Our Lives

Meet the first of the Our Lives All-Stars: Cindy Schaefer

May 12, 2013 


Cindy Schaefer.


  • Our Lives – All Stars

    Cindy Schaefer was a former copy editor at the N&O when she took on her first “Our Lives” appointment at the end of 2003. She missed newspapers, so it was a welcome call, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. “I’d only been published maybe once or twice,” she says now. “Having my name out there was daunting and when they said there had to be a picture, I almost fainted.”

    Still, she found her voice. Back then she had three children at home, including a son who needed full-time care. Now, as she turns 50, the children are grown; the youngest is 19. “We’ve married one off,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a different kind of life, I’m moving into a different season.”

My first Mother’s Day set a dangerous precedent. That year we noshed on exotic fare at an exclusive club in Seoul, having toted our very portable, very blonde 8-month-old halfway around the world to visit her grandparents. (The fact that she was a blonde is remarkable only because she was an instant magnet for well-meaning Koreans who knew no boundaries when it came to touching her head.)

We were new to parenting, but to that point it hadn’t been all that hard. Six weeks after bringing her home, Erin slept through the night; she was reaching all the milestones and – except for a wicked ear infection that made for an extra long trip home from South Korea – had been healthy. No sweat. We had this. Note to parents of preschoolers: This is the easy part.

We had chosen to grow our family while we were young so that we would still have enough oomph in our step to make good use of the years after the nest was empty. The challenges of having three children in five years were offset by daydreams of things to come: spur-of-the-moment trips and Saturday evenings with friends who had also successfully moved past days dictated by children’s activities.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you ordered.

Before children actually arrive, you’re almost prepared for the snotty noses, dirty hands and sloppy kisses. You even have an idea of what the teen years might hold. But no one ever tells you that you might be the one whose child loses the genetic lottery. That you might not ever be able to put on your superhero cape and save your baby. Or that the sleep deprivation might never end.

We are in a different season from where we were when I last shared the minutia of our lives in this space. Back then, Kevin was just finishing up fifth grade and we were dividing our afterschool hours between Brian’s baseball games and Erin’s marching band competitions. We were happily occupied with normal family activities while settled into a routine of accommodating for the around-the-clock care Kevin requires. Aside from the obvious – spinal muscular atrophy – we didn’t look that much different from others with three active children. But time and circumstances march on.

The tiny dynamo who could hardly sleep the night before her first day of kindergarten learned that what she loved most as a 5-year-old never really changed. She now teaches kindergarten and instead of bringing her new baby brother for show-and-tell as she once did, this year she invited him to speak to her students about life with a wheelchair and a service dog.

Brian has opted to live at home while getting his career off the ground. And because he has landscape skills and neither of us likes to mow, everyone’s happy.

Kevin, the boy who wasn’t supposed to survive his childhood, just finished his first year at N.C. State. He landed a job writing for the school paper and revels in academia, while I’ve come to terms with making daily trips to a campus that bleeds red instead of my beloved Carolina blue.

We even expanded the family when Evan, who we first got to know as a teenager nosing around our daughter, became a permanent member. Life is funny. In what doesn’t seem like that long, I’ve gone from room mom to mother-in-law, and the little girl whose hair once mesmerized Asians now has a Japanese last name.

Meanwhile, the empty nest is still just a fantasy for me and Glenn. Our peers have graduated from the demands of day-to-day parenting; it is a stage we won’t reach anytime soon – if ever. Kevin is able to succeed and thrive only with constant assistance from others. And while he would prefer that we be hands off, truth is he still needs us to turn him during the night and to be available during the day.

In 13 days (but who’s counting?), Glenn and I will do something we have not done in more than nine years: We will set out for a weekend alone. Only through the generosity of two extraordinary friends who will fill in for us at home are we able to break away and reconnect.

Being a mom hasn’t turned out quite like I planned. It’s way better. And much harder. But on this Mother’s Day, I wouldn’t change a thing.


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