Merry Christmas from the Kennedys!
You know those letters you get every Christmas that capture the family’s year in a nutshell? They usually talk about the kids’ accomplishments, the enviable vacations the family took that year (Here we are on the Great Wall of China!), and other significant events. Well, this is the Kennedy family’s 2011 Christmas letter — it’s a little different.
In no particular order, this year was about . . .
. . . Barf
More than our usual share, that is. Food poisoning, stomach bugs, migraines, the flu and carsickness — if it makes you puke, our family had it.
Only Matt was spared. [While this post was still in progress, Matt, Katie and Caden got hit by another two rounds of sickness. It wasn’t pretty.]
I’d love if someone could explain to me why kids never get sick at anything but the worst possible time. Say, for example, driving down the Grapevine (Katie), or driving through heavy traffic down to San Diego (Katie again), or driving around our neighborhood for a few minutes (why yes, Katie again). On the bright side, I’m well-practiced at taking Katie’s car seat apart to clean it. At home, it’s almost always in the middle of the night. And aside from John’s most recent stomach bug, they never make it to the bathroom first. Ugh, let’s move on.
. . . A Sweet Girl
In May, we welcomed our second baby girl, Hannah Grace. This post could be about nothing but Hannah and what a sweet little baby she is. Or it could be about nothing but the sizeable leap it was to go from four kids in the family to five — we’re seriously outnumbered. It could be about the fact that Hannah is going to have to be our last baby, the surgery to make sure that’s the case, or the emotional aftermath of that decision. (I’m not one to get emotionally attached to stuff, but throwing out old baby clothes was tough, especially when we caught a glimpse of one of our favorite sleepers.) Hannah has brought a ton of joy to the family, although I feel like we haven’t been able to appreciate her nearly as much as we should, given everything else that’s happened this year.
. . . The Flood
When John found a damp spot on the carpet one morning, we figured one of the kids spilled a cup of water without telling anyone. That afternoon, Jen moved a box in the closet across the room and found mold on the wall. She called a plumber, and by the time we went to bed, the slab leak (a leak in one of the pipes that come up through the foundation) was fixed. Not bad, right? Oh, but the fun had just begun.
The water had traveled through a few rooms, so our house soon was full of fans and all manner of other equipment. LOUD equipment. We lived with that for a few days until we were forced to move out for the mold remediation work. As it turns out, living in a one-bedroom-and-a-loft hotel room with four kids and a baby wasn’t as much fun as it sounds. Good thing I was in Phoenix for a couple nights in there. Oh wait, that’s not a good thing.
The day after we moved back into our house and all the equipment was removed, we discovered more moisture in a different part of the house. More mold, too. After much investigation, they determined that it was related to the same slab leak. More equipment + more mold remediation work = another moveout. This time, I found a vacation rental on the theory that a two-bedroom condo beats a one-bedroom hotel. The condo would have worked out beautifully if it hadn’t been for the fact that one of the bedrooms was an un-air conditioned, glorified closet. That and the crazy neighbor who would bang on the walls when the kids were running, talking, walking or breathing too loud in the middle of the afternoon.
After a few days, we were back in our house, which by that point looked like Elliot’s house when the government found out he’d been hiding E.T. But it beat living next to a meth addict (just a wild guess). The next afternoon, Jen pulled back part of the baseboard in a room where moldy carpet had been removed but a musty smell remained. Lo and behold, more mold. That night, I pulled back more baseboards and discovered that the mold extended around most of the remaining walls in our downstairs and likely was under our wood flooring, too.
One more moveout and lots more demolition later, we had a dry, mold-free house that resembled a WWII bomb shelter. Total time from leak to final move-in: a couple
years months. Because the bomb shelter lacked floors and furniture, we lived upstairs for several more weeks while we re-piped our entire house and had floors installed, with our master bedroom doubling as the living room, family room, dining room, etc.
Just to add insult to injury, having our walls opened up in the middle of the summer caused our ancient air conditioner to finally give up the ghost. Nothing a little money couldn’t fix.
. . . Work
At the end of January, I made the move with a great group of lawyers to a new firm. Turned out to be a great move — we hit the ground running and haven’t had much of a chance to catch our breath since. In fact, the past six months or so has been about the busiest stretch I’ve ever had. It’s definitely involved the most travel, which was super convenient in light of what was happening at home. Put it this way: the barista at the Starbucks in downtown Phoenix knows my order. The hotel workers call me by name. In fact, the last time my colleague was out in Phoenix on a solo trip, one of them asked where his friends were. They missed me, apparently.
In case you’re wondering, Phoenix is lovely in the summer. Sure, it’s 113 degrees, but it’s a dry heat. Kinda like a hair dryer blowing on your face.
. . . Doctors
You probably knew we were going here eventually. This one could span a whole bunch of blog posts or even, as some have suggested, a book. So we’ll just hit the highlights:
Unless you’ve been living under a rock with that Geico guy, you’ve read about Jen being hospitalized for a severe migraine, the surprise finding that both of her internal carotid arteries were dissected, and the subsequent diagnosis of fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD). Due to my blogging hiaitus, you may not have heard about Jen’s continuing neurological symptoms and more recent bouts with stomach pain, necessitating a number of other MRIs and other procedures. Lots of tests, but not many answers. Good times!
We weren’t about to let Jen have all the fun with brain scans. One night, we took Katie out of the tub and laid her down to put her diaper on. Suddenly, her right eye was staring way over to the right, and her left was looking right at us. A trip to the eye doctor led to a diagnosis of strabismus (wandering eye) in both eyes, which we’ve been told likely will require surgery. Given the nature of how it came on and some other factors, within a few days, we found ourselves wheeling Katie into the hospital to have a brain scan of her own. Those couple days were long and stressful, but it was a huge relief to get the good news at the end that Katie didn’t have a brain tumor. For now, we’re trying our hand at getting an active two-year-old to wear glasses that are supposed to help focus her eyes in one location. Not sure how effective they are, but at least we haven’t had any recent bouts of carsickness.
Then, just for good measure, I decided to get in on the action. I woke up one morning with sharp chest pains, and before I knew it, I was passed out on the floor. When I came to, Jen was sitting next to me on the phone with 911. Apparently, it didn’t look all that good. So I got to take a ride in an ambulance to the ER for a full day of tests. The following weeks saw trips to a neurologist and cardiologist, along with a battery of brain and heart tests. So far, so good. And after a couple weeks of getting to know the public transportation system, I’ve been cleared to drive by both the doctor and — more importantly — the DMV.
For those keeping score, that’s three people in our family that had a brain MRI in a three-week span. For three different reasons, no less. I’m no mathematician, but I’m guessing the odds of that happening are fairly small.
Throw in a grab bag of other doctor visits, including pinkeye for me, trips to the ER for various injuries to the kids, and even a trip to the doggie doctor for emergency bladder stone surgery. Poor Duke.
. . . Grace
It may sound odd, but more than anything, this year has been an object lesson in grace. I’m more aware than ever that I don’t deserve any better than the difficulties that have come my way this last year. In fact, I deserve a lot worse. But thankfully, God doesn’t treat me according to what I deserve.
All the good things in my life have come my way strictly because of his unmerited favor. Those good things include my wife, who’s somehow still walking around, talking, smiling, laughing and loving our kids even though she’s lost two major blood vessels in her brain. And they include my healthy kids, the job that keeps me busy, and the disaster zone of a house that gives us shelter.
At times over the last year, it felt like I was living in the trenches in a war movie, with shells raining down to my left and right. Some of the shells landed close enough to inflict serious injury. Just as I was getting patched up, another blast sent me reeling. Ears ringing and coughing up dust, I inspected myself, only to find that I was unscathed.
When we were in the midst of some of the worst of it, Jennifer said something that stuck with me. It occurred to her that God was just as glorious then as he was on a day when all was right and good. In other words, he’s just as worthy of our praise when the shells are falling as he is when the sky is clear.
All too often, though, we use our experiences as the measure of his goodness. If things are going well, we can be happy and thankful for that. But when things turn bad, our praise turns to doubt or even accusations. When we treat God as no more than the hoped-for means to relieve our suffering, we act as though his glory depends on how he treats us. If he takes away the illness or delivers the job, he’s worthy of praise. If not, well . . . not so much. That’s the essence of human idolatry — we trade the joy that is found in God himself for the pleasure we find in his gifts.
I wish I could say that realization landed on me with tremendous power and I haven’t approached God the same way since. But I’m an idolater at heart just like the rest of you. Hence, grace. Thankfully, Jesus always glorified God just as he deserves, even (and especially) in the hour of his worst suffering. And thankfully, Jesus’ performance has been credited to undeserving people like me.
None of that is to say that I’m not hoping for a break in the shelling. Believe me, I am. I just know that, come what may, none of this suffering should give me any pause in recognizing the infinite glory and worth of God. To the contrary, I have the promise that all of the trials he brings my way are intended for my good, especially my eternal joy in him.
So here’s to a much better 2012! . . . hopefully.
Love, the Kennedys
P.S. — Please accept our sincere apologies for being so out-of-touch this last year. Friends have been neglected, family unvisited, emails have gone unanswered, phone calls unreturned. We’ll do better next year!