Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ch-ch-ch Changes

Dear Jack,

It feels like you’ve been gone forever. I crane my neck as I sit here at my desk, imagining what it would sound like to have you run down our wooden stairs and out the kitchen door again, but I come up empty. So much has changed here, in HUGE ways, yes, but even in the mundane, everyday details.

Did you notice we have a King size bed now? After years of insisting we needed a King, I just went out and bought one. Yep, and that’s a TV on the wall. C-razy. Of course it’s hooked up to Netflix, not cable YET, but baby steps, dude, baby steps. I’ve always wanted to curl up with the whole fam and watch a movie in bed, which we can do now, but there’s an empty spot. A glaringly empty spot without you.

Oh, and that’s an old fashioned hot air popper from the thrift shop on the kitchen counter. Have you ever seen one of those? Totally 80’s, I know. We're having fun with it and I think you would like it even better than the microwave popcorn we ate each night in the summer.

Our family TV shows have switched from Merlin, Man vs. Wild, and America’s Got Talent to Cupcake Wars, Chopped, and American Pickers. I think you would get a kick out of these shows, just like you liked watching The Next Great Baker last year. It seems like every episode of Man vs. Wild has a perilous river scene, so that’s out for us right now. I’ve gravitated a bit more into your space on the couch, under Great Grandma Jackson’s blanket, but it still feels so weird not to have you next to me. I loved the way you would let me wrap my arms around you like a pretzel and squeeze your guts out as we sat together. Sometimes I close my eyes and pretend that you are there, but it doesn’t really work. Do you remember the last movie we watched as a family, two nights before the accident? Yep, “Anne Frank.”

The basement is pretty empty, too, now that you, Margaret, and your friends aren’t playing that car game down there. In fact, it’s rare to have kids over at all. I haven’t been on the treadmill down there since the day before the accident. It reminds me too much of you, because when I exercised last summer I’d watch that show, “Lie to Me,” and I know the premise intrigued you. I told you all about the man who could tell if people were lying just noticing their facial expressions. You would be at my desk at the top of the stairs on the computer and would poke your head down on occasion to ask me a question and peek at what I was watching. I also think about how I couldn’t use the treadmill on that last, horrible day after school because we had no electricity. No stinkin’ electricity. But I didn’t mind at the time because we were having fun together, laughing and talking.

Dad is running all the time now! He and Auntie talk about running gear and training and heart rates and hydration, which I find oh so boring. After knowing Daddy for 20 years, I find it weird to see him with a whole new hobby, but I know it is helping keep him going at this point. He misses you so much. Oh, and another thing, Jack. Daddy is leaving the toilet seat up! Seriously! What do you think about that? Do you think he is doing it to show some pent-up hostility, or do you think he’s just being forgetful? Is it totally inappropriate that I’m talking to you about this, Jack? “Totes Inapprops” as Marg would say. That phrase is new, too.

My interests have changed. I haven’t picked up a single piece of furniture from someone’s trash pile, or spray painted anything since the accident. I do try to go to the thrift shop every month or so, but nothing there sparks my interest anymore. When I pass the row of khaki pants I have to stop myself from checking to see if any will fit you for your school uniform. And the puzzle aisle? Is not my friend.

I’ve thought about writing a book, Jack, called “Things I Used to Give a S*** About” because so many of my former interests seem so empty now. I know you hoped I’d become a big-time blogger because of my decorating and refinishing projects, but that’s not exactly how it is working out. I have a ton of amazing readers and they are reading about you, our family, God, and grief as we try to make sense of the craziness of what has happened. They pray for us and support us every day.

Oh, and Jack? I guess you now know that I cuss. Can’t believe I did so well hiding it from you for 12 ½ years. There was that one time when you were 2 ½ and that guy stood up in the middle of the road in front of our car and I yelled the “S” word, but I did a pretty good job convincing you I really meant “Sit!” as in "sit down!" Ummm, you did believe me, right?

I just seem to feel like cussing an awful lot right now. I know that in addition to having perfect grammar, an extensive vocabulary, and impeccable dental hygiene, you did not have a very foul mouth, Jack, and for that I am grateful. "Butt and sucks" were the worst you said, even though we got on your case about it. Now those words just aren't cutting it for your old momma, let me tell you.
Our fridge is different too. You and I could power through a little tub of hummus with our Wheat Thins after school each day, but Margaret doesn’t like it. Same with Baby Bell and Yoplait. I find myself throwing out a lot of food, which is weird, because it’s not like you were a big eater in the first place. It’s just hard to stop buying the usual, and to plan for 3 instead of 4.

The kids still play outside in the neighborhood, but that has changed, too. The trail of kids in and out of our house has dried up, and a couple of your friends are now riding snazzy go-carts up and down the driveway. I’m guessing you would have thought that was a lot of fun, but I don’t know for sure. I do know that the sound of the go-carts makes me feel like throwing up. Or throwing something. Or both.

We haven’t had any snow, except for about an inch one Saturday morning. I was amazed at how many green saucer sleds like the one you used to have littered the yards around our house. They reminded me of all of the fun times we had in the snow, like when I almost slammed into the mailbox when Mrs. H and I decided to sled down her hill, or during the blizzard when you, Margaret, Daddy and I went night sledding in the street and Shadow kept jumping on top of us. For some reason, the kids are sledding behind the houses this year, right near the pathetic, empty creek bed. Needless to say, I don’t see sledding in my future. Shadow wandered near the creek a few weeks ago and I couldn't walk down there to get her back.

Your classmates come to my car each day to give me hugs in the pick-up line. I try to make sure I have Shadow with me so they can pet her as we talk. I hope they don’t feel weird talking to me. They seem to have more freedom than you all did in 6th grade, and I miss that for you. I really love your class, and when I see the kids, and how they care for and look out for each other, I can’t help placing you there with them and imagining what entering your teens would have been like with such quality friends.

Speaking of friends, you might be surprised to see that Daddy and I are hanging out with some new people, whether we didn’t know them before or have just gotten to know them better. You would be AMAZED at how many people have reached out to befriend us and comfort us in so many ways since your accident. We are also meeting other parents whose children have died.

So there are a lot of changes. A lot going on. Even this computer is different. How often did you say we needed a new computer, since mine kept crashing whenever you tried to use it? On Christmas morning, when I opened the box and saw a new laptop from Daddy, I felt a sinking feeling rather than gratefulness, because it felt like just one more way I was leaving you

Change is hard, Jack, but we're doing it. I hope you are as proud of us as we are of you.

I miss you so much.

Love, Mom

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ugly Truth

It’s not that I want your child to die. I just want mine to live. But when I see your child, it really hurts. I feel jealous and bitter inside. And that doesn’t feel like me. And it doesn’t feel like Jack either, whose short life reminds us to:

Be Kind.
Pay Attention.
Never Give Up.
Share Others' Joy.

I think it is going to be hard to share others’ joy for a while, but I won't quit trying.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Keeping it Real

Lest you mistakenly think our family life is all sweetness and light, I thought I'd share a picture I came across last night.

When Jack imagined taking his kids to Mount Vernon, I really don't think THIS is what he had in mind:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tales of a 4th Grade Something Else

The kids enjoyed talking about what it would be like to be grownups. Margaret wanted to be a teacher, but "marry someone rich so we can have a beach house with a pool and a hot tub." As we know, Jack wanted to be a Lego designer, an architect, or a missionary.

The kids also enjoyed picking out names for their future kids. Margaret selected Brook for a boy, and her girl names came and went. Jack picked Melanie or Malina for a girl and Frank for a boy. Of course I informed him that his future wife, who would do the vast majority of the work by carrying the babies and giving birth, would have a much bigger say in the naming than he would.

When I told the kids I thought it would be nice to move to a cute cottage in the country when Tim and I retired, Jack was adamantly opposed. First of all, he did not like the country at all. He also did not like the city. It was suburbs all the way for him, and I guess he thought this should extend to where his elderly parents would be permitted to spend their golden years.
Also, he was concerned that a "cute cottage" would be too small. "You'll need bunk rooms for the grand kids," he said. I loved, loved, loved the idea of his and Margaret's kids spending so much time at our house and wondered how many kids he thought we'd be dealing with to necessitate "bunk rooms."

After the accident, Jack's 4th grade teacher sent us a sweet fill-in-the blank paper the kids had made for her at the end of that school year.

Jack's page read:

"I am always going to remember you for the: GOODNESS that you bring to my class.

The most difficult thing that you have taught me is: HOMEWORK.

You have helped me grow stronger in: FAITH.

My favorite part of your class is: HISTORY.

When I am grown up and finished with my schooling, I will think of you when I: VISIT MOUNT VERNON WITH MY KIDS.


Jack Donaldson"

Ugh. So many aspects of our loss hit so darn hard-- the idea of Jack never getting to be a dad, and Margaret's kids not having cousins to pal around with in the "bunk rooms" of our fictional cottage.
As a dad Tim has always been so willing to dust off his college backpack, load it up with his velcro "outings" wallet and a couple of juice boxes and take the kids places like parks, sporting events, museums, or the ski slopes. It makes sense that Jack would picture doing those things with his own kids someday.
But now he won't get the chance, and to Margaret's kids he will always be "Uncle Jack," forever 12, just as my kids had "Grandma Margaret"-- remembered through stories, revered, referenced, but not really known.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Do You Know "Whether/Weather" We've Been Watching Too Much TV?

So the Washington area has reported that we might get a "sleazy" mix of rain, snow, and sleet tomorrow. Huh? I took Margaret and a friend out to dinner tonight and told them of this weird, new terminology. I mean I've heard of a "sleety" mix or a "wintry" mix, but never "sleazy."

Margaret's response without missing a beat:
"Yeah, sleazy mix sounds more like when you combine a Pole Dancer with an Exotic Dancer."


That noise you just heard was our television crashing through the front window.
In our defense, she learned what these things were by watching "Cake Boss" and "America's Got Talent." Of course I already told you about "Toddlers and Tiaras" today, so we may not have any defense at all.

My Theme Song

A friend gave me this amazing song a few weeks after the accident. It has been my theme song, constantly playing in my car, even though some days I believe what it says and other days I don't. I love how the chorus is Jack's favorite verse:

Healer by Kari Jobe

My thought for today is Mark 9:24 "...I do believe, help my unbelief!"

And in a stellar parenting moment, I kept Margaret home from a field trip to the KENNEDY CENTER this morning and now she's watching "Toddlers and Tiaras." Classy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Way Too Hard to Leg-o

Remember how I told you Jack was patient? Well, that's why we had Gamestop giftcards from his birthday last March to spend today.

Every few months he'd have me put the cards in my purse, and we'd go "look." I guess he hoped that someday the perfect game that interested him would intersect with one I'd actually let him buy. Didn't happen. He never whined or badgered, just said, "Not today," and we would leave, puttting the cards away for another time.

Now I question whether I should have just lightened up and rewarded him for being the great kid he was, realizing that stupid video games would not have made my peace-loving son into a violent person. Oh well, there are a lot of things like that to think about, and I have a long, long time to do it. But today we took Jack's gift cards to Game Stop to buy "Just Dance 3" for Margaret. Tim and Margaret are dancing in the basement to a song called, "Let's Go to the Mall!" Oh my. Thanks Jack, I think.

I also don't know what to do with his Crunch bars in the kitchen cabinet. The week before school started a mom called and hush-hush asked what Jack's favorite candy was. I didn't know, but Margaret said definitively: "Nestle Crunch" On the first day of school, Jack found 4 full-sized Crunch Bars waiting in his locker as a back-to-school treat. Did I tell you our whole family had a feeling Jack would love his middle school experience? Oh my yes.

We drove home that day in the rain, and during homework time, Jack opened the first Crunch bar. He seemed so happy, and his movements struck me as somewhat ceremonious, kind of how I imagined Charlie slowly opening the winning candy bar in Charlie and the Chocolate factory. Jack divided the bar into 3 sections: one for Margaret, one for himself, and one for me. I got the "CH."

It's not unusual that his candy would still be in the cupboard, even month later. After all, I recently threw out Jack's Halloween candy from two years ago, but having a kid who saves his candy is vastly different than having a kid who is no longer here to eat it.

I don't know whether I want to eat the Crunch bars, throw them away, or run over them with my car. It all just hurts so much. The gift cards and candy are emblematic of so many things I wonder about right now. Like the jigsaw puzzles and games in our game closet. We used to leave a jigsaw puzzle out on the dining room table for Jack and Tim to work on when they had a chance. 3000 pieces was their biggest one. But Margaret and I don't like jigsaw puzzles, and most of our games are too hard or too sad to play with 3 players.

We tried to play a game with 3 people last night and the episode ended in anger and tears. What a far cry from that Wednesday night in September, the first day of school, when we all played Clue together. You may recall Clue had been touch and go in our family over the years, but that night it was perfect. Jack won. Margaret accepted the win graciously. Life was good.

But now we are left with the Clue board, Jack's room, his toys, his clothes. There is certainly no rush to get rid of anything because that part of the house sits empty now, and we don't need the space. I am just so angry that the things that meant so much to our little boy are just that...things. Things to be dealt with at some point. Things that mean nothing without our boy here to enjoy them.

The same boy who saved his Halloween candy also saved the box from every Lego set he bought. I remember asking his pediatrician about this during a checkup, hoping the doctor would back me up. "Doctor, is Jack a hoarder, or at least a very neat one? Shouldn't we throw away those boxes?" The doctor asked him about his interests and concluded "Jack is not a hoarder; he is a collector. To a Lego collector, those boxes have value. The boxes can stay."

And now, with hundreds of Lego sets, their boxes, and neat piles of instructions in pristine condition, I wonder if that will be yet another way Jack will be helping me as we decide, someday in the future, how to deal with his treasures. I don't think my heart could withstand throwing all of his collections willy-nilly in a donation heap. But perhaps with boxes, instructions, and all the pieces intact, I could fathom getting them to new homes someday.

I don't know where I'm going with this post except to say I miss him. I miss all aspects of his personality that made him so special. That made him a patient person. A saver. A creative spirit. A collector, who took good care of his things. I miss liking what he liked. Doing what he liked to do. Looking forward to this next phase of his life with him. Talking to him. Holding him. Ruffling his hair with my hands. Kissing the world's softest cheek. Walking around the block after dinner.
Wondering whether he would ever choose to eat his Crunch Bars.
Every Last Thing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Margaret Non-Update and What Happened to "Anna See?"

For almost 4 years, this blog was semi-anonymous. I lived with "Jake," "Molly" and "Tom" in an undisclosed town in an undisclosed state. From photos one could see that we lived in an area with deciduous trees, but that's about it.

The kids knew when I took pictures for the blog to step away from car license plates and cover up the name of their school on their uniform shirts because I was too lazy to learn how to Photoshop that stuff out. I tried to balance the desire to protect the kids' privacy while also telling funny stories about them that begged to be shared. I never mentioned my job and, thank the Lord, tried not to write about individual people who drove me to distraction and madness, unless you count "Tom," but he didn't seem to mind being fair game. I didn't put my blog on Facebook or actively seek readers among friends and family.

On September 8, 2011, as prayers, tweets, frantic phone messages and news reports flew around locally and across the country when Jack was missing in the water, "Anna See" and "Anna Donaldson" became one in the same.

People have asked me if I mind that the blog is no longer anonymous. Not really. I would not trade the loving support my family has received from so many people just to have stayed private. And for some reason, I think the blog will be able to reach and help more people if it is not anonymous. Real people. Real names. Real miracles. Real crap.

I also realize, after having the unthinkable happen to my son, that my desire to control and protect "No M-rated games! No personal info on the net! No sleepovers at x, y, and z's!" while prudent and well-intentioned, didn't protect our little family from tragedy in the end.

As a blogger whose kids were getting older, I was having to change my writing a bit anyway. You see, when I started, Jack was 8 and Margaret 6. In recent years you may have noticed that Margaret featured more prominently on the blog. Well, first of all, it's because that girl is MIGHTY entertaining. But also, as Jack got older and we shared experiences either poignant, tender, or difficult, he would say to me, "You're not going to blog about this, are you?" and I would have to say no.

I think a lot of "Mommy Bloggers" find it difficult to figure out what to write as their kids get older because while diapers, bodily functions and mom wanting to lock herself in the bathroom with a Diet Coke are pretty universal (at least I hope so!), as kids age, they are less likely to want their "big kid" selves shared in the blogosphere. A blogging mom also has to balance the fact that while she wouldn't want her kids to put anything about themselves online, she herself does so regularly.

Margaret was not there yet, seeking privacy over blogworthiness, but I believe she is now. I don't want to make her feel more vulnerable and exposed than she already does as the "girl whose brother died." Margaret just wanted a normal family life, and as normalcy eludes us right now, I don't want her to feel like I am sharing her bid'ness for everyone to see. I want to tread lightly as my spunky child does not like having attention drawn to herself right now. Go figure. I did say EVERYTHING has changed, didn't I?

I'm writing this today because I have not mentioned Margaret prominently in recent posts, and I know she is on your mind and in your hearts. Instead it's: "Jack, Jack, Jack." I write about him now because, well I must. I want you to know what he was like, and what his spirit IS like.

But I want to assure you that Tim and I are here for Margaret. We are parenting, we are reading the books, we are seeing a social worker to talk about how to parent at a time such as this, we are watching cooking shows and "Cupcake Wars," and yes, we are going to the mall. Margaret is smiling, laughing, and being Margaret. Please keep praying for all three of us, even when my posts mainly center around how I am feeling and my experience with grief.

The good news is that both of my kids loved to write, so perhaps there will be a "Molly/Margaret" blog in our future where she can share her experience with us. Of course I'm afraid I'll probably be the "fair game" in that one.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's the Plan, Stan?

I've heard from others, and maybe even said to people before: "God knows just how you feel because he had to experience the death of his own beloved son."

Here's the thing: I do believe God knows exactly how I feel because, well, he's God. He knows everything and He cares deeply. But acknowledging that He suffered when Jesus died just doesn't do it for me. I mean, God is GOD. I am a 42 year old mortal woman. He breathed life into the Universe. I just breathe.

God willingly sacrificed His son to save us from our sins. I just let my 12 year old go outside and play under very questionable circumstances. God had a plan with the death of Jesus. God knew the plan, and Jesus did too.

I am not privy to what the plan is here. It certainly doesn't mesh with my simple, possibly mundane life goals of raising 2 kids to love God, love others, have decent taste, and hopefully not turn out to be big jerks. As a family-- to know each other and be known. Oh, and to eventually get at least a few grand kids out of the deal.

In the loss of His son, God had the big picture in mind. I have a limited, dim picture, and what I can see is too hard and unsatisfying.

Just as we have more than amply ascertained that I am NOT God, Jack is NOT Jesus. He is just a kid. A special, soulful kid who got caught up in a bad situation. And besides, Jesus got to come back after 3 days and hang out with his friends and family.

I don't think that's asking too much.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jack's Life Verse

We've known for a long time that Jack's Life Verse was "For nothing is impossible with God." I don't how or when he chose it. Perhaps he picked it because it was short. I mean, when I was a kid I used to keep "Jesus Wept" at the ready in case I ever needed to recite a Bible verse. Oh so clever, I know.

Maybe he chose it because although reading and math and logic and grammar and art and so many things came incredibly easy for Jack, others took extra effort. He truly relied on God, and one of our greatest pleasures in recent years was seeing how far Jack had come. He had so much going for him.

Jack's fourth grade teacher gave us the image below, so now we can all have Jack's life verse in his own handwriting-- misspelling and all:

I've been thinking about what Jack's verse means to me today. I mean, when Jack was alive, it had a "You can do anything! Lean on God! Never give up!" vibe about it. And that's how he lived.

But now? Hmmm. If nothing is impossible with God, why didn't God save Jack? I mean I was only a few seconds too late. Surely he could have been found and revived! Surely he could have lived.

My friend told me how she is going to look at this verse, and it makes sense to me. Surviving without Jack is impossible. Truly. But we will survive, perhaps kicking and screaming on my part, but survive nonetheless. We must. In fact, in time we may even thrive. And we absolutely can't do it on our own. We need God for that. I'm not sure what that's going to look like, but I know it is true.

I hope you will enjoy having Jack's verse. Perhaps you can print it out for yourself when you need a little encouragement. That's what I plan to do.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Don't Throw Your Trash in My Backyard

I was out in my yard today when a wayward piece of wrapping paper blew by. It was not a pattern I recognized. Annoyance flared up at having to pick up someone else's trash. A little thing, I know, but this is one day after mysterious tire tracks appeared going straight down the length of our front yard. In the middle. Between the trees. Not anywhere near the driveway. Weird and annoying.

I started thinking about having to clean up other people's crap, and why it annoys me so much. I mean, as mothers, isn't that pretty much what we do-- move piles of stuff from one place to another, day after day, year after year? I guess it doesn't bother me as much if it's my own family's crap, you know?

For there have been many times in this journey of parenting that I've felt the residue of other people's crap linger on my family. You know-- the tough issues, the drama, the complications that we would not have to face if we just chose to live an insular life. And as I look over the strange direction our lives have taken, with Jack's death, it is easy for me to say, "If only..." If only we had kept more to ourselves-- circled the wagons so to speak-- perhaps we could have kept the awkward, the uncomfortable, and finally the tragic from entering our lives. If we hadn't opened ourselves up to others, if we hadn't given our kids a growing sense of freedom, if only, if only...

This is the point in the post where we all say, "But of course we can't raise kids in a bubble!" It's one thing to try to be the family who bucks the tide against violent video games; it's another to isolate children and keep them from interacting with others and experiencing life." You know-- We are the world, Kum ba yah, carpe diem, hakuna matata and all that stuff.

But truly, it's hard to think in those terms when I yearn for a fantasy in which the 4 of us, the dog, and maybe even the hamster run away to some ice floe in Antarctica-- completely alone, yet together, and blissfully free from the tinge of other people's crap. Of course I would be cold, and extreme changes in body temperature do not a happy Anna make. And the kids would hate us, and there would be no internet or friends and we would be ruining their lives. And Tim would want to get frisky but can he not see that I have the damn igloo to keep clean and that 24 hours straight of light or darkness or whatever messes with my libido?

The more I think about it, however, the more I realize that, in reality, our crap is all over your backyard now. You never asked to be part of this tragedy. To have to explain to your kids that, yes, children do die. Maybe your child is one of Jack's classmates, a tender 12 year old who is trying to figure out how the clever boy who entertained the classs for more than 6 years could be sitting there one day, yet gone next. That cannot be easy.

Maybe you are trying to figure out how to regain a feeling of security and safety after yours has been rocked. "If something like this happened to them, what could happen to us?" Maybe your husband, after weeks of sympathizing is saying, "It's okay to feel bad for someone, but you are taking this grief thing too far. You have your own family to worry about." Maybe we have been friends for years and you want the old Anna back, or you feel helpless in the face of such a huge loss. Maybe you found Jack annoying and don't know what to do with those feelings, or you found him delightful and don't know why your own boy keeps screwing around when at least he gets to live, damn it!

Maybe you are trying to figure out why the life and death of a child you never met, perhaps on the other side of the world, wakes you up at night, or drives you to your knees in prayer. Is this normal? How long will this last? Maybe you are having sympathy fatigue and wishing you could read something here about spray paint or dumpster diving or the annoying way Tim chews. Maybe you are feeling closer to God than ever as you see how He is comforting us through this, or perhaps you are feeling farther from Him than ever before... before our crap landed in your yard.

I may not know your individual situation, but I know that when you come here, our crap lands on you. It must. If my family had and did lead a insular, bubble-bound, existence we would not be sharing in this way, either because the accident never took place, or because our suffering would be private and polite and reach only a small circle of people.

And my wish would be to never make my friends, those I have met and have yet to meet, suffer needlessly. Yet in the suffering, the suffering together, you help carry us. You bear our burdens, you pray, you care, just as we are all asked to do. And that can be messy, and confusing, and crappy, but somehow Holy, too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Different Kind of Bridge

A blog reader living in Mozambique sent a photo she took while driving in South Africa with her husband.

She felt compelled to capture this Bible verse , which Jack considered his "life verse," on the back of the truck in front of them, as she had just been thinking of Jack and our family.

It took her a while to get a non-blurry shot, and when she did, she was surprised and amazed to see what was visible in the frame of the photo.

As am I. Wow.

Thank you, friends, for loving us. For lifting us up all around the world. For not forgetting. For sharing these amazing experiences with us, so we can learn from them and share them with others. Thank you.