Its a Big Little Day

Seemingly just another mid-winter, mid-week day here in the Middle of America. But it just so happens to be a notable day in our household…rather, one of those big little days.

You see, Charlie is bringing home a pet goldfish as part of a science project at school, Molly’s class teddy bear moved on to the next PreK family after a week with us, and Mae had her first school conference for a Mother/Child class we do together.

Admittedly, its all pretty little stuff. But to them, its big stuff…in fact, this is the biggest news in their little world right now. So I’m sorry Laundry, you’ll have to sit unfolded a bit longer. And hey you, Dinner, I have no idea what shape or form you’ll take tonight…but we won’t starve. Dear Social Media, after this post you’re in timeout for a bit.  Just because you’re available at any time, doesn’t mean that I am. To the Volunteer Activities absorbing a lot of my time, I’ll see you tonight after everyone is asleep. And to my Friends to whom I owe phone calls, I love you, miss you and can’t wait to catch up. But not today…because on this big little day I have teddy bears, goldfish and the many ways my toddler’s mind is exploding and growing to focus on.

While its just another mid-winter, mid-week day here in the Middle of America, I know its these big little days that I’ll miss the most in a few decades.

Please Don’t Hurry Them Along

Today, I witnessed an amazing display of bravery, grace and hope as I watched Newtown families on “The Katie Show.” They spoke about their children and spouses, and about the Sandy Hook Promise. I heard them proclaim that this tragedy would mark the beginning of change. I heard them attempt to describe life without their child or spouse. I heard them ask all of us parents to imagine ourselves in their position. They beautifully and bluntly cautioned that to do so would be heart-wrenching and brutal… but necessary in order to harness those raw emotions and move us as a society forward to an improved place.
And mostly I felt them struggling against an indescribable force that rolls in and out of grief like a tide churning and tossing things ashore, then moving back out again taking everything with it, only to return even more brutal than before. That force is time. And what makes it indescribable is the desire to stop time, yet fast forward it all in once.
I can’t claim to begin to understand the depths of suffering these parents and families are experiencing. I am, however, a bereaved parent and forever suffering the loss of my infant daughter. Every life and every loss is different, just as those 26 experiences are different, despite them being linked to the same horrific event.
But one thing I do know as a bereaved parent, is that my life is forever benchmarked by The Before and The After. In the weeks, months and first year following my daughter’s death, the passage of time became a bit of an obsession for me. You see, each day that passed marked another day since my daughter was with me, another day further away from a time when life was innocent, my heart happy and I naively believed everything was good and went according to plan. Each day that passed propelled me further and further from the idyllic world I once knew, The Before.
After her death is The After. And I did not want to be in The After. The After was a dark, sad place. In The After, my body reminded me with stretch marks and lactating breasts that I had an infant daughter, but my reality revealed she was dead. Having always prided myself on making others feel at ease, quite the opposite was true in The After. In The After, I made friends and family uncomfortable as they clumsily tried their best to say the right thing, but always landed on the wrong. People were a bit afraid of me in The After, not only because they were worried I might just lose it and go truly and sincerely mad, but also because I reminded them of how something like this could (gasp!) happen to them. Heck, in The After I was a bit of afraid of me too! In The After, I saw a heavy, downtrodden, grief-stricken mother wandering around a foreign, lonely place. I wanted nothing to do with this, The After.
I would do anything to return to The Before. The light, the funny, the sarcastic and upbeat world of The Before. I longed for my daughter and ached for The Before so badly that it would close my throat and make my chest feel heavy. Every day, every change of the calendar month or holiday was just another reminder that the rest of the world was moving on, while I felt frozen in that moment clinging to The Before. To embrace The After felt like a betrayal because this would be to embrace a world without my daughter.
They say acceptance is the last stage of grief and I supposed somewhere along the way, between The Before and my current version of The After, acceptance permeated its way into my existence. Its been nearly seven years and I can’t pinpoint the moment it happened because its not just one moment, its a series of moments, but now gratitude, happiness, joy and laughter have returned to my life and each has a very prominent place in The After.
But for me, life is still forever defined by The Before and The After, as I suspect it may be for the grieving families in Connecticut.
So, as the calendar moves us all further and further away from that date, lets remember that December 13, 2012 will always be the last day of these families’ Before. Please don’t hurry them along, let them stay emotionally close to their children, spouses, parents, friends and loved ones, their idyllic Before… for just a big longer.

The Hidden Talent of the Duck Voice

For the first time, my 8-year-old son is expressing an interest in participating in the school talent show. I asked what his special talent is and he replied, “duck voice, of course!”

Ok, now this is hardly the special talent we’ve had in mind as we invested time and money developing his skills over the years at various practices and lessons.

On the other hand, if the kid has the confidence to stand on a stage, in front of his school mates and contort his mouth to make a duck sound….well then that’s priceless, isn’t it?

Why Every Child Is A Reminder Of What We’ve Lost

I felt this yesterday, and couldn’t quite put my finger on it while trying to describe it to my husband. My 5-year-old daughter and I were out to lunch, just the two of us. She bounded through the restaurant, chatting, smiling, giggling…just doing what every kid does the week before Christmas.

But, I sensed a slight shift in the energy….everyone was looking at her, delighted with the joyful child in front of them….their eyes were smiling, but I could tell they were fighting back tears. On the outside our fellow diners were chatting with my daughter and admiring her dress, smile, etc. But inside, I knew their hearts were breaking with each giggle she revealed….this child was a painful reminder of what we’ve lost. We are grieving for the children in Connecticut and grieving for the innocence of children everywhere.

I was able to recognize the shift in energy in the restaurant yesterday and that feeling, because that’s how I have felt every moment since Friday with my own children and every child…

Random Acts…of Kindness

Just like all of you, I’m trying to quiet my racing mind these days. In an attempt to focus my energy on the positive, I ended my day by quickly jotting down some of the Random Acts of Kindness that my family experienced over the last 12 months as a reminder that most people are good and loving and kind to children. I’m sure I’m forgetting many, but here’s what comes to mind: 

1. We saw a really special Santa in his grotto (that’s what they call it) in London exactly a year ago. He asked Charlie (who at age 7 had fewer believing years ahead of him than behind), to close his eyes. A bit puzzled, Charlie closed his eyes and Santa studied him for a moment then said “yes, Charlie, I recognize you with your eyes closed.  That is exactly how you looked when I saw you last year in Chicago. Remember, I never arrive until you’re asleep.”  I think we all felt the magic at that moment.

2. This summer a current took an inner-tube we were playing with out in the lake, past the buoys and further than we safely could retrieve it. A boat came out of its dock, and picked up our lost inter-tube, drove up as close as it could get, honked and sent the inner-tube into us.

3. This fall a very patient lady sitting in front of us at church turned around and handed Mae, who was squirming and carrying on, a light up toy she just happened to be carrying in her purse. As I profusely apologized for her toddler antics, the lady just smiled and said “she’s a doll”

4. The many times a stranger held the door open for me at a grocery store while the kids were wiggling out of my hands or racing ahead, the strangers who offered to help me load strollers on and off trains, picked up stuffed animals that had fallen to the ground, people who waved to the kids or told me my family was beautiful.

5. Last spring older gentleman in Jamestown Virginia who appropriately asked me first if he could do so, then handed each of our kids a dollar bill and gave an extra dollar for each child to me. He then assigned them each an age-appropriate math challenge for the long drive back to Illinois and told them if they figured out the answer, their parents would give them the matching dollar bill he had provided. He was a retired math teaching visiting Virginia from Oregon and we thought of him and his kindness for many hours on the long drive home.

6. The numerous friends and family who asked us how to prepare an allergy-friendly dining option for Charlie prior to him attending a dinner party, birthday party or playdate at their house.

7. The neighbor down the street who had some new pink legos and a cute little purse and decided that she’d like to give them to Molly.

8.  Another neighbor, who was watering our garden for us while we were on vacation this summer.  Seeing that some tomatoes and peppers needed harvesting, she did so and made an allergy-friendly tomato sauce and gave it to us so we’d have a meal waiting for us when we returned home.  

9. Observing the genuine and deep affection between my child and her teacher. After missing school for a day, Molly was so excited to see her teacher that she yelled her name, dashed out of the car and gave the teacher a big, impulsive, true hug. Thinking of this affection helps me know and trust that if (God forbid!!) I could not be there to protect my children in a time of peril, they are surrounded by loving people, teachers, neighbors, friends and even *gasp* strangers who would. The world is full of good people, who do good for others all of the time.

Hitting the Exposed Nerve

As a parent today’s news is leaving me especially raw, heartbroken and speechless.  We all know, that as parents, the only thing worse than experiencing a horrific trauma or tragedy ourselves is to have our children experience it.  And we all know, that as parents, we’d throw ourselves in front of a bullet, moving train or take our own lives a thousand times over in order to spare our child’s.

We protect, we shelter, we nurture, we comfort.  We parents do a lot of things.  Some different from others, some the same…but at the core, that’s what we, the collective we…all parents, do…protect, shelter, nurture, comfort.  These are both the responsibilities and privileges of parenthood.

From the minute we prepare our bodies to carry a child, we begin doing things to protect, shelter, nurture and comfort that unborn child…we don’t drink alcohol, eat unpasteurized cheese or consume caffeine.  We put headphones on our belly to play classical music, and read books about what to expect when we’re expecting.  And along the way, we have regularly scheduled moments of reassurance:  visits with doctors where we hear a heartbeat or see an alien-like creature on a monitor.  All of these things are little ways we tell ourselves, “ok, its going well…everything is going fine”.

After our child is born we do what’s called a “well-baby visit” to tell us just that….our baby is well.  But its more than just that….its that our life is well.  Because again, as parents, we know that now our life is our child and our child is our life. 

Of course all of us parents know that sometimes those pregnancy appointments or well-baby visits aren’t exactly routine and don’t go well.  And as parents we know to worry about terrible things going wrong with pregnancy or childhood accidents and diseases.  After all, we’ve all heard a sad story about a child suffering from a tragic medical condition, or disorder.  And I think most of us parents are guilty of spending a sleepless night on Google searching out various symptoms or signs of a problem.  Giving ourselves that reassurance moment, our own well-baby, well-life update.

We’ve played out scenarios in our head and safe-guarded against them….and if we forget a specific danger, well then there is an entire aisle at the baby store to help remind us.  We have outlet covers to prevent from electrocution, gates to prevent from falling.  We install car seats, read recall information and cut food into tiny bite sized pieces.  We know all about the BPA in plastics and those mercury filled florescent light bulbs.  We monitor the amount of soy and growth hormones in milk and even vet the household of a future playmate to ensure they don’t watch TV shows we don’t approve of.

As parents, we are constantly protecting, sheltering, nurturing, comforting…both physically and emotionally.

But in the many scenarios and dangers that have run through my head, I can say I’ve never quite played out one as horrific as today’s.  

And that is why it is hitting that extra raw spot in my mother’s heart.  Today’s tragedy has found the exposed nerve.  Not only is it unimaginable to think of losing a child in any manner…but it is absolutely incomprehensible and against every ounce of my instinct as a mother to know that in a child’s most vulnerable, fragile and final moments, their parent  was denied the opportunity to do just what we as parents have been doing for our children since their very first moments….protecting, sheltering, nurturing and comforting.

The Gimmick Turned Tradition

so this conversation really happened tonight:

My husband, analyzing our elf-placement strategy offered, “I think you’re getting a bit too gimmicky by staging the elf. Just keep it simple, keep it on the shelf.”

I sarcastically replied, “Oh come on…its fun! What you don’t want to gimmick up a gimmick?…I’m pretty sure we lowered our gimmick threshold back in 2006 when we spent $29.95 and the elf magically appeared at our doorstep.”

His response, “really?! $29.95?! That’s how much this elf cost?”

Me: “plus shipping and handling.”

Him: “29.95?!?”

Me: “Shhhhh…its magic!,” (whispering now) “but yes, that’s the going rate now, can’t remember then and not sure how to adjust for inflation when you factor in the North Pole sparkle and all of that elf business.”

Him: “Hmm, but it was a new thing then..and really hard to find, remember? Everyone was sold out.  Your aunt found one in Atlanta for us. Now those elves are everywhere. So if the elf has been around for 6 years now, has it officially moved from gimmick to tradition?”

Me: “I suppose. I mean how long does it take to move yourself out of the Gimmick Category and into the Tradition Category? And in that case, $29.95 is a small price to pay for a treasured family tradition, right?”

Him: “It’s still a lot. We’re probably spending too much time on this topic…its an elf!”

Me: “Yep, way too much time. I’m tired. Lets put the used-to-be-gimmick-now-tradition-elf in the standard issue pose..”

Him: “….up on the shelf.”

Me: (wandering off) “….but tomorrow night I have a cute idea of what the elf could be doing…”

Him: “I’m telling you, its gimmicky…”

Well, would you look at that? We have ourselves a family tradition!

ORD to LHR, December 2011 and a note to self in December 2012:

reminder, this is not fun! (ok, it is. A little bit fun..or a lot). But hey, just look at yourself! Look….trying to read a magazine, overcome with a full blown stress-sweat….a sleeping baby on you, fussing preschooler next to you and a plane full of people around you who do NOT think these children are cute! Resist the urge…do not travel for Christmas. Stay put. Enjoy. Savor. Period.

The Stakes are High at Christmastime

It’s Christmastime!  It’s Christmastime!

It’s the most magical time of the year.  As a mother of young kids, I feel mounting pressure that this is not only the most magical time of the year…but perhaps THE most magical time of my life, and certainly theirs.  The wide-eyed innocence, the wonder!  Truly, what’s more wonderful than the reactions of an eight, five and two-year-old on Christmas morning?

And so I run around, hiding elves, filling advent calendars with candy, sprinkling sparkly reindeer food outside, pretending to spot dashes of red (it must be THE BIG GUY making sure he knows where we live!), volunteering, buying, wrapping, buying, wrapping, caroling, delivering.

For a month….25 days in a row….I do what my son calls, “run around, acting like an explanation point!”.

That’s right….an explanation point.  A grammatical symbol used to indicate strong feelings or high volume.  Isn’t that kind of appropriate for December? Excuse me, I mean…isn’t that kind of appropriate for December?!?!  This month..this magical month is for sure, a full on…explanation-point-kind-of-month!  

And its explanation point, after explanation point.  Parties! Breakfast with Santa (two explanation points)!!  School programs! More parties….with very little time for a re-caffeine in between.

Last week we kicked off the our month of explanation point events with one of our favorite traditions:  Breakfast with Santa.  Its a beautiful venue, with a wall full of windows overlooking a lake, trees and nature.  An ornately robed Santa arrives, carrying a golden bag, walking around the lake.  You hear one child’s sweet, awed, whisper as she spots the movement afar, “it’s….santa…”.  The buzz swells through the room and soon every single child is glued to the windows, shouting and pounding on the glass, waving…”Santa!  Santa!  Saaaaanta!”.  Enter the the explanation points!!!

This was a big year for us and breakfast with Santa..the stakes were high.  You see, my son is eight-years-old and I know he has more believing days behind him than in front of him.  At this point, his questions are still searching for reasons to believe.  That is a slightly different tone than questions that are searching for reasons not to believe.  But again, I know the tone will change.  And likely it will change soon.  So for now, he’s believing…so for now, I’m making this year extra magical…a big explanation point for my boy.  After all, he’s more of a big kid than a little guy now, right?

My son is allergic to dairy, egg and nuts.  And while I could write much, much more about his allergies and how he, and we, have managed them over the years…I won’t, because that’s another post.  The reason this is relevant to this post is because he had an allergic reaction at our very big deal, Breakfast with Santa.

He told us his throat was itchy, and stopped eating.  We saw Santa.  But immediately after he went into anaphylaxis where his breathing was labored and lips swelling up.  As my husband raced down the highway, I crawled over two rows of seats and his scared, little sisters to the back row of the mini-van.  As he cried and pleaded with me not to, I did what we’ve practiced for eight years now…pulled out the epi-pen and jabbed my boy in the thigh, providing him with a shot of adrenaline to sustain him until we arrived at the emergency room.

The rest of the story isn’t nearly as exciting.  We spent a few hours in the ER, he was given some steroids, monitored, we were told good job and discharged.

But during those few hours we spent in the ER, Charlie confided in me that he was feeling itchy and miserable while he saw Santa.  But he tried his best to hide it because he didn’t want Santa to see him having trouble breathing.  (Of course I spent a great deal of time reassuring him that he should never feel embarrassed about his allergies in front of Santa or anyone.  That he needs to yell and let everyone around him know if he can’t breath.  But again, this isn’t an allergy story).

Its a story about magic and explanation points.  In that moment, as Charlie bashfully told me about hiding his symptoms from Santa, I looked at my boy, saw his eyes puffy from crying and realized he’s still my little guy after all.  He’s stuck somewhere between between little guy and big kid.  I’ve been so nervous about his little guy days coming to a close that I’ve been running around, acting like an explanation point, trying to create all of these magical moments.

But the thing is, whether he believes or doesn’t believe as the days, months or year goes on.   It doesn’t matter.  The most magical, special thing of all now in December, and every day, is that my family is healthy, happy and here!!!!!!! (seven explanation points).  Big kid, little kid..believer, non-believer.  My family is the magic.

Multiple Choice

So we spent all of this money putting in a big fence between our driveway and alley to provide privacy and protection from passing cars. Great idea…except I keep driving my mini-van into the side of the fence. So for the past five months I’ve been driving around town with a scratched up mini-van and side door that barely opens. Choose the reason why below:

A. I’m too busy to make the time to get it fixed.

B. I’m too cheap to spend the money to get it fixed.

C. I’m too realistic to get it fixed…lets face it, I’m going to drive into that fence again.

D. I’m too bitter to get it fixed…I really have hated that mini-van for the last six years and am secretly hoping this scratch may be the thing to finally get me back into a civilized vehicle.

E. I’m too cool to get it fixed….I’m really driving around a scratched up mini-van to be ironic. Like one of those hipsters in big glasses. Get it? Get it?

F. All of the above are true.

G. All are true, while E is definitely not true. No one who drives a mini-van could possibly be cool enough to be ironic.

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