Monday, October 31, 2011


Heaven had better be:

Better than any stinkin' Youth Group costume party…

And being trapped inside a Lego Factory over a long weekend with plenty of Cheez-its and Dr. Pepper.

And the buzzy feeling you get when the person you have a crush on crushes on you back.

And sledding down a huge hill with your best friends until it’s cocoa time.

And a wonderful, fumbly first kiss.

And skiing black diamonds with your dad in Colorado.

And a high school debate trip to New York City with fun but slightly lax chaperones.

And praising God at a retreat and finally getting how much He loves you.

And sitting around with your friends at college laughing until your stomach hurts.

And falling in love.

And watching in person as the Yankees win the World Series…again!

And surprising your little sister by flying in for her college graduation.

And doing work that fulfills you and honors God.

And dancing with your mom at your wedding.

And holding your newborn baby-- staring at your wife thinking, “We made this?

And giving that baby a bath and zipping him up in footy pajamas.

Oh yeah, and sex.

Heaven had better be more wonderful than sex.

Okay, God? Good.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jack, thank you for...

Your honesty. You did not lie to us. You did not sneak around. A mom we’ve never met told us how at baseball camp this summer you were trying to get her son out at second, and the ump called him out. But you told the ump that no, you hadn’t quite tagged him. Your honesty and integrity gave us great optimism for your future, because you firmly had our trust.

Your humility.

Your willingness to dumpster dive. Thanks for all the times you helped lift old broken furniture from the curb into the car for one of my many projects. I remember when I had you jump out of the car on the way to school to pick up a weird horse head thing that turned out to be solid marble and super heavy!

Snuggling. During the lice fiasco of 4th grade, when I was going psycho and didn’t want to put my head near anyone else’s pillows, you pointed out that I was becoming a tad obsessed and that it was cutting down on our family’s closeness. Thank you for that wisdom-- wisdom that led to several more years of snuggle time.

Your generosity of spirit. You were happy for other people's joy and success and celebrated with them. I remember how happy you were when Margaret won an American Girl Doll at a toy store. I would have been all up in my mom's business about why I couldn't get something of equal value. You just smiled and celebrated with her.

Not badgering. When you asked us for something and we said no, you accepted that. You accepted that the reason you couldn’t play the same video games your friends could was because we loved you and we thought Grand Theft Auto and those other games were trashy. Your lack of badgering made us want to work with you and give you more privileges. Win-Win.

Accepting, if not embracing, my cheapness. I love the way you came home from school on the last afternoon of your life and said, “Mom, did you buy all my binders at the thrift store again this year?” When I admitted I had, instead of getting mad, you just asked if we could maybe wash off the .69 written in grease pencil on all the covers so everyone wouldn't have to know about it.

Obeying your parents. I remember the Saturday before the accident, when you stayed up late with your cousin in the basement. It was time for lights-out and you asked if you could finish the ½ hour show you were watching. You had seen the first ½ of the episode about 4 times and wanted to see the end. I said no, and you turned it off. Your cousin finished it for you both when he was here for your memorial service one week later.

Forgiving Us. You forgave us our parenting mistakes, again and again. Whether it was our accidentally catching your chubby little baby tummy in the zipper of your footy pajamas, or coming down way too hard on you for things that were really OUR ISSUES, not yours, you forgave us.

Forgiving others. You didn’t hold grudges. When neighborhood spats occurred, and someone or other would yell, “I’m never playing with you again!” I would have written them off. But not you; you always gave it another shot.

Bettering yourself. Whether it was doing 100 sit-ups and push-ups a night trying to finally ace that damn Physical Fitness Test, learning to show patience and flexibility during neighborhood games, or practicing your baseball fielding with Dad in the yard, you worked to better yourself.

Your empathy. When you were very young, you worried A LOT about my dear friend Cynthia. You said, “How is she ever going to find someone to marry if she works in an old folks home?” When she (finally!) did get married, you were ecstatic. You prayed that she would be able to have babies and were so relieved when she did.

Your gentleness. You did not yell at me. As a kid who yelled at her parents a lot, I really appreciated that.

Never wearing a muscle shirt. Okay, there was one that time in 4-year-old Vacation Bible School, but that was mandatory.

Talking to us. Even though you were quieter at home than at school, you were great to talk to, especially at bedtime. You asked mature, thoughtful questions. Sometimes you would say in the dark, “Um, I have another word to ask you about.” I loved that you could do that without being embarrassed. The night before you died you were trying to understand a friendship that was changing. Thank you for talking to me about it.

Liking things that we could stand behind. Thank you for discussing houses and Shakespeare with me and the Yankees and books with Dad. I have a feeling you were a rare 4 year old for being into Origami and word games. Thanks for being obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine and Legos. I know if you had been into Pokemon, Bakugon, and Super Heroes we would have developed a taste for them, too, but I’m glad we never had to.

Your faith in God.

Making us laugh. You and your sister kept us entertained every day. I would have loved for you 2 to have the chance to make each other laugh as grown-ups.

Never blaming. You must have gotten this trait from your dad, not me. I could drop a can of corn on my foot and look around for someone else to blame. And now, I want to blame everyone and everything for what has happened to you, but that’s meaningless, and it's not what you would have done. So, even in this time of pain, yours is the example I want to follow.

There is so much more to thank you for, Jack. Like every family, we had good times and bad, but the good FAR outweighed the bad. I am reluctant to post this, because it is such a small representation of what made you special.

I am thankful to God for giving me an intelligent, quirky, gentle, strong-willed, respectful son to love. And that love will not end.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Roll It

I was trying to explain to my sister how everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in our lives has changed since that terrible night. Our hopes, our plans, our dreams for the future, our home, the rhythm of our days.

“Even the way I wipe my (rear) has changed!” I blurted out.

Say what?

Well, when your world is turned upside down in an instant, chances are you are not capable of running out to the store for essentials like TP. Instead, your amazing, wonderful, supportive friends will buy it for you. And if their love and support for you is measured in rolls, let’s just say that they love you a lot. We’re talking Jumbo-Pack Love.

And chances are pretty high that these amazing, wonderful, supportive friends will buy you the GOOD stuff, not the cheapo flimsy ply you’ve been purchasing for your family for, well, about a million years.

And while you are exceedingly grateful for the generosity and thoughtfulness of your friends, you’ll note during several, uh, private times during the day-- as if a moment really could go by without your realizing it-- that EVERYTHING indeed has changed. Even the way you wipe your, um, rear.

I’m guessing this will be one of the easiest changes to get used to.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Musings...

So I’ve come to realize that PMS and Profound Grief are not a winning combination.

Of course I’d gladly embrace the former every day of my life to be spared the latter, but that’s not a choice that’s mine to make. Last week I found myself silently railing, to no one in particular-- random cars driving down the road, strangers in the grocery store-- “Blank you and the horse you rode in on!” I don’t really even understand that expression, except, of course, its intent, but I was spewing it, inside my head, again and again. I found this slightly troubling yet liberating at the same time.

I remember reading “The Green Mile” years ago and being taken aback by the warden’s sweet wife, who was dying of cancer, as she spewed out every epithet in the book. Such was the depth of her suffering. I wondered how she could have the thoughts to formulate those words, when she had probably not used them in her entire life.

Now I realize I do not even know what the vocabulary of my grief will be. Ugly words? Ugly thoughts? Soothing words? Edifying thoughts? We will see, day by day by day.

When people say how strong I am, I don’t know how to respond. Because all I am doing is getting out of bed and trying to function through the day. I am eating. I am laughing. I am crying. I don’t feel that I am any stronger than someone else who does stay in bed. And, really, who knows what tomorrow will bring?

23 years ago, when my mom died suddenly, I was 18 and had just come home for summer break. Three days later, I got a job hostessing at the local restaurant where our family had eaten 3-4 nights a week ever since Mom decided she was fed up with cooking.

So that summer I pulled on my jean miniskirt, laced up my Keds, and smiled and joked my way through my shifts. I stayed busy during the days and wandered the house crying at night. It’s just what I did. My father, brother, and sister did things differently, and that was okay, too.

Tim, who misses Jack terribly, has found comfort in being with people. Watching baseball, football, playing cards or going out for a beer. Getting together with a group of neighbors to discuss where God is in all of this. In the first days and weeks after the accident, I couldn’t understand why my normally shy husband was becoming a social butterfly. He went to museums. He wanted to have people over. He had a catch with friends. I wondered, ungraciously, “Does he miss Jack or does he miss having a catch?”

He took another friend geo-caching, which was our family’s favorite hobby. Huh? When we talked about it, it became clear that Tim likes being in a group because it is a welcome distraction. Being with friends buoys him up, even when they aren’t talking about Jack. And doing the things he did with Jack, such as going to a cherished geocaching spot or watching a baseball game, helps him feel closer to Jack.

Me? I don’t want to be in a large social setting right now, even though that is more in my nature than Tim's. It's too hard to be with people talking about toenail polish, standardized tests and the like. I know that will get more bearable, but for now I would rather be with just a few people who are willing to talk about Jack. I want people to know that talking about Jack isn’t going to “remind” me of what we have lost. Believe me, we know.

I also find great solace in messages on facebook and comments on this blog letting me know people are praying for us, even when I don’t have the energy for face to face contact or to write back. These gifts from you are accessible to me any time during the day or night.

In the week ahead, with lots of “firsts” coming up, such as our treasured Halloween parade and trick-or-treating, we wonder how we will navigate them. Tim suggested maybe standing at a different parade spot with different people, while I want to say at “our” parade spot of 12 years. Who knows what we'll do?

Despite our different personalities and grieving styles, which we are grateful to be able to understand and express to each other, both Tim and I LOVE to hear how God is working in people’s lives as a result of Jack’s life and death. If you have something like that to share, I hope you will.

Sometime in the past year, as we were getting out of the car, Jack said to me, “I think I may want to be a missionary, but I might be too shy.”

Margaret replied, “I don’t ever want to be a missionary. They have TERRIBLE toilets!”

Fairly accurate statement, I suppose.

I told him there are ways of being a missionary even if you are shy.

Perhaps, through the way he is still touching people’s lives right now, Jack is getting to be a missionary without ever having to say a word.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm a Belieber, Part 2

Thank you for all you are doing to help put a smile on Margaret's face by somehow connecting her to Justin Bieber. I am humbled and grateful.

As several of you have pointed out, Justin Bieber will be on the Today Show November 23! I am convinced we can get Margaret invited up to see him perform. If you are willing and able, please send emails, tweet, call in connections, and cajole.

Thank you so much for your continued support.

And please keep praying for us...we can feel it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rare Bird, Part 3

At the end of 6th grade, Jack's class had dinner at the Olive Garden. The highlight of the evening came when the parents read a "charge" they had written for their child. Tim and I took turns reading ours to Jack as we stood in front of the group, each with a hand on Jack's shoulder. We got choked up, of course. There's a lot of inside information in it, that only Jack's classmates will understand, but Tim suggested you might like to read it anyway, especially since our friend wrote that beautiful poem, Rara Avis, for us a few weeks ago:

"Jack, we remember the day we dropped you off in 1st grade, a shy 6 year old kid coming to a brand-new school. Even though you were sad to leave your other school, you grew to love DCS.

Each year we would say you could stay as long as the school didn’t move. I wonder if the main reason DCS never found a new location was the strength of one boy’s prayers.

From day one, you excelled at your schoolwork, teaching us more than a thing or two along the way.

You particularly enjoyed the chance to be creative with special projects. If they could incorporate legos, drawing, or acting, even better.

Some highlights included:
The Vine Snake
The Hill of Difficulty
The Hobbit Map and Paper
And of course, playing Edmund and Macbeth.

Non-academic highlights included:
Cricket races on the playground
Challenging your classmates to “The Game” in which they had to travel the world to figure out where something was hidden
AND developing a private language between you and your classmates.
Hello? Who is Stebe?

You grew a lot during these years, dealing well with personal challenges. When we think about you, Jack, we realize you are one of the strongest people we know.

God has given you gifts, academically, spiritually and creatively.

We pray, as you go forward into middle school, that you will strive for excellence, not because God wants you to be perfect, but because He wants the BEST LIFE FOR YOU and wants you to use your gifts for His work.

That includes putting in full effort, and respecting your teachers, your fellow students and yourself enough to make great choices.

God wants people to see there are many facets to you—not just an entertaining guy—but also someone who is bright, someone who stands up for what he believes in, someone who OVERCOMES obstacles, and someone who has a heart for God and people.

We hope you will continue to share with us what is going on in your life, and if we don’t understand at first, that you won’t give up.

It reminds me of the cardinals we witnessed hatch and fly away this week. Their parents were with them every bit of the way, protecting them, providing for them, and encouraging them. This is what we want to do for you.

As the fledglings found their wings and flew away, you said, “They just grow up so fast.”

So true.

Jack, parenting you is an honor and a privilege, and we know the day is coming soon when you’ll be flying on your own.

When things get hard, and they will, please remember:

Nothing is impossible with God.

We are proud of you, Jack, and we love you very much."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday "Wramblings" and Walmart

Today was my first trip to Walmart since the accident. I’ve been dreading it, because the last time I went was with Jack, just the two of us, to do some last minute stocking up on back-to-school snacks. He was in a great mood. You would have thought my willingness to buy pudding and two flavors of goldfish made me mother of the year.

We were in a bit of a rush, so I let him stay by himself in the toy aisle looking at Hot Wheels cars (an interest he and his friend had recently renewed from early childhood) as I ran to the refrigerated aisle. He rolled his eyes as I said, “Don’t talk to ANYONE!”

I felt panicky that he was out of my sight, and I made a mental note that even though he was about to start 7th grade and was probably more than ready to be on his own, I wasn’t ready . I wasn’t yet ready for him to be apart from me. When I told him I’d buy him 3 cars just for the heck of it, something he didn’t ask me to do, he was thrilled, even though it only cost me a whopping three dollars. Later that night he ordered another car off the internet, which arrived the day after he died.

Jack and I also searched unsuccessfully for a Latin/English dictionary, since he couldn’t seem find his old one, not that he looked very hard. After the accident, when I emptied his backpack, I saw it zipped up in one of those little-used front pockets where it had been since June. Sheesh.

This past weekend I read Elizabeth Edwards’s account of a colossal meltdown she had in the grocery aisle when she came upon her dear son’s favorite soda. Brought to the fetal position, on the floor of a public place, by Cherry Coke. I get it, Elizabeth. I get it.

For me, at Walmart today, it was a little bit of everything. I avoided looking down the toy aisle, or at Halloween costumes, but the truth is, our kids are everywhere, in every aspect of our lives.

Dill pickles, picante sauce, Resees Puffs, and goldfish. Pudding, school supplies, and a favorite yogurt flavor. Each felt like a stab to my heart.

On Monday Margaret and I donated our “Jack Food” to a food bank, because what’s the point of keeping unopened boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats or cans of Spaghettios as a shrine to my kid?

So today I was restocking, trying to find something that would appeal to us, when very little seems to. It was hard.

After the food aisle, you could have found me among the soap, sniffing all the varieties of teen-boy body wash, trying to find Jack’s smell. You see, the cleaning lady came the morning before the accident and stripped his bed, so no smell of him lingered there. His other clothes were clean-- sweatshirts washed and ready for the new school year.

So today I bought some Old Spice “Pure Sport” for a kid who can no longer use it. Damn, he smelled good. I still can’t believe he didn’t get the chance to get old and stinky. Over the summer he informed us that he did, indeed, have B.O., but Margaret and I checked him out, a face in each pit, and begged to differ.

Even the cleaning products got me down today. I couldn't locate our laundry detergent or any of our "green" cleaning products. "Must EVERYTHING change?" I thought.

So today is hard, as was last night when my hand reached instinctively for four plates to set the table. I realized that for years there’s been no counting, just a connection between mind and body to grab the perfect stack of four.

And we went to cheer on his baseball team, which was brutal because those gorgeous young boys were having so much fun. There was such a sense of learning and camaraderie, and very little pressure. Just boys playing their favorite game under the lights. Tim and I kept looking at each other saying, “He would have loved this!”

And there were the binders. The “new to you” thrift-store binders filled with only 2 days worth of middle school work. A friend emptied out Jack’s locker and brought them to us. I had avoided looking at them for a while. You see, in classic parent style, Tim and I had micromanaged the school life of our eldest. Oh yes we did.

He always had stellar grades, but we were even more focused on the non-academic areas of “self-control,” “works well with others,” etc. In 6th grade we noticed that Jack’s handwriting, which had become pretty sloppy over the last few years, was completely illegible! We considered this a sign of disrespect toward his teachers and Tim, in his usual “chart-loving, self-improvement” fashion, was on it. Middle school was a big deal, and Tim wanted Jack to start out on the right/write foot.

He printed out cursive sheets for Jack to practice on this summer. You know, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Yep, at 12 ½, Jack was back to first grade penmanship sheets, but he did them.

When I opened those binders, representing just two measly days of school, I wasn’t sure what I’d see, and whether the pages would be sloppy or neat. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to see.

But nothing prepared me for the loss of breath and rush of tears when, upon opening the binders, I saw page after page of the neatest, most deliberate handwriting I’d ever seen.

I can’t explain it, but it kind of killed me just a little bit more.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rare Bird, Part 2

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

I am amazed and grateful at how gifts of comfort come at just the right time. While this post may come across as long and convoluted, I hope you’ll hang on for the ride.

First of all, I feel as if the poem I posted on Friday was divinely inspired. While my friend’s son and Jack hadn’t played together since preschool, and she and I had only seen each other a handful of times in recent years, she chose a bird as her primary image to beautifully convey Jack in the poem. It could not have been a more perfect gift to us. We treasure it.

I had already written the “Rare Bird” post but was unable to publish it Thursday night because the electricity went out, shutting down my computer. As you know, Jack died on a Thursday evening during a terrible storm, and the lack of electricity was a big factor in his death.

So here I was on another shitty Thursday, shortly after 6 pm (the exact time Jack disappeared), alone in my dark house, a crazy storm raging outside my window. I asked God, “Seriously????” but was filled with a sense of calm, knowing that many, many people were praying for me at that instant. Instead of replaying the horror of that night in my mind, as would be my nature, I was able to sit calmly for hours until Tom and Margaret got home. One of the reasons I could be so calm was a little bird.

As had happened in another part of the house one week before, I heard a bird singing, so loudly and beautifully that it seemed to be inside the house. The first time it happened, I was in the family room. It was sunny and calm outside, so I didn’t think much of it except, to note, “That is one LOUD bird.”

But how a bird could sing during such a storm was beyond me. I just cherished it as I sat on the living room couch in the dark, a little smile on my face, knowing that when the electricity came on I already had a post ready to share with you about my boy entitled, “Rare Bird.” I loved that.

What could have been a horrible night was the opposite, because of many prayers and the visit of a little songbird. Margaret and Tim eventually came home and the three of us tucked ourselves into our queen-sized bed, the electricity still out. We were able to laugh and talk before falling asleep, which was far different from the moaning sobs that stormy night 5 weeks ago.

The next morning I told them about the bird and as I did, the loud singing began again. We looked around and found a cute brown songbird sitting contentedly in a flowerpot on our screened porch. He must have gotten trapped inside and ridden out the storm there. We let him out, and I smiled again. Bird.

What I hadn’t told you yet was that a different friend, whom I have not seen in 20 years and who, therefore, had never met Jack, had been lifting us up via loving emails each day. Several of her emails over these past few weeks, in addition to prayers and hugs, mentioned sending a little blue jay my way. Well, umm, okay. Not sure what that meant. And I’ve never really liked blue jays, but I decided I’d take all the love I could get.

It wasn’t until she read Friday’s blog post, that this friend let me know what she meant in those previous emails. She had seen a particular bird often since the accident, and each time she saw it was filled with a sense that my Jack was MORE THAN OKAY. When she would look at the blue jay, the words, “Rare Bird” came to her, again and again, which she found odd, because blue jays are not rare. After reading the poem on Friday, and seeing the title, "Rare Bird," she immediately KNEW that the “rare bird” she had been thinking of was not a bird, but was Jack.

She was able to pass along to me many comforting assurances about Jack, and because of the beautiful poem, and the bird that had sung to me Thursday night, I was able to hear her and be comforted. Wow.

Well, there’s more:

So yesterday, while we were getting ready to go to go to a school picnic, something we dreaded because Jack wouldn’t be there with his friends, my cell phone started playing music. I say cell phone, because even though it’s an iPhone, I am not a music-girl, and I didn’t even know it had music on it. Turns out, Tim loaded some songs when I first got the phone, but I had no idea.

The song playing, “The Solace of You,” was one of our favorites when were dating many years ago in our Mix-tape days. Tim and I were able to smile, hug, take solace, get in the car, and do something hard.

The music would not have touched me if all of these other things hadn’t happened to help me be open to the idea of COMFORT coming to us through varied ways. I would have just thought-- “Wow, my cell phone is jacked up!”

So, I realize I’ve been being eased into accepting this comfort, from the Bible verse showing up on my phone that first terrible night, friends telling me they sensed Jack was reunited with my mother in heaven, and the prescient Bible verse Margaret found last summer. It goes on and on.

Just as God has used numbness and shock to NOT let me feel the weight of this grief all at once, he seems to be giving comfort in just the right doses, lots and lots of doses, to bring me solace.

So later last night, when I heard music playing on my phone inside my purse, I wasn’t all that surprised. It was another song from our dating years. When I asked Tim what it was called, he said:

“’Song Bird’ by Fleetwood Mac.”

Of course it was.

Thanks, God! Thanks, Jack!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I'm a Belieber!

Okay, I need to admit I will have very little understanding of some of what you are about to read in this post, but the lowdown is that thanks to your comments and enthusiasm after reading Margaret's sweet, poignant "grocery list" last week, I'm now starting to believe there will be a chance my little girl will get to meet Justin Bieber!

Why? Well, you have emailed Ellen, you have called in favors to your brother's ex-girlfriend's college roommate's mom. You have tweeted. No stone is left unturned!

You have pulled together to put a smile on Margaret's face, and I have to believe that something great will come of it.

Here's the thing. I don't tweet. I don't even understand it. I tried to understand it for about 5 seconds before doing what I usually do-- throw up my hands and ask my sister to figure it out for me. I may only be 18 months younger, but I know how to be the youngest child.

Then, I asked her to try to explain it in simple terms for me (and anyone else out there who might be a tad technologically challenged).

Those who are seasoned tweeters can laugh at my cluelessness-- laugh away as long as your tweeting fingers are moving! If you have any tweeting advice, like about hash tags (?) and key words (?) please let us know in the comments.

So, without further adieu, here's my sister:

How to Tweet:
Go to and create an account. You do not have to use your real name. If you have a business account and want to create another just for this fun project, that is also easy to do.

Once you have created your account, use the search button (like a magnifying glass) to find the following people to follow. Click the person, then “follow.” You can also start from one of my tweets and click on the other names to follow from there. Easy peasy.

@JBLiftMargaret (our semi-official, Go Margaret identity)
@justinbieber (the real person!)
@scooterbraun (his manager)
@studiomama (his mom)
@bieberarmy (huge fan club)
@theellenshow (Ellen does lots of fun things like this to help people)
@tumblegrom (family friend)
@tumblegrommom (the brains behind this operation)

Unless you have followers, no one will see your tweets. SOOOO, tweet directly to the people above by starting your tweet with “@justinbieber” or whoever you want to have see the message. Please also include “@JBLiftMargaret” in your tweet to tie them all together (see Heather’s tweet below). You only get 140 characters so sometimes it is a challenge to get the size down. I have tinyurls for some links to the blog (Yes, I found out how to do that, too! See above) and the Fairfax Times article (Thanks, Heather! See below) that you can copy, or you can just re-tweet (RT) our posts. To do that, click the little thing that looks like recycle arrows. Except square. And only two arrows.

Heather's sample tweet: @justinbieber please hlp ease Margarets pain, her bro Jack was killed in a flood last month She<3s U! @JBLiftMargaret

I included the link to Margaret’s shopping list in most of my tweets. Every time I read it I long with all my heart to give her what she really wants, Jack.

Since we can’t do that, let’s try to do this. Justin Bieber gets tons of requests on his time, so it will really take an OVERWHELMING amount of attention for this to happen. I think we can do it.

In the meantime, I am just thankful for something to d
o.-- Auntie

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rare Bird

Jack did not nap until he was 14 months old. That was not fun. But he made up for his crabby, exhausted babyhood with early development in a few areas that amazed and delighted us. For example, he used baby sign language from a ridiculously young age.

Above his changing table was a mobile made of origami cranes. Every time I changed his diaper, I would give the mobile a swing, and the paper cranes would swoop and swirl above his head. Jack made up a sign for “bird” that let me know he wanted to see his birds, or any bird for that matter. It was a little wave of the wrist, hand held high, and he did it OFTEN.

On that same changing table, at 7 or 8 months, he spoke his first word, “bird.” I videotaped it for daddy at work so he would believe me. No worries there, because once Jack started talking, he never stopped. And spelling, and rearranging the letters of the alphabet forward and backward, and sounding things out—like the word “semaphore” in 3-year-old preschool. At the time, I had no idea what a semaphore was. Jack filled me in.

Thus started the circus act of “Mommy and Jack,” as I proudly showed people all the amazing things he could do. He seemed so mature for his age, doing intricate puzzles and mazes, and building things. It wasn’t until later that I realized that while those things came so easily to him, other things didn’t, such as transitioning from one activity to another, handling disappointment, or staying quiet in class.

The realization that my beloved wonder-child was not perfect rocked my world. It helped me to quit being so smug and judgmental of other people’s parenting, to consider that other people struggle in ways we cannot see, and to be more accepting when baby #2 came around with her own distinct personality.

My inward celebration that I had hit the jackpot (the jackpot!!!) with my 2 particular kids never once slackened, but my heart did grow bigger, and I’m thankful to Jack for that. And so grateful that time and perseverance helped Jack grow into himself-- a smart, funny, caring, likeable 12 year old boy who loved God, his family, and his friends.

In those early years, we spent a lot of time bonding with babies and mommies in our home and at the park. This daily time together kept everyone sane. One of those dear mom-friends, in setting out to write our family a sympathy letter, instead wrote us an incredibly beautiful poem, and I’m honored to share it with you here:

Rara Avis
for Jack

“Bird” he signed,
Pudgy fingers fluttering.
We marvel and clap.

“Bird” he spoke,
“Starts with B”. So smart, so young.
We wonder and smile.

”Bird!” he yelled.
Too loud for the classroom rules.
We correct and sigh.

“Bird”, he imagined,
In stories, games, and colored bricks.
We admire and dream.

“Bird”, he joked
With apt and joyful humor.
We recall and laugh.

“Bird!”, he declaimed,
Confident upon the stage.
We bravo and beam.

“Bird” he became.
Why must he fly home so soon?
We call out and grieve.

“Bird” we weep,
“Come back here! You’ve flown too high.
We cannot see you!”

“bird”, he whispers,
“Let my wings enfold your heart.
We will meet again.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thank You, Jack: Patience

Jack taught us much about patience, and not just because being a parent requires patience, which it surely does, but because HE was a patient person. He was patient with us when we made rookie mistakes raising our eldest, or “Practice Child,” as he once called himself (See Thank You, Jack: Forgiveness at a later date).

Even from Jack’s youngest years, he realized there was value in waiting.

For example, Jack would ask for Lego gift cards for his birthdays and Christmas. He saved them up from season to season until he could buy something he REALLY wanted. Just this summer, he took $400 in Lego cards to the mall to buy special sets he had wanted for so long. That took patience. It actually pained Jack to see friends “squander” their money because it was burning a hole in their pockets when they could have saved it up.

Jack was patient in the face of estrogen or low-blood-sugar-induced-mania from his mom and sister. He kept his mouth shut. He didn’t engage. Sometimes he just quietly walked away (See: Mom’s Great Wolf Lodge Meltdown, Class Party Psycho Mom, or pretty much any post labeled “Molly” or "Vacation").

Jack also saw value in waiting for a project to come together. When he, Margaret, and their friends had lemonade stands this summer to raise money to decorate a clubhouse, he was in it for the long haul, making up weird songs by the side of the road to keep morale up, never expecting parents to jump in and pay for everything as some parents do. He simply enjoyed seeing the project progress bit by bit.

Doing a 3,000-piece puzzle would be like Chinese Water Torture to me, but for Jack and his dad, it was an enjoyable exercise in patience.

I think of our favorite TV show, “The Amazing Race.” Tim and I watched for years, but we did not feel the kids were old enough for it. On Monday mornings, Jack waited for my edited synopsis of what happened on the show the night before. He kept better track of the contestants and their idiosyncrasies than I could, without ever seeing the show! Each new season, he would ask, “Is this the year we can watch Amazing Race with you?” For a long time, the answer was “No.” When we did start watching as a family, 2 seasons ago, he was overjoyed.

And speaking of tv shows and movies, Jack loved it when Margaret had a sleepover at someone else’s house, because that meant he could watch guy-type movies such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean. You see, when our family watched movies together, it was most often something that skewed younger and more girly, usually about a girl and a dog-- you get the picture. But Jack knew that if he waited, with the DVD’s in their paper mailers for days, weeks, and sometimes months, he could watch something special and guy-ish with his dad.


It was harder for Jack to be patient with himself. He could get very upset in class. And, during one sports season, he had major trouble accepting close losses. Later, he would beat himself up for getting so upset. “Mom, why did I act that way again?” But Jack persevered, grew, and matured, and in later seasons was able to serve as an example to younger boys who might have been struggling with similar issues.
Jack also had to be patient as his body grew. He did NOT like being so short, or so thin. He did push-ups and sit-ups to grow stronger and began eating a lot of foods he had spurned when he was younger and his diet consisted primarily of cheese.

I remember taking a walk with him, my arm around his shoulder. Up ahead were his dad and grandpa. I told him that what he was seeing was his future. Being so thin and wiry as an adolescent was hard, but when his friends were dealing with beer guts in about 20 years, he would most likely still be built like a 16 year old—just look at Dad and Popi! Jack smiled and told me that it didn’t really help very much right then.

Patience is hard.

And you know, I KNOW that Tim, Margaret and I are going to survive this devastating loss, this nightmare. This ripping away in an instant of what was dearest to us.

I know that in my mind and maybe even with a teeny, tiny part of my heart. I know that, but it doesn’t really help very much right now. But I’m not going to rush it. I’m going to try to be patient.

Thanks, Jack.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Say Potato, I Say Nut Sack

A few weekends ago, I was sitting in the kitchen with my sister and her son. Her son is exactly 9 months older than Jack. You see, 13 years ago I came home from a few days of helping my postpartum sister take care of her sweet baby boy and gave Tim the “green light,” if you will. The result? Two boys like brothers from another mother. One short, one tall. One from the country, one from the 'burbs. Each the other’s biggest fan.

Jack’s cousin misses him terribly.

He and his mom sat at the counter sharing Jack stories, as my mind reeled with should have beens. I said to myself, “Jack never got to have a phone, or send a text, or go on a date! He never got to read the latest book in the Inheritance Series, which I already promised I’d buy him for Christmas. He’ll never get to ace his PSAT’s, be in a high school play or go to the freakin’ prom! He’ll never fall in love! He won’t even get to be a teenager! He’ll never get to sit around with his friends doing gross teenage guy things like using words like 'nut sack' or lighting their farts on fire. Never, Never, Never!

Eyes filled with tears, I looked up at my nephew, who was still reminiscing, and I heard him say this to his mom:

“We loved looking at that book together. Jack thought it was so funny that the guy’s last name sounded just like “ball sack.”

So there IS that, I suppose.

Not Fall, Too!

I saw a gorgeous tree today with green and orange and red leaves, the first full glimpse I’ve had of fall, and it made me want to gouge my eyes out.

I thought, “Not fall, too, God! Not fall!” Because fall is my favorite time of the year with colorful leaves, the promise of a fresh start, new school supplies, pumpkins, sweater weather, and good hair days.

And truthfully, it has probably been my favorite because the other “popular” season, spring, was so brutal for so long. For me, having lost my mom in spring when I was 18, that season meant the pain of audaciously beautiful flowers, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day— a season which obnoxiously insisted on glowing every year, despite the pain it represented. The fertile promise of spring seemed wasted on me. The pungent smell of soil, which used to entice me, just reminded me of loss.

It wasn’t until 12 years ago, when Jack came along and changed everything, that I was able to reclaim Mother’s Day as a day to rejoice. Mother’s Day? I was now a MOM! What an honor. What a privilege. And over the years, experiencing spring through the eyes of the kids, of buds and blossoms and rain puddles, I was able to enjoy the season again, too. Spring was Jack’s birthday, but was also my rebirth.

But now? Fall sucks. And Back to School? Not ever going to be a time of rejoicing for me, I don’t think.

So what does that leave me with? Summer? In Virginia? With frizzy hair, mosquitoes, humidity, and kids playing in the street late into the night, but not my kid? Of family vacations with one extra space in the room, on the couch, and at the table?

Or winter. Are you kidding me? Don’t even get me started on the short, bleak days, the ice storms, and…Christmas.

So the seasons and the cycles and all the things that make us look forward in anticipation? I’m not feeling it. At least not today. That glorious tree seems like a personal affront.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The View from the Backseat

When we got a new car a year and a half ago, we specified Captain's Seats. After 8+ years of being crammed next to each other on a 2-person bench seat in the minivan, Jack and Margaret could use some personal space, we figured.

What we noticed, though, was that Margaret kept sticking a foot across the way, or reaching out to poke Jack. She would do anything to get all up in his business, including leaning way out over the aisle to try to put her head on his shoulder. In short, she missed him.

How much more must she be miss him now that he's not in the back seat with her at all.

Even though I wanted him to grow- grow- grow, I guess the fact that he never got big enough to move to the front gave Margaret a little more time with him.

I'm including our last video clip of them-- a blurry little snippet, just a few seconds long, because it seems to capture a little of their relationship. Margaret is bored on our beach trip evacuation, so she's holding up the camera, pretending to look at pictures, but secretly filming Jack as he is engrossed in a game.

He throws out his summer's favorite phrase and answer to anything: "my butt." She uses a funny voice to try to engage him, but he's not biting. Finally, he throws her a bone. He says something to crack her up and then flashes his million dollar (okay, $5,000) smile.

It's the little things, and the big things that make this so darn hard.

Friday, October 7, 2011

If it Could be So...

Tim and Margaret were running errands on Tuesday and Margaret made a list of what she wanted:

Oh how I wish it were that easy. We want him back too.

Seriously, though, if ANYONE has any connections with Justin Bieber, please use them! This is one time I think it's perfectly acceptable to play the sympathy card.

And speaking of famous people, for Jack's Little League banquet in June, he had to fill out a questionnaire about himself. One question asked what famous person he'd most like to meet. His answer? "No one." After two emails back and forth between the sweet mom in charge and me, I finally asked him why he couldn't just choose someone. He said, "I just think it would be really awkward to meet someone famous. What would we talk about?" Good point.

That kid knew how to make me smile.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Bridge: One Terrible Night

A few weeks ago I thought my biggest problem in the world was that I’d gained 10 lbs over the summer. I may have mentioned it to you here a time or three. But as you know, everything has changed:

We sat around the table doing homework by candlelight a la Little House on the Prairie. The electricity was out, and we were psyched. Driving home a few minutes earlier had been an adventure, as we made our way through flooded streets that looked like a river of chocolate milk. We saw our favorite tiny ponds overflowing their banks. We drove home a different way because we knew that the little bridge on the road outside of our development would be flooded, and it was.

We planned to make nachos for a snack, but with no power for the microwave, that was a no-go. I put out apple slices with peanut butter and we talked about how great school was going, particularly how excited Jack was about English, and Science, and Bible. This was promising news from the brand new world of Middle School!

The rain picked up and a knock came at the door. Friends, soaked, playing in the warm rain. Giggles all around, with a “Go for it!” from me and they were out the door. I don’t know how many times I’d told them of the crazy fun my sister and I had tromping through the flooded dips and valleys of our yard as kids, but I do know I had told them. Dear God, I wish I had never told them. My last sight of them was 5 soaked, happy kids, walking down our driveway toward the cul de sac, Jack, in his school uniform, doing a full spin with a huge smile on his face.

I crawled under the covers and by camping lantern read a magazine article about a family that left their affluent lives behind to live in an RV and serve the poor, city by city, in two month stretches. Could our family do something like that without killing each other? Not a chance, but I liked the fantasy, so I folded down the page to share at dinnertime.

Here’s the thing: I may have heard thunder at this point. You know those parenting moments when you let something go on too long against your better judgment, but you do it anyway? It could be a play date that quickly turns to crap just because you needed a little more adult time with the other mom, or a party you know you shouldn’t let your teenage daughter go to, but you are too tired and fed up to deal with any more drama, tears and arguing. So I might have heard thunder, but I didn’t listen.

I talked to my husband on the phone and said we might go out to dinner because the lights were out and all sports practices were canceled. But we decided traffic would be awful and we’d just forage from the fridge when he got home. So I let the kids stay out longer, later, until just after 6. After all, it was much lighter outside than in.

Then my husband called from the road and said he saw lightning, and I heard thunder in earnest, and went to get the kids. This meant getting in the car because I didn’t want to get soaked. What is fun for 10-12 year olds is not so much for 41 year olds. When I reached the cul de sac, they weren’t there. My daughter walked down the street toward me, having felt a strong urging that she should come home. I had her get in the car and asked where Jack was. “In Joe’s back yard,” was her reply.

Not a single thought of our neighborhood’s paltry little creek entered my mind at this point, only the danger of lightning, so I waited a few seconds wondering which gate I should use as I harrumphed about having to go out into the pouring rain. I walked down the steep, steep steps of the backyard that led to a normally anemic little creek of steep banks, rocky soil and a few inches of water. I had never been in this backyard before.

As I called Jack’s name, Joe’s mom leaned out the rear window of the house and said “Jack’s not down there with them.” I turned around and told her he was. Who knows how long this exchange took? 2 seconds? Three? More?

I could hear the peals of laughter of boys having fun down below, and I quickened my pace. I continued down to the bank where I saw just 2 boys, not 3. When I shouted, “Where is Jack?” They answered, laughing, “In the river!” In their shock, it must have looked funny to see him fall in and be swept away. For certain they were used to Jack making them laugh, and the mud and the rain and the playing were part of an afternoon that had truly felt like a celebration of sorts. Until it wasn’t.

Our crappy little creek was now a raging, raging river with walls of rushing water, and Jack was gone. How late was I? One second? 10? A minute? It could not have been more than that.

Shouting his name, running through underbrush, losing my flip-flops and holding up my soaked pants, I had the feeling that he was already gone. That NO ONE could have survived what I just saw. But I’m kind of like that. A defeatist, if that’s the word. I watched my own mother die in a hospital bed and never even said, “Turn away from the light! We want you to stay with us, dammit!” I’ve never been a fighter and have always just kind of felt like bad stuff happens, so why not to us?

But this was my CHILD, so my self-talk went something like, “Don’t give up, Anna! Do what other mothers would do. Don’t give up. Jesus help me, DON’T GIVE UP!” But truthfully, I couldn’t see how my 70 lb child could have survived even a few horrifying seconds in a current that was making 2000 lb cars bob along the roads.

Yelling for one neighbor to call 911 and another to look for Jack, I ran to the car and began driving. I had to get out of the neighborhood and down to a bridge, where I knew the rushing water led. Traffic was stopped because of the flooding. I drove the wrong way down a two lane road honking my horn at oncoming cars, and I got close, but I became fearful of our safety. I could feel my mommy-saving instincts folding up inside of myself as hopelessness set in and seconds ticked away, so I turned back, driving through a neighbor’s yard in order to turn around, leaving deep ruts that are there today. I didn’t think it would be many, many precious minutes before rescue workers could arrive.

Closed roads, no electricity, that fact that rescue workers couldn’t get there and weren’t familiar with the creek's name, one middle-aged cop sent to mosey up and ask me questions like my son’s name, our address, where he went in, and whether Jack could have been pretending, talk of a “500 year” or “1,000 year” or whoever-the-hell-cares-year flood of epic proportions. A fenced-in yard where for 7.5 years my kids had never, ever played, so the fact that it opened to a creek at the bottom was completely off my radar. A neighborhood creek that was such a non-issue for us that we’d never once warned the kids about it.

And the bridge. I tried to tell the workers to go to the bridge, yet I couldn’t even remember the name of the major road that we’ve lived off of for 8 years to explain what I meant. Neighbors ran along the banks, and some went in the water, endangering themselves to try to find Jack; Jack and Margaret’s friends watched in shock. Soaked through, I wondered what moms did in situations like this. Should I pull off my soggy yoga pants so I could run freely down the banks in my underwear without falling? Or was all of this just too, too crazy?

I held my friend’s hand and knelt cursing and praying on the grass. But I didn’t go in the water. I quit yelling. I went home to wait, just as the police told me to. I didn’t run to the bridge, where they found him 2 hours later in the murky darkness.

A night of shock and terror, made more macabre by police with flashlights inside our darkened house, and a sobbing little girl saying, “But I don’t want to be an only child!” Prayers and preachers and sobs and words like “identification” and “medical examiner” and “autopsy.” Friends holding us and sitting with us, and my sister driving through the night to be there. Sobbing to my husband 100 times saying,“I am so, so sorry! I am so, so sorry!” and not being able to stop.

There’s so much more to tell you, of news trucks crowding our street, of neighbors shielding us and carrying us, and of love, love, love pouring out from our friends, our family, our community, our God. Of miracles big and small. Of friendships strengthened and relationships renewed. Of the growing impact of one little boy’s life.

But those are not the stories for today. This is the horrible story that hurts to write and I know it hurts you to read. The story of going to a funeral home. Of deciding to see my son’s body. Of keening and screaming and running out the door, only to be greeted by a news camera across the street, with a well-coiffed reporter on an impossibly sunny day mercifully not realizing that the shrunken, shriveled woman in a 12 year old boy’s sweatshirt, staggering through the parking lot looking for refuge, for any car to sweep her up in, was the prey she’d been stalking all day.

The reporter didn’t realize that this was the broken woman who had told her kids to go ahead and play in the rain. Who had warned her kids about lightning and salmonella and sexual abuse and pornography and STD’s and bullying and collapsing tunnels of sand and snow, but who had never given the creek one single thought.

A woman who, while completely and utterly confident of her son’s immediate presence in the loving arms of the God of the Universe, would feel physical and mental anguish every moment of every day but most keenly when, at least 4 times every single day, she had to drive over the bridge where they found her little boy.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The View From the Back Seat

After Margaret's soccer game yesterday, as Tim drove a little too fast and swervy on the highway for our tastes, this is what we heard from the backseat:

"We're coming, Jack! We're coming!"

Gotta love that little girl.

For some of my favorite backseat chatter from the kids, check out this post.