Two Differences

Two things are immediately different in Copenhagen. One, the family discussed; the other hasn’t been mentioned by anyone yet. 

First – it’s astounding how many people smoke here! I’ve gotten used to that being rare and it’s definitely taken some adjusting since landing. Sarah even commented that all the butts on the ground are not good for the environment. And she was the first to mention the observation about the smokers. Yuck!

Second – people stare. Maybe they stare at home and I am simply used to it. I don’t think so though. Seeing a kid out and about in a wheelchair must be pretty rare here – and I can understand why with all the cobblestone streets. We have even run into canal tours that cannot accommodate a wheelchair. Frustrating! We simply zigged and took the bus tour instead. And the driver didn’t even know there was a ramp on the bus! Like I said – sometimes it takes more work. We’re doing it though! And so far so good. 

At the CPH airport after getting our first Kroner.   

And We’re Off!

Fifteen years ago, Brian and I were making our way through Costa Rica on the tail end of a lifetime dream to backpack around the world. Travel was in my DNA as I grew up hearing stories from my Grandmommy about how to turn your rings into your hands so people wouldn’t cut off your fingers to steal them! She traveled all over the world before it was as relatively easy as it is today. And she inspired me to travel. 

When Catherine was born the idea of traveling internationally fizzled. The dream never died though and my stepbrother actually made sure Catherine and we got to Aruba. One baby step outside our borders. 

Today, we leave for Copenhagen! We are going to prove to ourselves what we said when Catherine was born. She can do anything – we just may have to work a little harder and get a little morecreative. So here we go working a little harder and definitely with some creativity. We’re staying in a hostel and then in a flat we booked through airbnb. Gotta stay progressive! 

The other purpose for the trip is to teach Sarah that there are lots of ways to live in the world and we don’t always have the “right” way in the U.S. Our way is usually pretty good. The trip around the world taught us that. It’s definitely not the only way though. And with any luck, Sarah will be inspired to travel and explore this great big wide wonderful world. So far, she’s most excited to see the Little Mermaid and go to amusement parks. We’ll hit Tivoli of course and LegoLand and then venture to the oldest amusement park in the world – Bakken. 

So will will prove that Catherine can internationally and inspire Sarah to love to travel the globe? We’ll just have to wait and see…

Wheels and luggage – here we go!

I swear if I had known how much I would love being a Mom, I would have had kids much sooner and had several more of them. If you know anything about me though, this is a statement that is rather shocking.

When Brian and I got engaged, I remember telling him, “You need to know something about me. I don’t want kids.” I was casually hopping along some concrete “pods” like they were lily pads after a dinner one warm night as he walked alongside me.

“You’ll change your mind,” he said. And he proceeded to tell me it was nature’s way to make sure our species continued. Having been raised by an ERA-supporting Mom, I was actually insulted and reiterated my point that I did not, in fact, want kids and he better accept it if we were going to get married. I guessed he did because he never brought it up again and we still got married.

Two years later, I remember him standing in the living room of our new house. “I’m 30 years old, Ellen, when are we going to have kids?” I simply reminded him of that night on the lily pads a couple years earlier. Though frustrated I’m sure, he didn’t bring it up again and we built a marriage over the years that many of my friends tell me they envy.

Several years later with a major move to Delaware under our belts, I found myself at a photo shoot for GORE-TEX PacLite in California. We had hired a major photographer, Jim Erickson and he was working on a book simply titled, Mother. At the end of our shoot, a young mom and her 2- or 3-year-old son started spinning and; though Jim had put his camera away, he unpacked it quickly and began to “dance” with them as only a pro photographer could while he watched for a shot in the magic light of sunset. The mom appeared filled with joy and her son laughed and laughed as he spun round and round in her arms. That was it. That was the moment I realized I wanted to be a mom.

I never really wanted to “have kids.” I realized what I wanted was to be a mom. I wanted to know that joy and love that seemed in that one moment to completely intoxicating and unlike anything I had experienced in my life. Nearly ten years later, I finally got to become a Mom. It didn’t happen under the best circumstances since Catherine arrived way too early. She decided it was time for me to be a Mom, though, and we welcomed her into the world on a sliver of a moonbeam, weighing next to nothing. Though it was beyond stressful, I loved being a Mom to her.

I still love being a Mom – even if my steps into motherhood were harder than many. My second try was also difficult; I spent 16 weeks lying in bed trying to keep Sarah from coming too early herself. And though that was hard, it gave me the chance to have my daughter run in to greet me this morning and simply stare into my eyes with her bright, loving sparkling brown eyes. She didn’t even have to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” It simply was.

Eclipsing the Eclipse

My mom takes great pride that she got my brother and me up to watch several spectacular events in history. Apparently, I was up for the moon landing in 1969. I was three and don’t remember a bit of it. I saw it though, I’m told. And she got us up to see Princess Di get married. I have vague recollection of her dress and the music and watching it through sleepy eyes clear “across the pond” I would later learn to say. So it’s not surprising that last week, she made sure I knew about the Eclipse. She told me about the selenelion and how if I could find a good spot, we might be able to see the moon on the horizon as the sun rose to greet the day – an especially rare event.

“You’ll have to get up early, Ellen,” she said. “You remember I got you up for the moon landing and Lady Di’s wedding. I thought you might want to get up with your kids for this.”

“Uh… yeah, Mom. What time?”

“Well, it’s like 5 AM or something.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought. And then went about my day.

I loved astronomy at Carolina, and I really enjoy looking at the stars. I’ve secretly always wanted a telescope, but it’s so impractical because we live in a brightly lit city and I know myself and my life well enough to know I’d likely never take the time to haul it off to some dark place and really look at the stars. But maybe one day I will, I frequently think, so it sort of didn’t surprise me to find myself googling “eclipse time” before going to bed last Tuesday night.

“Are you really going to get up at 5 AM?” my husband asked me.

“I don’t know, but I have to know what time it is to even consider it, so I’m just going to figure it out and then see what happens,” I replied. I know he thought I was nuts.

I still didn’t know what I was going to do as I got ready for bed when I remembered a quote that said, “Nobody ever wished on their deathbed that they’d slept longer.” I set my alarm for 5 AM.

When my alarm beeped the next morning, I found it actually easy to get out of bed. My feet were on the floor at 5:05 AM and like a little kid at Christmas, I rushed outside to see if the sky was clear enough to see the moon at all. No sense waking anyone up yet if it wasn’t, I reasoned.

It shone brighter than a flashlight pointed directly in your eyes. I could see the left edge of it covered in a bit of a shadow.

The early signs of the Eclipse thanks to an Iphone.

The early signs of the Eclipse thanks to an Iphone.

“It’s happening!” I thought. And I came back inside to see if I could see it out one of our windows. When I saw that I could, I got even more excited because I wouldn’t have to subject anyone to the cold I’d bundled against in the chill of early October. I thought about my plan and literally ran back and forth in the still quiet of the darkness trying to figure out my next steps and when exactly I should wake the kids. Then it hit me.

I became acutely aware that no matter what I tried to do or how I tried to explain it, Catherine could not see the eclipse. By definition, it is something to behold with the EYES. It’s why we have telescopes so we can SEE teeny tiny specs millions of light-years away. I could think of no sensory way to convey the energy and excitement of a total eclipse with her. Even if I did it with the cliche of foam balls, the energy would be lacking. I took a deep breath realizing a little more deeply what I actually already know. I hate those moments.

I woke up Sarah and scooped her up to look at it through the window like sheer magic. We whispered quietly and decided we’d get a blanket and go watch it outside for a bit. It was our little secret. Like me, she awoke with excitement and curiosity. The more we watched, the more intrigued she became and, when the moon fell below the tops of the townhouses in our new neighborhood, we decided to move to yet another spot for better viewing.

Sarah's excitement as the sun starts to rise behind us.

Sarah’s excitement as the sun starts to rise behind us.

We sat in the stillness, cuddled together in the blanket braced against the chill of the air. We talked about science and why the moon turns “blood red” and how special it was to be outside alone together. And thankfully, the joy of holding Sarah and watching this stellar event in the stillness of the early morning dawn eclipsed the frustration I’d felt only moments earlier.

Pure Joy and worth every second of getting up so early.

Pure Joy and worth every second of getting up so early.


I keep a bag of toiletries packed so I can travel quickly. I have always told myself it’s so I can head out on business trips at a moment’s notice. Or maybe I would take it somewhere fun without any planning. For awhile in my life that was true. I would come in from a business trip on a Tuesday, for example, and leave to somewhere new on Thursday. No sense packing and re-packing that bag, right?

Truth is that I haven’t actually had to travel that much in the past couple of years. The bag stays packed though. I guess because I am always hoping I will go somewhere quickly – on a moment’s notice – with the spontaneity I had long ago. I never really thought that I keep it packed in case I have to go to the ER. Until today.

Catherine has been having some symptoms that in isolation wouldn’t even make me turn twice. In aggregate they increasingly concerned me. I had been in touch with the pediatrician several times, of course. So today when school was on a delay I thought her doctor might want to see her.

“Uh,” the nurse started after consulting with the doc and calling me back. “This isn’t going to be quite what you expected.” I thought for a quick second, “It never is,” and I stuffed my cynic back in the box. “She wants you to go to the ER at either Hopkins or Maryland.” Ugh. Even when you have a kid with as much complexity as Catherine, I am gonna tell ya – those words rock your soul and the whole world stops spinning for a moment. Then it starts spinning really fast. It’s in that spinning when I realized I would need to pack a bag.

I quickly grabbed stuff and threw it on the floor so I could pack it in a suitcase or something, and then I grabbed the toiletry bag. The irony of the spontaneous trip I ever-hoped would happen hit me as I zipped it closed after tucking my brush inside the bag. My spontaneous trips were to the ER now. Everything else requires significant planning.

OK. I guess I will have to learn to accept that.

But I will leave my toiletry bag packed – just in case.

PS: Catherine came home after several tests and she is just fine! No toiletries even needed on this trip.

When we walked across the bridge into Hopkins the Friday after Thanksgiving, I said, “Who thought THAT was a good idea? They look like Band-Aids!” Everywhere I looked out any glass surface, I had to look through marks on the glass that were beige-ish in color, about 2-3 inches long, horizontal with a slight curve. Just like a Band-Aid.

Over the course of our week at Hopkins, these Band-Aids became more and more of an irritant. Every time I looked out over the city of Baltimore I had to look through – not just some designer’s disruption of the view (which was actually pretty nice from the 12th floor) I had to look through Band-Aids! In a hospital!!

I drive home one night after about 2 hours of non-consecutive sleep on a rant about these Band-Aids. I’m not known for cussing and I called my girlfriend and let out a sailor-worthy string of expletives. All about the Band-Aids. And of course my parallel frustration that we weren’t learning anything new. Sure, Hopkins was as we were their lab rats. I wasn’t.

I had asked people to pray for seizures and they did start to build. And every morning the team would come in and say “We didn’t see any electrical charges that would indicate seizures last night.” I remember thinking in my cynical mean mind that it was because there were too many freakin’ Band-Aids and they couldn’t see through them.

Then one morning I woke up and read a reflection about God and realized He was there. Guiding all of this. And He had led us to Hopkins on several occasions previously, not one of them when I actually wanted to go. I softened. I thanked God. And I walked in faith thought the Band-Aids every time I entered and exited the hospital.

On the morning we discharged, the attending came in and said, “We saw a seizure last night. And because we saw that we were able to figure out what was happening. Rather than spiking the EEG waves, she flattens. And now we have a very clear pattern.” And for the first time I was actually, truly, honestly-in-my-heart grateful for seizures.

So we know a little more. We now walk down the experimental trial-and-error road of anti-seizure medications. Catherine got the electrodes removed and had a spa-like shampoo. And we walked out through all the Band-Aids. This time though – God was in those Band-Aids.




Looks like the prayers are working – ugh. Catherine had a bigger “tremor” last night and they told Brian today that it looked like a seizure. They told him we would probably start a new medication tomorrow. Just now, she had a 25-minute “tremor” and it was so hard to watch! Usually we hold her so I don’t usually see her little face. I’ve only ever heard about people saying “their eyes rolled back in their head” and tonight I saw it. It was my little girl.

As I watched – significantly aware there were people in a control room watching her and me, I remembered back to a presentation I made at Christ Church in Charlotte. It was the same presentation I made to my home church in Severna Park. In Charlotte someone asked me “What makes you angry?” I replied quickly that I didn’t really feel anger. I went on to take the next question and stopped mid-answer and said out of the blue – “Seizures. Seizures make me angry.” They did again tonight. I hate them and they scare me and I wonder what is happening in her experience of it. Does it hurt? Does she want to be held? Can she hear me? And feel me holding her hand? Is anything I do making any of it any better?

Maybe someone here can answer those questions for me. For now, she sleeps like she hasn’t a worry in the world.

That’s right, Catherine. Give Mommy all those worries and you sleep in peace, little bug. I love you.



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