We enjoyed a full year of homeschooling with our good friends, the Petersens. We loved our house. We didn’t really want to move! But things weren’t right at Alan’s work. He started interviewing for something else. Then one morning in the fall of 1991, he got the call. The job offer was really good, even though it wasn’t an exact fit for him. He’d been designing fractional horsepower brushless DC motors. For the new company he would design humongous motors three inches wide and up to a hundred fifty feet long. And it would mean a move to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Alan took a week to think on it, which is much more like him than the speedy decision to homeschool. After his two-week notice, we headed south for a grand adventure.
I homeschooled in a motel room for six weeks. That was fun. I had the motel pool for motivation. We had to do a set amount of work, and then we’d take a swim break. So much work after lunch, then another swim break. And on the weekend we could take a field trip to Woolaroc, a fantastic wildlife park with museums and more. The novelty was great for a while, but we were ready to move into the rental house we found. It was only a two-bedroom, but it was the right price, as we still had the mortgage payment on our farm home. The master bedroom was huge, so we put all four kids in there together, and took the smaller bedroom ourselves. It was right across the street from a parochial school with a playground. Sometimes we’d walk over there after school, but the kids preferred to go to the park downtown. It was on an island, with huge trees and really cool equipment that would probably be deemed unsafe today – stuff like merry-go-rounds, and teeter-totters, and swinging gates. We fed the ducks, and hiked on the footpaths.
I met other homeschoolers – there was a huge support group in that town, although we encountered some prejudice for the first time in our lives. We were formally asked to leave the “Christian” homeschool group, because we were Catholic. So several Catholic families banded together and formed their own support group. It was another experience of God taking a negative and making fantastic lemonade. We met on First Fridays at the small Catholic Church in Dewey. The priest there was very supportive. He was a funny old man. Smoked like a chimney and sometimes let a more colorful metaphor slip past his lips. We went to Mass, and then we would prepare a big breakfast in the Fellowship Hall. The priest would join us for a little while. After we cleaned up, then we’d have some special projects or group lessons for our combined children. We’d depart in time for lunch and nap, feeling both blessed and uplifted.
Those were difficult years for me. Years of pain and sorrow that sorely tried my faith. We were there about four years, but in that time I broke my arm, Danny broke a wrist, Tammy broke her ankle. Annika had a ruptured appendix, was in the hospital for fifteen days and nearly died. Krysta suffered extreme pain, and was tested for various cancers, but was later diagnosed as having more allergies. We put her on a restricted diet for several years, but she seemed to outgrow that. Alan tore ligaments in his knee. I fell and broke my tailbone. All of the children had multiple dislocated elbows – I learned to yank them back into place myself, after a doctor suggested I was an abusive parent. Our water heater broke and flooded the schoolroom, destroying the carpet and some books. Tammy was in the truck with Alan on a dark, moonless night when he hit a bull. Almost two thousand dollars damage was done to the truck, although the bull ran away. The passenger side window exploded, yet Tammy was not hurt. She had JUST decided to lie down on the seat and try to sleep. (Her guardian angel sure puts in a lot of over-time). She did cut her palm when she put her hand down on the seat to sit up. She screamed in fear. I wonder if Alan lost a few years off his life that night. He came home as white as a ghost.
The worst thing, of course, was losing my son Adam. We hadn’t really planned on having another child, but we’d never really studied Natural Family Planning. I knew a little about the rhythm method, which isn’t as dependable, but Krysta was six years old! That method had worked for a little while. I was happy about the baby; Alan was not. The kids were ecstatic.
Reda Pump had been laying people off all the time we lived there. Alan needed to start sending out his resume again, but worried that it was too late, now that I was expecting. I told him it would be easier to move while pregnant, than to wait until the baby was born. I loved our house there (I forgot to mention that we bought a cool house after we sold the farm house in Minnesota.) It was a modern style, built in a square with an atrium in the center. There were tons of windows. Four bedrooms. Light beige carpet. And a jumbo, in-ground swimming pool with a slide and a diving board. I loved that house, but I was starting to wonder if it was cursed. I considered having the priest come by and bless it. The two families who’d lived there before us had also suffered terrible loss.
Well, Alan took a job in North Carolina. And while he was gone, I learned the tragic news. My unborn child was diagnosed with Trisomy 18. That is a rare genetic disorder, causing multiple birth defects, including severe mental retardation, heart and lung problems, boat-shaped feet, and more. There was nothing that could be done for him. I was too far along to have an abortion, and I was opposed to that anyway. So I carried my son Adam almost to term (he came a month early), knowing he would die at birth, or shortly after.
We moved. And I grew old overnight. I developed high blood pressure and depression. I felt fragile. Homeschooling gave me a reason to get up in the morning, but I didn’t sleep well at night. For a while, as I was in labor, I felt like I was going to join him. I don’t actually know if I was ever in danger, but that’s how I felt. I held my dead baby and cried. Alan went home for a little while, and my kids later told me it was the only time they ever saw him cry. He brought them in to say good-bye to their baby brother, something we had thought would be important. They each had a chance to hold him, but it was okay if they chose not to. They left, and I held him a while longer. Then I laid him in the glass bed and let the nurse take him away.
Making funeral plans for a baby was surreal. Alan borrowed against his life insurance policy so we could afford the casket. Our new parish priest said something kind, but I can’t remember what. Church members gave us flowers or food – southern hospitality is wonderful. But no one could tell me how to stop hurting.
I think I grieved for a year. We didn’t accomplish much in the way of school, but my kids were already so far ahead that it didn’t hurt them to have time off. We took picnics to Fire’s Creek. We went swimming at Lake Chatuge – at least, the kids swam. I sat on the beach, as I had no energy to move. We lived through our first (and hopefully, our last!) hurricane – hurricane Opal.
The church we attended was mostly retired couples. There were only ten kids in the whole parish. My four and the Woody’s six. Mrs. Woody had a little boy born the same night as Adam, so we didn’t get as close as I would have liked, but we did see each other often. The elderly folks took a shining to my kids. They sort of adopted them, and suddenly they had dozens of grandparents. When Krysta received her first Holy Communion, they threw a party with cake and coffee, and chipped in to buy her a gold cross necklace.
At some point, I realized that Adam was in heaven, and if I ever wanted to hold him again, I needed to make sure I got there, too. I needed be an example for my living children, so they could join me in paradise, and we would all be together again. I started walking every day – just a little bit at first, then farther as I regained my strength. And I started writing.
I wrote short stories about my children or my childhood. I wrote long novels about my favorite characters in television shows, which I later discovered was called “fan fiction”. I met new friends on the internet, and when I posted my novels, I was swamped with fan mail. The writing was more than therapeutic. It became my new passion.
My kids were growing up. We later moved back to Wisconsin, where we lived for ten years. Three of my kids attended at least a little public High School. Oddly, although being a mom had taken over so much of my life, I didn’t feel depressed as my children began to flee the nest. I discovered – or rediscovered, as I’d written a lot when I was a child- that I really loved putting words on paper. I loved sharing my thoughts, or creating new characters and letting them develop a life of their own.
And as a final step in my recovery, I wrote a short piece about the son I lost, and saw it published in a magazine.