Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer Check-in

Well, hello there...

My bright idea of re-joining the gym so Andrew could go to up to THREE hours of childcare a day tanked. It was even a DROP-OFF place so I could run to the grocery store or to Panera to write! Andrew was fine with it until the big kids got out of school and the playroom got crowded. He decided he'd only go if there were just FOUR other kids there. Quite specific. So once again I am paying for the fancy gym, but not going. Enjoy your green smoothies and stair masters those of you who actually go!

Margaret, flush with cash from graduation, has decided that work is over-rated and has been clocking in a massive 6 hours of employment each week. Next summer will be a real wake-up call. I've offered to have her babysit Andrew without even needing to get dressed or leave the house, but those two are like oil and water. You might think sibling rivalry wouldn't exist with a 15 year age difference, but you would be sorely mistaken. He refused to let her take him for ICE CREAM today, for heaven's sake.

Margaret's big issue this summer was getting locked out of Instagram because 1) her phone broke 2) we are doofuses who had a defunct email account and phone number attached to her account. The great news is that thanks to an AWESOME blog reader and her multi-talented cousin, Margaret is back in! She immediately went with a friend to take glamor shots in the parking lot of Taco Bell, which I don't quite understand, but to each her own.

My big news is/was that we almost bought a small vacation home. This is something we've been working on for 3 years, and we were supposed to close on it today and go down there on Sunday. I had bags and boxes and board games ready to go. Alas, a bunch of complications came up and we pulled out. I am feeling down about it, weirdly not because I really enjoy the idea of "vacationing" with a three year old (is there such a thing?) but because I envisioned a) accessorizing it with gusto b) opening it up for small-group getaways and writing and grief retreats. My mind was spinning in an excited way and now it just feels blah.

Speaking of grief retreats, I'm honored to be going to Michigan next week to speak at a retreat for grieving moms through a wonderful organization called Starlight Ministries. My blah self wonders what I have to offer when Andrew and I are still in our pj's at 12:18 pm and I haven't written in eons. Deep down, however, I know that if I show up and open myself up to being used, God will take care of the rest.

Last night our nephew (Jack's BFF) came to spend the night and do some work in the area. The dynamic shifted immediately, as if we all let out a collective deep breath we didn't know we were holding. Although most days feel normal, there is still a palpable feeling that there should be a 20-something young man here. It feels so natural, so right. Our family looks vastly different from how it did with Jack alive. But there is muscle memory of how it once was, and those few times that we get to approximate it again, feel anything but blah.

Love you friends. How is your summer going?



Friday, June 28, 2019

Life is Weird

On Friday nights our town has live music and food on the town green. Last Friday Tim and I took Andrew.

We sat on a blanket next to a couple from our neighborhood with young kids Andrew's age. It was great to know we'd reached the stage where we could take him somewhere a little past bedtime, and we could hang out with adults.

As I looked around, I was struck by how many people I knew. Friends from Andrew's preschool across town. Jen from "Moms' Group" when Jack and Margaret were born, who later worked in Tim's office when we dipped our toes back into the working world. Ann, whom I met at "the park" in between kid 1 and kid 2, when we both wore oversized t-shirts, jean shorts, and weary looks. Parents from Margaret's field hockey team. People from both of the churches we attend.

I spotted a group of adults in camp chairs, and realized it was the parents of Jack's baseball teammates. Some had recent high school graduates, so we talked about the craziness of beach week and how glad we were that the kids all made it home safely. Turning to a baseball dad, I blurted out what popped into my head, "My life is so weird!" I gestured to where Tim and Andrew were waiting to get ice cream. 

They smiled and nodded. They may not know me well, but they do know that my life is weird. One kid in heaven, one heading to college, one in the line for ice cream with his daddy.

Jen's kids are both out of the house now, even though I still remember her son Chris as an infant, dwarfing Jack, who was older. She has gone back to work full-time in her field. Ann's son, Jack's friend from preschool, is studying in North Carolina. I was on that same timetable, until I wasn't.

It reminded me of a blog post, "Why B Normal?" written soon after Jack's accident, about how as a child I'd always imagined my life would be just a little bit different, even though I'm the most steady, predictable person I know. 

And it's true. My life is different. It often feels weird.

Yet thinking about it later, I realized that almost every one of the people on the town green likely had been thrown curveballs: death, divorce, infertility, mental and physical illness, job struggles, discrimination, interpersonal challenges, disappointment, crises of faith, and more. 

Shortly before she died, leaving me motherless at 18, my mom jotted a phrase on a piece of scrap paper and taped it to the fridge. It read, "Life is a very strange time."

I had no idea what it meant, but it didn't take me very long to figure it out.

Life has, indeed, been a very strange time.

*** 

We had to duck out of the concert earlier than the empty nesters happily holding their wineglasses, because bedtime awaited; until then, I soaked in the crisp air of a near-perfect June evening. Glad to be out of the house. Grateful to see so many familiar faces and to have friends from the different stages of my life. Open to those I would meet in the next stages as well.

Life is weird, sometimes hard, and often good.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Help Them Help You

May 31st was the anniversary of my mom's death.

She died when she was 46 and I was 18.

Mid-morning on the 31st, I texted Tim and Margaret reminding them that this was the day my mom died. They sent back short texts of sympathy, and I appreciated it. I also wrote on the family wall calendar "Mom 31 years." These two actions gave Tim and Margaret the greatest chance of reaching out and acknowledging my mom's death. Instead of waiting for them to show up for me (OR NOT) as I've done many years in the past, I chose to help them help me.

That's often how it is with grief. The griever is the one who much educate others how best to help. Give me space. Don't give me space. Say his name. Be silent. Talk. Listen. Go on a walk with me. Celebrate a holiday with me. Ignore this stupid holiday with me. My mom died and I want you to mention it.

Is this fair to ask of an already depleted person?

Absolutely not. But if you are grieving, you've likely learned that not much is fair anyway. However, the alternative is for even more pain to be piled on top of pain as we feel unacknowledged, forgotten, or misunderstood.

Shortly after Jack died, my friend Mary seemed absent. I am not saying she wasn't there at our house or for the funeral, but it felt like she was silently disappearing. I knew she loved Jack, and I knew she loved me. I spent an enormous amount of time and energy wondering what Mary was thinking and why she wasn't reaching out. I worried that her own grief for Jack was overwhelming.

Over text we decided to go out to lunch. After talk of mundane topics such as church news and how her son was doing in Algebra died down, I told her I missed her and broached  how she seemed unwilling or unable to grieve Jack with me. To talk about it. To acknowledge the shock. To voice how f*ing unbelievable and devastating it was that Jack had died. Really died.

 It was awkward.

We both cried. She explained that she'd been giving me the space and privacy she thought she'd want if one of her children died. My snarky side wanted to say that I'd been documenting my grief for thousands of people and she surely could have found clues on my blog, but I didn't.

For a lesser friend, I would not have brought up my disappointment and needs at all, but I cared enough about Mary to want to help her help me. Then, she could decide what to do with the information.

That's why I texted Tim and Margaret about my mom last week. Life is disappointing enough. People are disappointing. I know because I disappoint people regularly and fall short all. of. the. darn. time.

Honestly stating our needs can feel risky and vulnerable, but it gives someone a greater chance to be there for us in the ways we need. My friendship with Mary was never the same, but I am glad I said what I did.

If there is a specific way a friend or family member could better support you, consider showing them how, even if you might be angry pissed annoyed that you even have to.

Posting on Facebook on Jack's birthday, the anniversary of his death, or other important dates, and giving people the opportunity to comment, is a huge comfort to me, and it doesn't require anyone else to remember the dates. This is one of the ways I help others help me.

Maybe you can remind your friends that Mother's or Father's Day is tough, or that this was the month your baby was due.

Help someone help you.

XO

Monday, May 20, 2019

Current State of Affairs

I'm not going to say this parenting a preschooler and a teenager thing is impossible, but I will say it isn't always super-fun. Check out these voice texts between Tim and me when I was out much longer on Saturday than I'd intended:



I'm glad a sense of humor helps.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Why I Just Ate 1/2 of a Sheet Cake

Yesterday was sweet Andrew's 3rd birthday.



You may be thinking how fast that went.

For you.

For me, it has been both lightning fast and excruciatingly slow as I've re-learned the ropes of parenting a baby, toddler, and now preschooler. Being a geriatric mom has been miraculous, difficult, and unusual while also seeming like the most natural thing in the world.

Our day didn't have the best beginning because Andrew was so excited he woke up well before 6 ready to party. Problem was, the casual gathering I'd thrown together for a couple of our neighbor kids wasn't scheduled until 5 pm. Explaining to a newly minted three-nager that he'd have to wait 11 hours to eat his dump truck cake went over about as well as you can imagine. He was wailing by the time I wrestled him out the door to preschool, at which point I accidentally bonked his head against the car.

But what I thought would be a rough day for him, was more so for me.

My sister texted me an album of photos she'd taken the day of his birth. I scrolled through frame after frame of unflattering photos. I'm not saying that birth photography can't be beautiful. Black and whites, filters, and professional equipment yield artistic gold and capture the beauty and intensity of the moment.

My sister's i-phone 6, clicking second after second during Andrew's birth yielded a bunch of grainy, poorly lit photos of interest only to those of us who were there. They showcased my many chins, strained blood vessels in my eyes, and stages of undress that you care not one whit about mid-labor, when you're convinced you are about to poop on the bed, but that probably don't belong floating around on the cloud after that. Even baby Andrew didn't look so hot. He looked distraught and very, very sticky. As I browsed, I couldn't remember the proper terminology for all the gunk that covered him, but the words "womb cheese"popped into my head and stuck. I decided that if I somehow became miraculously pregnant at 50-something, I'd hire a professional photographer.

I quickly decided to post the one photo that passed muster: Tim holding newborn Andrew, cozy, clean and swaddled-- cheese-free and pinkish.

After a few hours of blissful alone time (i.e. a deep, deep dental cleaning in which my lack of flossing was evident) I headed into preschool to drop off birthday cookies. Ding. My sister texted, asking if I knew that one of the photos I'd posted showed boob.

Photos?

Photos?

BOOB?

Dear Lord, I'd somehow posted the entire album, boobs, triple chins, womb cheese, umbilical cords and all.

Nervous texts flew back and forth as I frantically deleted, and she checked and re-checked my wall.

Still there.

Still there.

Still there.

Gone.

Thank God.

"Don't worry," she said, lying, "no one clicks through those albums."

By the time the neighbors came over with their little ones for pizza and a moon bounce, I was still feeling like a doofus.

First to arrive was my friend Kelsey. We all know how amazing it is to have a friend right across the street with whom you click, and whose kid is the perfect age for yours. Visions of child-swaps, carpooling, short-hand conversations and girls' nights out pop into your head before the moving van has even turned the corner. I've spent the 6 months since she and her young family moved in getting to know Kelsey and trying not to come across as "too anything": too old, too eager, too weird. I'm cognizant of not trying to scare her or my other wonderful neighbors off. But each time I think I won't tell her another long-winded story about what's going on in our lives, I do anyway, because she's just that easy to talk to.

So I plunge in, needing to unburden myself about my screw-up with the album.

She said,"Oh, I saw it and clicked through. I saw the boob picture and was like, 'Go, Anna!'"

Can you tell why I adore her?

"Don't push it, Anna. Don't try to be funny,"  I told my relieved self, yet seconds later these words popped out of my mouth, "Ok, but you didn't see any VAG did you?"

That, my friends, is why I have 1/2 of Andrew's sheet cake to keep my fork and my emotional eating company tonight.

I'll report back soon on whether I have any friends left.

And don't worry that I took too much of Andrew's beloved cake. After wailing about it for 11 hours, he decided one bite would suffice.

Monday, March 25, 2019

We've Still Got It?


Tim and I just had 23 wonderful hours away for a belated anniversary celebration. When your anniversary is Christmas week, you need to spread things out a bit.

My sister took care of Andrew and Charlie, while Margaret had a jam-packed weekend in NYC with her art class. We stayed at the Blackburn Inn in Staunton, VA. We picked it because it was close to my sister's, and we feel like we found a hidden gem! It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and then a medium security prison before sitting abandoned for years. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big draw, but I love history and old buildings. I loved how the historic architecture and traditional grounds were coupled with cool, modern furnishings and any amenity you could think of.

My former student is the food/beverage director there, and it was super fun to reconnect with her. She gave us great suggestions for things to do around town, even though we told her we'd probably be lame and binge-watch The Sopranos in our room.

Did I tell you Tim and I are tired and strung-out?

He came home one day last week, looked at almost-three-year-old Andrew and said, "I really don't know how we are going to do this." I knew what he meant. The truth is, we are doing it. Haggard and tired? Yes. But we are doing it. But I'm not always "up" either. That same day I almost cried because I felt overwhelmed with doctors' appointments, scheduling, and all the moving parts of making a family work. I feel like I'm dropping balls everywhere, even though we are a FAR cry from what one would call busy. That scares me.

Our night away was relaxing, romantic, and fun, and we even got 2.5 episodes of The Sopranos in before Tim fell asleep!





The next morning was much less romantic.

Did I tell you I'm a difficult sleeper? At home I sleep under a weighted blanket, with the additional 24 lbs of a puppy on my legs. I take a melatonin gummy, wear eye shades, and ear plugs if necessary. Even a tiny blue light from a phone charger across the room can sabotage my tenuous sleep. My bladder conspires against me. A neighbor's porch light or a full moon can keep me up for days. Yes, even with the shades closed tightly.

At the inn I couldn't find my eye shades because I'd tucked them somewhere "special" in my bag. I also felt restless with no dog on my legs, even though the bed, bedding and pillows were luxurious and comfortable.

So when I couldn't sleep, I had to get creative. Imagine how romantic Tim felt when he woke up next to me.

a) Mouthguard for teeth grinding? Yep!
b) Retainer for lower teeth? Of course!
c) Bad breath? See a and b.

But even after more than 20 yrs of marriage, I don't think he was expecting to see his wife wearing a pair of underwear on her head to serve as a makeshift eye-shade.

Clearly, the romance is not dead.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Good-bye, Shadow






Tuesday I let Shadow out in the yard while I got dressed for a pancake supper at our friends' house. When I came downstairs, Andrew decided he wanted to go for a walk. Even though we didn't have much daylight left, I said agreed and bundled him up.

When we walked out through the garage, I saw Shadow motionless on the grass.

My mind couldn't put together what I was seeing. Why was she on the cold ground? Was it even Shadow, or could it be the other chocolate lab that frequents our yard? What was happening? I put Andrew back in the house in front of the TV, whispered to Margaret that we might have a problem, and headed back out.

Yes, it was our Shadow. She was warm to the touch but lifeless. Her ears still velvet. I tucked my cold hands into the soft fold where her tummy met her legs and thought of what to do next.

Shadow was 12 years old; her death should not have come as a surprise, but it did. She was still  energetic, with barely any gray and just a little stiffness in her hips. The day had not seemed unusual in her world. Extra banana from me while I made my morning smoothie. A treat from Andrew later. Up to her usual tricks, she even seized an opportunity when the cleaning lady left the dog food/mop closet ajar. I caught her with her head inside a large bag of Purina before I called her name sternly and she backed out of there. All markers of a very good day.

So it was hard to imagine that in the few minutes she was outside, she would just...die. I am grateful we didn't have to deal with the usual issues related to the slow decline of an aging dog, but it felt shocking. Just the day before she'd jumped up onto the couch next to me, hoping I wouldn't notice.

With a dog, you tend to think you'll have a chance to say goodbye. When you and the vet talk about options and quality of life, and you finally make the hard, hard decision to let her go. When you whisper into her ear, "It's okay. Good girl. Good girl. I love you."

But in this instance, I knelt on the grass, closed her eyes, and called Tim on a ski trip in Utah. It felt similar to another call I'd had to make to Tim 7 years ago, but it was without panic and terror. Tim was her favorite person.

I let Charlie out so he could see her, sniff her, and understand. Margaret had been having a hard day already when I told her and asked if she wanted to see her. "Why would I want to do something like that?" she snapped. A few minutes later she came, saw her, touched her, this beloved one who was so familiar to us that we each had our preferred zones on her body. I wasn't sure about bringing Andrew out, but I did. I explained that she died and wondered if this would help make Jack and Grandma Margaret's deaths less abstract.

Two neighbors lifted Shadow into the back of the car, on top of Jack's butter-soft blue twin bed sheet, and Andrew and I drove in the dark to the vet. We talked about how much we were going to miss her, and Andrew comforted me from the back seat as I cried.

Shadow had always been the quietest, calmest car companion, because nothing made her happier than to know her family was on a trip with her. We'd often arrive at a destination with her stirring from the floorboard for the very first time. Scenery? Who cared? She was with her people. She loved us and we loved her.

She was already named when we adopted her at nearly one year old. Within hours of knowing her, we realized "Shadow" suited her for the way she wanted to be near us at all times. In fact, tales of her mischief, which I've shared with you over the years, stemmed either from her voracious appetite or from her anxiety of not being with her us. Just search "Dog" on this blog and you will read tale after tale about Shadow.

Standing on the kitchen table at the old house? She needed a way to keep watch for our car. Eating 100 vitamin D tablets from the counter top? Well, I did have the audacity to take Charlie in the car (to the vet) thereby leaving her behind  FOREVER! Incessant barking heard through the neighborhood when Andrew and I went on walks? She had to let us know she was right there, available, waiting for us to come home. And if we could please keep little Charlie from humping her mercilessly, that would be helpful, too.

As long as we were with her, she was fine. I remember the time Jack, Margaret and their cousins came crying to me because Shadow had disappeared. Run away. Gone forever. Turns out she was stuck in an upstairs bathroom because she'd quietly gone in to keep one of them company and been left behind. So many memories. Of Easter baskets eaten, so that she pooped pastel foil for days. Of the way she convinced this work-at-home mom that her evening meal should be served no later than 1:30 p.m. Of Santa hats, doggie Halloween costumes, and her very own Snuggie. Of kayak rides, tennis balls, family hikes, and the time she dragged me though the air.

Dogs don't live long, and part of life is saying goodbye to them.

Of course we will miss more than just our precious, loyal family member and Snuggler-in-Chief. She takes with her a connection to our old home, our old lives, to Jack and Margaret's childhood. She lived two months longer than Jack did, which makes it a good run for dog, but a ludicrous one for a child.

Thank you for everything, Shadow.

Good girl. Good girl. I love you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Taking Down the Crib

 We planned on keeping Andrew in his happy yellow crib until he turned three. After the disintegration of his last remaining pacifier a few weeks ago, and the ensuing nights of restless sleep, things accelerated. 

Last Thursday, after bedtime and prayers, he was not settling down. I could hear him through the door, "Um, Mom? Mom! Mom-eeeeeeeeeee!!!" This went on for a while. I was TIRED. Exhausted, really, by the fact that there had been only 6 hours of Very Excellent Preschool since December 14. By Tim's long work hours, and his scary week-long bought with pneumonia. By the fact that with an aging dog and a toddler with poor aim, our house now smells like pee.

I really needed Andrew to fall asleep.

First, I went in for another hug. Next, I helped him locate his lovey, which he had thrown overboard  so he could yell, "I can't find LOVEY!" Almost out of ideas, I said, "Would you be more comfortable in your big boy bed?" An excited and not at all tired sounding, "YES!" led me to tuck him in the twin bed on the other side of his room.

He slept.

My friend's daughter is having another baby, so as soon as I got the a-ok from Andrew to give the crib away, we dismantled it and put it in my car. I'll probably drive around with it for 3 months before remembering to drop it off.

This feels different than when I gave away Jack and Margaret's crib. Back then, I hoped we would have a third child someday, but it felt uncertain. Would we ever figure out how to fit another child into our lives? The door felt more closed than open. In the short term, I knew our neighbor needed the crib, and we could use the extra space.

This time, I know that unless God himself wants to impregnate me to carry His child, there will be no more fruit of this geriatric womb. I toyed with keeping the crib for grand kids, but I have met  Margaret, and therefore know that is not a wise move. First, having a giant ball of need toddler in the house has convinced Margaret that babies are a heck of a lot of work, and she's not sure if she's up to it-- ever. Second, I realize there's nothing more fun for your self-esteem than having a grown daughter or daughter-in-law give you a self-righteous lecture when you try to pawn-off a decades-old baby crib aka death trap on them. I don't need a cute little Jenny Lind crib leaning against the basement wall either pressuring Margaret to procreate or showcasing how little I know about anything.

So off it goes.

His race car sheets and gray comforter arrive next week. I hope he likes them, but I know not to get too wrapped up in them.

Soon, he'll have his own ideas of how to decorate his room... and the little stinker is in our bed for half the night anyway.



Monday, January 7, 2019

Back to It!

Today Margaret is back to her senior year and Andrew is back in preschool. Time for a serious TV/Netflix detox for all of us! Some of the shows I watched were The Bodyguard and An Innocent Man.

We had a nice holiday, although we traded around pretty bad colds the entire time. We went through so many tissues. I thought we were in the clear until a little cutie sneezed right in Andrew's mouth at the barber shop the other day, and the whole cycle started over again. Gah!

Here are some photos from the past few weeks. I loved our Christmas PJ's this year. SO COZY.  Looks like a laugh on Andrew's face, but it was a cry-laugh by this point on Christmas Day.


3 day jaunt to NYC with Margaret and a few friends. They took artsy photos around the city:




Tim and I pretty much rested, since Andrew was in the capable care of my sister:


New Year's "hike" in the woods was a hit with Andrew:

Have you been watching Marie Kondo on Netflix? I haven't, but I did encourage Tim to unload a ton of shirts that no longer "sparked joy." Here's Andrew wearing one of Daddy's shirts.


Tomorrow my awesome sister in law is having surgery for breast cancer. Her body has already been through so much with lyme disease. Could you please pray for a smooth surgery and complete recovery?

Thank you!

Much love to you as we enter 2019. Thank you for being here for me. I am so happy to be here for you, too.