Sometimes our Family Home Evenings (which I'll refer to hereafter as "FHE") are better planned and prepared than others. Some of our best lessons have been given by the children. Seriously, you should have been there a few weeks ago for the lesson E taught about family history and journal keeping. She's good--so good that she's already preparing her powerpoint presentation for next week's lesson. But I digress. Last night's lesson wasn't so well planned, maybe because I was attending parent teacher conferences for three children while B was doing the ballet carpool and feeding everyone dinner. Way to go B!
I came home from parent teacher conferences to find everyone clustered around the computer. And to hear the sweet sound of L cooing. B had pulled up a bunch of video files that he hasn't burned onto disk yet, and he and the kids were watching them. I joined them, and we spent the next two hours just watching ourselves and L.
It was bittersweet. We all loved seeing L again. I think E and I took turns getting teary-eyed as we watched. (I'd post some video here for you to see, but I haven't figured out how to post video on my blog yet....and it is just as well, because I'm not sure I really want to share moments that now seem so private and special.) The kids were fascinated by how much they themselves have grown and changed in the past two years. E realized how much speech therapy had helped: "I couldn't say S's!". J could see that he'd become much taller and less pouty. S was startled to hear her four-year-old self sound "like a baby." We were touched to see how obvious L's love was for each of us. Our memories haven't played tricks with us on that.
I was taken aback by the video record of how hard I worked to have L with us at home and to give her and all of us some sort of normalcy. Sometimes, I tend to look back at that time of my life with a lot of self-criticisms. I should have done this, or that, or made sure that this happened, etc., etc. Last night I was able to watch myself on video with love and charity. I was doing the best I could, under the circumstances. I'm so proud of myself for trying.
There was one video, taken on J's seventh birthday. It was in between a long string of winter hospitalizations for L. It was mid-January, and all of our Christmas decorations were still up. The house looked pretty disorganized. The birthday cake was obviously from a bakery. We only had five birthday candles. I was carrying L in my arms, and a portable oxygen tank over my shoulder, which was attached to L. Judging by how close I was standing to the flaming birthday cake with a tank of oxygen, I'm pretty sure we'd just been released from the hospital that day, and home health hadn't arrived yet to explain home oxygen use to me, yet. (It is extremely combustible.) There are dark circles under my eyes and my hair looks really bad. E's clothes are mismatched and S's hair looks as if it hasn't seen a brush in days. From behind the camera, B is complementing the girls on how well they wrapped the gifts, and I'm viewing some of the birthday gifts with clear displeasure--obviously, I hadn't been involved in the purchases. E, J, and S are clearly starved for attention, judging by the number of times they jump up and down in front of the camera and turn somersaults over my feet. L looks like she is struggling to breathe.
It almost gave me an anxiety attack watching. That was my life. Somehow I lived through that.
One of the last videos I watched was filmed with me behind the camera. B likes to have us fade in to each new date, and as the scene fades in, you hear me saying, "It is about four o'clock in the morning." I'm pointing the camera at L, who is lying on the spare bed in her room, happily playing with a small stuffed giraffe. It is about a week before L died, and I'm filming something that was typical for L and I: a night with very little sleep. In the video, I explain that L often tries to let her siblings have my attention during the day while they are awake, but she likes to have fun with me while they are asleep. The camera follows L playing with the giraffe and batting at other toys. She is clearly enjoying herself.
"Are you wide awake?" I playfully ask L. She responds with a happy grin and an outstretched hand.
"Is Mommy tired?" I ask L. She looks at the camera and blinks a yes, then smiles widely.
"You are right, Mommy is tired," I agree. "So, do you think we should turn off the lights and go to sleep?"
L emphatically shakes her head back and forth, "No." I laugh. "You are so smart. You know exactly what you want, and you are so good at telling Mommy." I laugh again as she grins at me. "I love to play with you, too." I tell her.
I watched that video. And I watched it again. That was my life. That was why I lived through the portable oxygen tank and the slapped together birthdays and the messy house and the long hospitalizations and the anxiety attacks. For beautiful moments like that.
That was my life. It was amazing.
Suddenly, I realized that FHE should have ended long ago. It was 9:30 P.M., way past bedtime. It was time for everyone to brush their teeth and say prayers and get into bed, and someone remembered she had a permission slip for me to sign.....and I looked around at the chaos of bedtime and felt so grateful. Families are forever. I have these three wonderful children and a husband to take care of right now, and they need me so much. And I have L, who doesn't need me so much right now, but she's still part of our family and always will be, because we are a forever family. And I'm looking forward to the day when I get to hold her in my arms again and she's well and whole and we can do things without a tank of oxygen strapped on my shoulder.
This is my life, as it is and as it will be. It is amazing.
See? Blessings do come from having Family Home Evening.