Tuesday, October 6, 2015

It was all too much until it stopped

This past weekend, my husband hauled all the Halloween boxes from out of the basement for the annual decoration ritual. As the calendar changed from September to October, it all begins, the fall holidays that come and go, urging the winter ones right along behind them.

This time of year, like so many of them it seems, carry heavy reminders for me personally. From the first moments of October all the way through to the end of the year, it's as though each week practically has some date that means something in one way or another.

October carries more than a few of those dates.

The first of October has become one of the hardest days of the year for me, for reasons that I still haven't shared here and maybe never will. Probably never will. As time passes, I find myself even more protective of the people who were here in many ways, even though they've been long gone and are no longer in need of my protection, not that they ever necessarily wanted it to begin with.


Anyway, we were unpacking the boxes of all things Halloween, lamenting the fact that we almost never put things away in an orderly fashion. Costumes are supposed to have their own boxes, outdoor decorations their own, indoor ones separated, and so on and so forth. What ends up happening, regardless of our best intentions is that we tend to just throw it all into a box and banish it to the basement until the next time.

I need to be better about that.

As we were pulling things out, a pattern emerged. One that I didn't have to deal with last year because I was so deep in the postpartum fog that the decorations never even made it out of the basement. One that I didn't have to deal with because those boxes were never unpacked. Instead, the contents all remained stashed away down where I didn't have to see them.

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's really the last remaining holiday that isn't encumbered by huge expectations. No gifts to buy, no places we have to be, no obligations raddled with guilt. Just fun. That, and my kids are clinging tightly to this idea of family costumes, which both amazes and amuses me tremendously. I know that I'm on borrowed time here, I feel like I have been for a while now. Waiting for someone, anyone to outgrow this thing we do, to demand that they go their own way. It hasn't happened yet, and for that I am grateful.

I love Halloween. I always have.

It usually makes me so content inside. The changing seasons, the earthy tones of the decorations, the chill in the air, the comfort of blankets and warm cups of tea. The mystery and the intrigue. You can be whoever you want to be this time of year. For a person like me, that's pretty fantastic.

I do love Halloween, but something happened this weekend as we were unpacking the boxes that made it all hurt a little bit in a way I didn't see coming. Grief is like that, though. It tends to sucker punch you in the gut when you least expect it to. I truly should know this by now.

We took the rug out for the kitchen, realizing that that the baby's name isn't on it alongside all the rest of us. My husband asked where my Mom had ordered it from, said we'd just get another one.

I took the candy bags out of the boxes, the ones that I don't even think the kids have ever used, the ones individually embroidered with their names, the ones that are too small to be practical for kids who won't stop trick or treating until they can't carry their loot any more. Those ones. They all have names on them. They were all from her.

But the baby doesn't have one.

He doesn't have one because she was gone before he came.

Then out came the pumpkins. The silly little decorations. The orange smiling plastic jack-o-lanterns that, not surprisingly at this point, are personalized with the names of the older four. From her.

This was my mother. All the things. All the things for all the holidays. Everything had to be personalized and so far over the top that it was almost nauseating. It was too much.

It was all too much.

It was always too much.

Until it stopped.

And now I just miss her. I miss her so damn much, and I'd give anything for another holiday full of silly things emblazoned with the names of my children. I'd give anything for her to have had a chance to meet this sweet boy and shower him with nauseating personalized trinkets for every single holiday.

I miss you, Mom.

It sucks to be here without you.

Friday, September 25, 2015


The past few weeks have been transitional ones here, with the move to homeschooling two of the kids. I've been mostly in a good place of late, but I know that that's largely because I have just been too busy to think about how I'm feeling. Not that it's a bad thing, to be honest. I tend to go down the rabbit hole when met with idle time.

The last couple of days, there has been something unsettled in my heart. A familiar, but uncomfortable feeling, one that I know well. Had I really looked at the calendar, I would have realized why.

It's been four years, today.

Four years since I received a phone call that told me she was gone.

Four years now without my friend.

If I'm being completely honest with myself, I wasn't nearly as good a friend to her as I should have been, as I needed to be, especially those last weeks and months. The last time she and I talked, really talked, she'd nudged me along the sidelines of a soccer game on an unusually cold morning and spoke with an urgency I should have recognized, that I did recognize but was refusing to see reflected in my own reality.

I was in too bad of a place myself to be the friend I should have been, and I carry that regret with me to this day. I haven't forgiven myself for it yet. She'd tell me to.

I wish I'd have reached out to her more, I wish that I'd have let her in more. I wish that I'd allowed myself to be vulnerable, I wish I'd told her that I understood things more than I'd ever let on. I wish.

Wishing doesn't bring her back.

Wishing doesn't give me that morning again.

Wishing doesn't remove that phone call from my life, from the days and weeks that followed, from the long goodbyes to someone gone too soon.

There are people out there that placate those in grief with trite words like everything happens for a reason, as though there would ever be a reason for the world to lose someone as amazing as she was.

She was a unique and beautiful force in this life.

She taught me so many things in the years that I shared on this planet with her. She taught me kindness, she taught me patience. She taught me organization, she taught me how to celebrate. She taught me to keep laughing even when it hurts and she taught me grace for all the moments when the laughter won't come.

There are still times that I will be out somewhere and I'll hear a laugh that faintly resembles hers and I'll think for a moment that maybe she's there.

She is still here in a way, in the gifts she left behind, in the lessons she taught so many of us.

It's not the same though. It never will be.

I miss you, my dear friend, and I love you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

To The One I Never Thought I'd Meet

Dear Sweet Boy,

I started this letter to you a few weeks ago, actually, sitting on the front porch of the house, staring up as the breeze blew, the afternoon sunlight filtered by the movement of the leaves. The air filled with the sounds of those leaves just beginning to dry out and crinkle on the edges and of you, talking to yourself as you played beside me. 

It's coming, fall. The tops of the trees are turning color ever so slightly, daylight shortening with each passing evening. It was this time last year that you arrived. I knew that you'd be here soon, though I wished that I could have altered the way you came. 

I tried and I failed to change that. 

It won't be the last time that I try and I fail to do what's best for you or for me, child. I know that with more certainty than I've ever known anything in my life.

Parenthood isn't easy. It's filled with times when I've wondered if I was doing the right thing, times when I questioned my abilities. I've learned now, through having done this for so long with your siblings, that my instincts are generally good ones and that I should trust them.

It's been different with you. It's all been different with you.

I'm different.

Your father is different.

With you, I think that we've become the parents we always wanted to be. Calmer, gentler, quieter. We're more in tune with you, we pause more, we hold back more at times, give more all the rest. Maybe it is you that is so different. There is a reason I call you my sweet boy. You adore your siblings, your smile is huge when you see one of them across a room. You eagerly crawl to them, walk to them, with open arms.

You love big, with all the wild eyed open mouthed kisses to accompany it.

You are stubborn and independent. You started walking a while ago, figuring out how to stand up without help just this past weekend. 

You are inquisitive and curious in a way I haven't seen since your oldest brother was a baby. You want to open everything, see everything, try everything.

You are good natured and already have a sense of humor that tells me you belong here with us. You've been laughing at yourself since you were just 3 or 4 months old. Keep doing that throughout your life.

Your hair is as unwieldy as can be. Double crowned, you are. They say that it's associated with intelligence, which would make sense. You seem to just know things, about life, about people, about the world around you. You figure things out quickly, already.

Your eyes are truly the windows to your soul, one that I'm convinced is an old one. I think maybe you've been here before. There are times that I look at you and I see your father, times that you resemble all of your siblings together, times you are just like one of them alone, times you remind me so much of my parents, of other people in our family, and then there are all the times that you are uniquely you - a force to be reckoned with in this world all your own.

I never knew that we'd meet someday. I thought for certain we wouldn't. And then one day, one year ago, you came into the world.

You told me that though I thought I knew so much, I really knew nothing at all. I had to learn you. Then I had to learn us.

You rearranged my priorities in a way I wasn't prepared for, wrapping us all around your tiny fingers from the moment you arrived.

You taught me to slow down, to soak up everything you are, and then you forced me to do it.

You still insist that I give you all of my attention every time you are nursing, demanding to hold my free hand with yours.

You forced me to accept my powerlessness to so many aspects of parenthood in a way I'd never confronted before. You forced me to accept a lot of things, and that acceptance has brought calm with it.

You healed me and heal me every day with your presence.

You've given me wisdom and peace.

I never knew I'd meet you someday, but now I know for sure that you've always been meant to be here.

We just had to wait.

I love you, sweet boy.

Happy birthday, baby.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Boldly Going Where Others Have Already Gone

I haven't been around here much lately, and if I'm being entirely honest, I don't know how much time I'll have to write in the near-ish future.

This weekend, the baby figured out how to stand up without hanging on to anything, so now he'll be walking and running more than sitting and crawling. He actually did it for the first time when all of us, including his grandparents, were watching, which was pretty cool.

He's not the only reason, though.

Last week, I pulled Mini Me and Little Boy out of public school. I'll be homeschooling them primarily with a supplemental program through the district that they will attend once a week. At this point, I'm largely constructing my own curriculum for each of them since they're both unconventional learners.

First day of school, round two.
That whole unconventional learner thing is why we're here, by the way.

Public school isn't designed to deal with the kids who don't fit into the boxes they demand. These kids don't fit easily or well. They ooze out the sides and jump out of the top, push their feet through the bottom.

I've been a bit overwhelmed with this initial transition. We talked about this for a long time before we did it, involved the kids in the decision. This isn't a snap judgment or a quick reaction, nothing specific happened that precipitated the move. If I'm being honest, it's been a long time coming. A very long time.

The first day at the supplemental program, I pulled into the parking lot, a little unsure of what to expect. I was surrounded almost immediately by families that told me I'd made the right call. Quirky kids. Babywearing moms. Beat up minivans with 3, 4, 5 kids jumping out of them. There was even a dog that escaped from a car running around the parking lot.

It felt like home. A home I hadn't even realized I was missing.

This wasn't a decision rooted in religion. We aren't trying to shield or protect the kids from anything. I have a background in education. They'll be socialized sufficiently.

We aren't giving in to them or letting them manipulate us. We know that they have challenges that other kids don't have, we know that they need to learn coping mechanisms as they grow up to deal with a world that doesn't know how to deal with them.

And that's part of what they will be learning here at home.

(I'm trying to think of all the things people have brought up in the wake of this decision...)

Basically, I trust my abilities to teach them. My husband trusts my abilities to teach them. That's really all that matters right now.

It just means that I won't be writing as much for a while, at least not in this capacity.

I have a feeling that you all will understand. xo

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How Does It Feel?

Either last week or the one before, my seven year old son sat down and nonchalantly asked me a question that no one has ever asked before.

How does it feel to have both of my parents dead?

To say that I was unprepared for such a question would be an understatement. It hit me firmly in the gut and left me momentarily speechless.

I forget sometimes how literal children his age can be. They ask the questions they ask not for any motivation other than pure curiosity. There was nothing underhanded about the words that came out of his mouth, he meant no injury to me by uttering them. He really just wanted to know.

I gathered myself the best I could and answered him the best way I know how - honestly. Matter of factly.

My response?

Well, it is pretty terrible.

And it is. I'm starting to make peace with the fact that it will always be pretty terrible.

We're coming up quickly on two years that my Mother has been gone, though I hadn't really been mothered much in many years prior to that, at least not in any way that would have been beneficial to my psyche. It's been four and a half years since my Father passed, and though it still seems surreal to think that so much time has past, I know that it must certainly have done so.

So many other things have transpired in the space between then and now. I bear only a faint resemblance to who I was back then, though I suppose I still look like that girl in most physical aspects. She was me and I am her, but we're two very different people indeed.

When he asked the question, the one that he asked purely out of innocent wonder, I realized almost instantly that it was the first time anyone had ever asked.

No one had ever asked me how it felt to lose both of my parents.

In this world of constant connection, in this world where I share so much with seemingly everyone, in this world of instant gratification and immediate feedback, no one had asked.

Sure, people had asked how I was when my Father died, just as people asked how I was when my Mother died. To save myself the explaining, and to save others from trying to understand the places I've been in, I generally replied with something along the lines of I'm doing okay. And then left it at that.

I didn't do much elaborating. I don't do much elaborating.

When I have, I've been attacked for telling people my truths, for the assumptions made about me, for the things they chose to believe. Even now it happens, after all this time.

The last time I wrote about them here, someone told me they envied me. For what, I'm not really sure.

I can't honestly recall a time, though, when someone asked me what it was like to have lost them both until I found myself looking down at the squinting blue eyes of a child awaiting a response.

It's amazing, really, the perception of kids. We don't hardly give them the credit they deserve. Far too often children are discounted as lesser, as unexperienced with the world, as too young to understand. Maybe they understand everything just about perfectly precisely because of their naivete. They haven't been told what they are and aren't supposed to wonder about yet. They don't hold back their curiosities because of what society might think if they give voice to their questions.

They just ask, and they do it literally.

So, then I suppose, we arrive at the answer.

It is pretty terrible, this wandering the planet without parents.

I certainly didn't think that I'd be doing it already at my age, though a part of me knew from the time I was a little girl that they wouldn't be here as long as they should have been, for as long as I'd need them to be. I have vivid memories of begging them to stop smoking, of hiding cigarettes and tossing them into the toilet, of the times when whatever had been the excuse that she wasn't taking care of herself this time had fallen by the wayside and wishing that now it would be her turn. I fought that fight until she left here the last time, having shut me out entirely. I fought that fight even when everyone else around me told me to stop. The little girl inside my heart had questions. And she hoped.

To be on this side of it now, it's hard. I found an envelope of pictures that my mother had mailed to me when my father was dying. In one of them, her as an infant. I looked at that picture and saw the same grin that stares back at me now on the face of my youngest child, the one she wasn't here to meet.

I envy those who share moments like that one with parents who are still here, though I know the envy won't accomplish anything. Envy won't bring them back. Envy won't make that smile less familiar. Envy won't introduce this child to those he will never meet.

I don't truly think it's envy that I feel anymore, though, at least not genuinely.

The last year and a half of my father's life was filled with pain. I wouldn't wish for another second of him to endure that, even if it satisfied all my unanswered questions, even if it somehow fulfilled my wish for him to meet my son.

The last years of my mother's life were filled with pain, with chaos, with trauma, with so much more. I struggled greatly with all that she was and all that she became. I wouldn't wish for her to be here again even for a second, even if it gave me all that I needed, because she didn't want to be here anymore. I couldn't make her stay. I couldn't make her stay here, in proximity, or in life itself. She wanted to go.

And knowing all of that makes it harder to be here without her. Knowing all that I don't know, knowing that there was so much of that last year that I was blind to, knowing that she didn't want me there, that hurts more.

I miss her, certainly, but I miss who she wanted to be more than anything else.

I miss who that little girl in my heart needed most.

Fortunately for my son and for myself, when he asked the question, I was vastly unprepared to answer him. I hadn't had time to think about it all, to really sit with it. I hadn't had time to ask myself, let alone prepare an answer for anyone else.

I just told him what my gut told me to tell him.

That it is pretty terrible.

He accepted that answer. Gave me a big hug. Told me that he was sorry I was sad.

And in that moment he did more for me than most adults ever could. He just cared.

He didn't try to rationalize my feelings, didn't try to explain them away, didn't try to tell me how lucky I was for whatever adults try to tell us we're lucky for when we're sad.

He just sat with it and gave me a hug.

Children...they're far wiser than we credit them for being. They're who we used to be before the woulds and the shoulds told us what to ask the universe, before we learned to explain away the answers.

Listen to their questions and answer them.

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