but I was so grateful for the prodding, even an imaginary one, that finally brought me out of it. I put the lawn mower away and went to get the kids.

When I told my story to Kate, she assured me that I hadn't imagined Becky's presence. About 5 minutes earlier, Becky had, in fact, come back to our yard while Kate had been distracted. She was only gone for a couple of minutes before she had come running back, so Kate hadn't had time to come looking for her. She must have come to wake me up and then run back before I woke fully and got up. Still, there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have been able to wake myself up without her help. And no one else would have come to check on me for quite a while, since the agreement was that I would come get the kids when I was finished.

There have been other little times that Becky has come to check on me just when I need someone. She always seems to know before anyone else. I am so grateful! And I guess I don't need to fear. If she is that in tune with the Spirit, if she could know to come and wake me up when she was down the street, she could feel the prompting to come wake me up when she is in a bedroom across the hall. Just because Phil isn't here doesn't mean I am alone at night. My Heavenly Father is watching over me, and my sweet little guardian angel is intently listening to the whisperings of the Spirit. I truly am blessed.