Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The 7th and the 8th were good days-The 9th of the month...Not So Much

Same mixed bag as last month and the month before that.

Saturday was good. I took the children and went out to take advantage of the tax free weekend and sales that were going on. We're getting ready for autumn and school. Elijah needed some baby stuff he constantly needs, but he needed a light jacket and some short-sleeved shirts in his current size (6-9 months) to wear with the jeans I had bought. Ariana needed shoes for school, some additional uniform pieces and some shirts for Autumn.

JC Penney was the spot it seemed. Lots of people around. They had a serious clearance going and an instant coupon $10 or $15 off depending on what you spend. I found Ariana two pairs of shoes marked 50% off and found the shirts I needed for Elijah marked down to $3 and found 8 in his size. Got the rest of what I needed from Children's Place where I had a coupon for 30% my purchase and everything I needed was 25% off. We took a spin on the Mall's merry go round and headed home.

Once home, I took some time to prepare Ariana and me for the parent/child reading class we are taking. There is homework every week with a workbook and an audio CD. Plus we practice with 2 books a week. It's been a neat experience sitting in class with her. It is going way better than just a week ago. I went out and got some books with her favorite cartoon characters in them and it was like a lightbulb came on.

Sunday we had to be at church early (8:45am) for a training. We actually got there 10 minutes early and Elijah was quiet and sat in his seat the entire class. Church was good and the message was very encouraging…one of those that makes you feel like you really can attack your issues and even though you may not succeed the first time, it doesn't mean you're a failure. My pastor has a way of stroking you and giving you a good kick in the rear at the same time.

Then off to reading class and whereas last week, Ariana was constantly turning around in her chair and totally unfocused, this week she was excited. We went in with her telling me how grateful she was that I sit in class with her and during class she was really trying and she raised her hand to answer questions…you know with that "Ooo Ooo pick me pick me" wave you did in school when you just knew you had the answer. Class went well overall even though she faded out the last 10 minutes, but I think a lot of them did. They get a break to use the bathroom, but it is a 2 hour class.

Drove by the Godparents' house to pick up Elijah and headed home. Elijah was ready for dinner. He ate all his Gerber carrots and half a container of Gerber Applesauce. He's really good at sitting up now. I marveled at Elijah that night on the floor. He manages to get a long ways just by rolling over, but he is also trying to get up on all fours. He had his belly over and inch off the floor and he got up on his knees and even got up on his toes. My eyes must have widened to the size of golf balls as I realized I have yet to complete baby proofing the house and this child is obviously thinking about crawling.

I hoped the 9th of the month would gradually be more about Elijah being a month older than about the day Thomas "left". Perhaps I just need to be more patient. The night of the 8th as we settled the thoughts invaded. That day Thomas died and the days leading up to it, came back to me clearer than they ever had. I tried to focus on how peaceful Thomas looked when I found him, but I kept remembering the coolness of his skin when I touched him, how I desparately wanted him to respond and the moment I had to accept that he wasn't going to and unless it was on tape, I'd never hear his voice again.

I still remember the relief I felt that he was no longer going to suffer and that relief is still very much present in my daily life. But on the 9th after having 2 good days, I felt like I had 50lbs of extra weight to carry around. I jumped out of bed to turn off the alarm before it woke Elijah (I have the clock across the room so I don't go back to sleep) and as soon as I turned it off I felt like I had 3 bricks on my chest.

I even had trouble deciding what Elijah was going to wear. I mean really…I had trouble dressing the one person in the house who doesn't care about clothes. The first thing I put on was too small. Then I got a shirt that fit, but the shorts were too small. Then I grabbed another outfit that I have in 2 sizes, but grabbed the smaller size. I ended up putting him in some cover-alls with a shirt that looked fine but wasn't the shirt that came with them. Finally without trouble, I put his socks and shoes on. Found some cute little sneakers for $4 on Saturday…perfect for the one reason Elijah wears shoes…to avoid losing socks.

I had to wake Ariana up 3 times before she got herself dressed. Yes, I woke her up, pointed her in the direction of her clothes, went back 5 minutes later to find her asleep TWO TIMES! We finally got out of the house at 7:15, 15 minutes later than the goal. Great way to start off what will be a very busy week.

August 9th meant Elijah is 7 months old and with all he is accomplishing I hoped to really focus on that. This is still so strange. Thomas was sick for a long time, but when the end came it happened so fast and so soon after Elijah was born, it was almost like they switched places in the house, like Elijah said, "I'm here dad, you can go now." Sunday in church Elijah sat in my lap, alert and happy, and appeared totally focused on pastor as he spoke, rocking and bobbing his little head, just like his dad used to and as I listened to the message I absorbed it, but realized I was in Thomas' seat and began to actually feel him there.

Now having Elijah and Ariana together is like a long time dream come true for me, one I thought the illness had stolen and sometimes I feel like God said, before he (Thomas) goes, I want to give you this dream back…here's your son…here's a brother for your little girl. She won't grow up with the loneliness you did…you can breathe. I have siblings, from a relationship my father had before my mother and one he had after her, but grew up as an only child. My daughter has siblings, from my husband's first marriage but without Elijah would grow up as an only child. I know having Elijah has made this process a lot easier on Ariana and me. He brings an element of life and hope to the house that just wouldn't be there. And I just really love having a baby again. I even appreciate our middle of the night nursing session because of the closeness I feel with him when he's nursing.

I guess I just need to be more patient because the first year with a new baby is a huge adjustment. Getting into being a widow is a huge adjustment and I'm doing both simultaneously. The last 2 months have seemed the hardest, I just look at Elijah and I can't believe he's here and his father is gone.

I turned my head for a second and a wind blew in and changed everything. With Thomas' illness I lived everyday with the fact that on any given day our world could flip around on it's ear, but the little stinker almost had me convinced he'd just keep on going-something that both frightened me and instilled an admiration of him in me.

I was really in awe of him. I tried to tell him in different ways, but am not sure I ever got it across amidst the frustration I felt. He often said he was tired of it all and wanted it over, but I'll admit he surprised me when he actually died. But he's really gone. Everyday I come home and it is just the children and me it is more and more real. Each week he gets less and less mail and fewer and fewer phone calls. After carrying around a card with his name on it for 10 years, I now have the new Health insurance cards with my name on them.

Thomas is 5 months gone and Elijah is 7 months old. Some days like Sunday when I walked into that training 10 minutes early, I think I'm doing really well. Other days like Monday, I have to remember to breathe.

One thing somehow never changes though. I still really believe I can do this.

I know that is in large part to the support I have gotten. Those people know who they are. Thank God for them.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Miracles and sadness: the mixed bag of my widowhood part 2

I had to get 4 new tires for the minivan yesterday. I never had to replace all 4 tires at once. For budget's sake I tried to keep myself in a place where I never had to do more than 2 at once. I guess the van's previous owner did things differently because they all wore down at the same time. I was going to wait until Saturday, but looked Tuesday morning and saw threads exposed on one of them.

It's amazing what makes you miss somebody. Most of the wives I know didn't have to take their own cars to the shop. Yeah, I know some spoiled women, but I ain't mad at them. I always took my own vehicle in, but Thomas would have offered some opinion on what tire to get, then examined the receipt and filed it after he looked at them to see how they looked and cleaned the hubcaps where the workers got them dirty.

As the tire tech advised me to keep the paperwork in the van so I would have proof that I had purchased the road hazard warranty and life time rotation and balance, I imagined he actually cared and wasn't just giving me a spill as part of his job. Still, I remembered there wasn't anyone at home to make sure I'd made a wise decision. I didn't get the most expensive tire, but I didn't get the cheapest tire. Thankfully my minivan takes the same size tire as my old car did, so I kind of had stored up advice on what to do.

Went to Wal-Mart like always.

4 new tires…GoodYear 60,000 mile tires

Road Hazard warranty for all 4
Lifetime Rotation and Balance for all 4
New Valve System for all 4


And while it's one of those times I'm grateful I had to do most stuff myself, because I had a decent amount of confidence in my purchase, it also brought on a serious grief response.

I find my sadness is triggered by the small things. The children grow and change and no one reacts to them like he did. A lot of people love them and love them deeply, but as many people who comment on the fact that I still breastfeed, I miss Thomas teasing Elijah telling him to "lay off the breastmilk".

Still in the wake of the difficulties, God is taking amazingly good care of us. I am beginning to see my way in this new life. It's a process, but I'm trying to be patient with myself. That isn't always easy especially with young children who are developing and changing so quickly.

Chief cook and bottle washer that's me. I'm in a summer reading enrichment class with Ariana which is teaching me all kinds of things about her and about me. Adding chores to her list every couple of weeks trying to teach her that families help each other and how important she is to our success. She took a liking to our Dirt Devil Minivac, so much so that she sharpened her pencil over the carpet just to have an excuse to use it. I figured she was ready for a new chore. I told her if she liked that thing so much to hit the stairs with it-one less thing for me. I guess the lesson is sinking in. Today I picked up pizza on the way home. I took Elijah and my bag out of the van and planned to go back for the pizza. I turned around and Ariana had closed the van door and had the pizza in her tiny hands heading for the house. In my head, "what if she drops it?" "What if she sees a bug...she'll throw it and run." I stayed calm and told her to be careful. When she got inside she said, "I just don't want you to have to go back and forth." Wow.

I'm helping Elijah sit up on his own and develop his strength during tummy time, an activity he protests more than enjoys. The introduction of solid foods makes things interesting watching every part and poop praying he isn't allergic to anything. He likes food...not a surprise and he's growing like crazy. So far he's only allergic to scented baby wipes and it's more of a sensitivity. He also requires Aveeno baby lotion to stay moisturized. Inherited his father's sensitive skin, but has his beautiful complexion as well. I adore that little boy. Sometimes I still can't believe he's here. I wish his father could see him now. I wish he could see them both. We talked in detail about how they should be raised. I just move ahead and when I'm down and feel an unexpected push from somewhere, I know it's all those prayers he prayed for me. Towards the end he just mostly prayed...worked and prayed and both of those things are helping me. I'm glad I never failed to tell him I appreciated it.

Miracles and sadness: the mixed bag of my widowhood part 1

First the miracle. The Air Conditioner in the house had been running low for weeks. It was running, but the fan in the unit was running slower and the air wasn't coming out of the vents with enough force. Despite it running all the time, the house was constantly 85 degrees. I had to run all the ceiling fans and an electric fan in each bedroom to keep us comfortable until I could afford to have a repairman visit. Once things came together, I figured it was time to call the guy about the AC. But then something happened. It rained and got a little cooler so we slept without the extra fans. It was 93 degrees the next day and I cringed at my desk when I realized I'd forgotten to turn them back on before leaving for work.

I came home expecting the house to be an oven, but it wasn't. It was actually cool inside. I looked over to the nearest vent and looked at the blinds hanging 3 feet above it. Instead of barely moving every few seconds like it had been for weeks it was moving like it was outside in the wind. I walked over to it and I couldn't believe it…air! Air was flowing through it like normal. I could feel it all the way up to my face whereas before I could barely feel it on my legs when I stood over it.

Looked at the thermostat…78. Went to a window and looked down at the unit outside. Before the fan moved slower to the point where I could see the individual blades, but now they moved fast so all I could see was a blur.

With the house cooler, I have more energy in the evenings so Monday I came home and made dinner, ate w/the children, cleaned the kitchen, read to the children, bathed everybody, put the kids to bed, got Elijah's food ready for the next day, picked out clothes, put in a load of laundry, then sat down with my study guide (pastor provides one with each new sermon) and some fruit and spent an hour preparing for the next Bible Study before I went to bed.

Not sure if God fixed it or sent someone to fix it without my knowledge, but we've been fine in the house since then-no ceiling fans, no electric fans and I can turn the AC off at night when I got to bed. Good thing too because around the same time, I realized my minivan needs not one, not two but 'count 'em four new tires...and this wasn't a "wait til the end of the month purchase. It wasn't even a "wait until payday purchase. It was an "it should have been done last week" purchase.

Oh well...breathe in, breathe out...head to Wal-Mart.

Friday, July 9, 2010

9th of the Month-The Little Stinker Really Isn't Coming Home

Yes, I knew it. Today makes 4 months. Lately I have been hearing his voice in my head a lot-not new words to guide me like I'd like to have, but just memories.

And my daughter has a constant question all of a sudden: "Is daddy really going to be gone forever?"

Despite our faith and spiritual beliefs (that the dead will rise when Jesus returns) all I can tell her is yes. Even though I hate to tell her that, I can't tell her when Jesus is returning, so that is all she has the capability to understand. I told her we will always love him and remember him and keep our memories of him in our hearts.

I'm trying to keep it in perspective. He suffered immensely and so did I. He suffered far more than any person should have to and fought every step of the way. But on Father's day when we visited the grave site for the first time since putting him there, my daughter said, "I didn't get to say good-bye". Yeah, me either.

I told her daddy didn't want to say good-bye (which I figure is accurate since we were all in the house for 3 straight days and he died on the 4th day when we were out of the house). I think saying good-bye might have made him too sad. He would just want you to remember that he loved you.

She's a hard one to figure out. She's a beautiful brilliant loving child who like most 7 year-olds just wants her way most days. She cries for her daddy one day and is trying to set me up with a guy on TV the next. The latest...the man in the Bowflex commercial. Why do we need another man you ask? Here it is...she wants a baby sister. I think even more than that, she feels we are not a real family now-and she isn't alone. Me? No. But that is a popular attitude among people. To me, we are just a different kind of family. I can't function under the notion we are not a real family. I won't.

We both have our most difficult times at night…when the world settles and gets quiet and there's nothing to do but think. It's been at night when she has those crying spells and it's been at night when the image of him sitting there the day I found him creeps into my head and won't leave. It's been at night when I walk by his now silent TV room where the chair he died in still sits facing the door that I am reminded kind of like a kick in the head that the little stinker really isn't coming back.

I think it's time to get rid of the furniture. I've been advised that Salvation army will come and remove it. I guess donating it is what Thomas would have wanted. Only a complete stranger would want that chair considering. I think removing the furniture will allow me to get all of his clothes and shoes in one room to make it easier for the men I've asked to come and get them.

I stopped by a local dry cleaners one day to see if he'd left anything there. I told the lady, "my husband died and I want to make sure he didn't leave anything here." Without a change in her face or voice she asked his name. When I said, "Thomas Dawson" her whole face changed. He eyes widened and her voice cracked…"Oh, no! The mailman?" I answered yes. "Oh God, when?" "March," I said. "Goodness, I’m so sorry." Now he didn't deliver their mail, he only had his clothes and uniforms cleaned there and half the time I dropped them off. It was amazing to me in a city as large as the one we live in that the dry cleaning lady would react that way.

He was a very nice man. I miss him. I don't wish him back-not how he was. I just wish so much that he had not been so sick. I desparately wanted the man from healthier times and he only grew sicker as time went on. I think I mourned that healthier man every day and every night for a long time before March 9th and I'm still mourning that man. No matter how many times I think I hear the key in the door, no matter how many times I see him in my mind's eye, walking in the door, no matter how many times I hear him talking in my mind's ear he really isn't coming back.

So here I am 1/3 of the way through the first year. Progress has been made in some areas and in others I feel I've gone backwards. Paperwork continues to mount while I deal with his affairs as well as mine. We did that long awaited vacation and I'm ready for another one already. We'll have to get away for a weekend or something before the fall break I'm planning. I haven't blogged about each day yet like I planned, but I won't forget it. I won't forget the pride I felt when I turned into our hotel's parking lot after the 3.5 hour drive. I won't forget the bittersweet moments.

I loved being on vacation alone with my children. It was a lot of work not having another adult along, but I preferred it that way. And having the necessary equipment made those bittersweet moments way more sweet than bitter. I remember glancing at the two parent families carrying their things while I made multiple trips back and forth from the hotel room to the van and back, loading our luggage cart with Elijah attached to me in his Snugli (front carrier). I actually had to climb into the back of the van on all fours on the last two trips and as he dangled just a little more secure than a cub being carried in the mother's teeth, he grabbed a handful of my shirt and gave me a real "I hope you know what you're doing," look. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I laughed. I remember being at the science museum and all the times during the day I heard a young boy yell, "daddy look at this!" At a certain point, I realized I'd never hear my son say that. But I did hear my daughter say at the end of the day, "That place was awesome, mom…you da bom!" I'll take that.

My son…my darling son. I cannot forget. He is 6 months old today. Oh how I adore him. Every month on this day I have told him that I'm sorry, that this wasn't my plan, but I know God still has one for us and that I love him and his sister more than life. He takes my arm in both his tiny hands as if he actually understands. He is starting to show love in return and it has been amazing to watch him grow and change…the sly smile he has when a woman plays with him, how he will ramble in a soft voice as he plays, how he will grab my face and touch his nose to mine, how he smiles at the very mention of his sister's name or the sight of her face, how he splashes as I bathe him in the kitchen sink. Do I think ahead to the day when he wants to know where HIS daddy is? Yes, I can't help but think about it on occasion, but I choose to put my energy into making sure he feels his mother's love for him everyday. Right now, he's the only one not asking me any questions. The only things he demands of me are food in his stomach, a dry diaper on his butt and some time on my hip. and I figure I better enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The First Father's Day-It Left Me Tired

Well, I promised high's and low's here so I will be true to my word.

Father's Day was June 20th. It was the first one without Thomas and was a bit difficult. We'd just come home from vacation where I was able to rest my mind a bit or I might not have done even as well as I did.

I got up early to write Father's Day letters to my pastor and to my children's Godfather. There is just no card that I could get for either of them that would tell them how much they have meant to our family.I cried through the morning thinking of Thomas and of these two men and others who have embraced my children since Thomas' death. These two have always been there, but naturally have stepped up since Thomas died.

My children have the best Godparents they could have. Being a person of faith, I feel God put us in relationship with them knowing we would face a lot of challenges. The twists and turns of life that came with Thomas' physical challenges and his passing would have been impossible to navigate without that family by our side. They are the doting types and have embraced my children from the beginning. From the time I found out I was pregnant the first time around, I had the choice made and I have only been grateful for it. They have been there for my children and therefore been there for me. They've stepped forward that much more since Thomas died, but I knew they would. I believe Thomas knew they would.

But they aren't the only ones. I've seen throughout this horrid tragedy that though nothing can change it and no one can replace their father, that the male leaders in our church plan to embrace my children and mentor my son. From the time Thomas passed away, and my son showed he was alert enough to notice people, they began to interact with him. It was sort of this thing that just happened without a specific word spoken. Thomas mentored several boys who didn't have fathers. I had some moms approach me after the funeral to thank me for his time. Now I have one of those boys, but I am grateful for the support I'm getting. One man coaches several sports and said he'd coach Elijah one day if he chose baseball, football (God help me) or track.

Days we celebrate will come and go and this one did not go without some heartache. I went to church and was fine until a particular worship song was done. I don’t know what it is about this song, but the last time they did the song, the same thing happened. I ended up grabbing Elijah and running out. I sat with him in the room they have for nursing mothers until I was okay again. The rest of the service I was fine even though the message (being that it was Father's Day) was focused on exorting the men to step up and take their responsibilities more seriously because there are too many women having to be both mother and father.

My situation not being one either Thomas or I had a choice in was little comfort at the moment. I saved myself for marriage to avoid this situation, being a single parent to two babies. I'm not the only person in the world though and what my pastor said, sure is true enough and my pastor is of what he speaks. Before the message, they played a Father's Day video his children made and the adoration they so obviously have for him that shows all the time, came screaming from this video. I know he's been a daddy for me whenever I needed one. I can still remember telling them I was unexpectedly pregnant. I remember the gentleness I saw in his eyes and the kindness I heard in his voice as he reassured me God had a plan and things would work out. He didn't know it, but his reaction was one I so desparately needed and one I am holding on to even more now.

Their father would be here if he could. As I composed those two aforementioned letters, I cried thinking of my children, some were tears of sadness, but some of those were grateful tears. I'm very fortunate to have the children. I frequent an online young widow's group and so many of them did not get to have children before their spouse died.

After church we drove the hour to the cemetary. We hadn't been there since burying Thomas, so it brought out all the questions Ariana had again and I spent most of the time standing there explaining it to her. Not sure if I ever really can. She will likely just have to develop an understanding as she gets older. Thomas is buried in his hometown, so after that, we visited family. My father-in-law called while I was there and I talked to him and that was nice. He kept telling me he wouldn't forget me, that he'd be there for us, that if we needed anything to call and not to just sit wanting. He's on dialysis, so doesn't travel much. He has a portable machine which allowed him to come to Thomas' funeral, but he's home most of the time.

I stayed there an hour and a half, then we came home. I called my sister who helped me get up the courage to call our father. I hadn't spoken to him in 8 years. I last saw him in 2002 when my mother and I went to my brother's college graduation. We lost touch after that and neither my brother, sister nor I knew where he was or even if he was still alive. This entry would get too long if I detailed that conversation, but I got through it. He seems okay. What's odd? Thomas prayed for him every day. Every single day he prayed he'd resurface and we could resume our relationship. It was hard when I couldn't talk to Thomas about it. But it's far from the first time that's happened in the last 3 months.

I talked to my father about 90 minutes. I also let Ariana talk to him. The girl has never met a stranger. She talked to him like she'd known him all her life. Not a Father's Day I'll be forgetting I'd bet. Geez, 2010 is only half over.

Thank goodness for vacations. I literally busted my behind to pay for it and to earn enough vacation time to avoid missing a paycheck but it was worth it. The constant sound of the ocean, the change of scenery, the absence of work and the escape from the daily grind, just me and my babies...hard to top it. Cleared my head enough to wrap my brain around some things I'd been struggling with the last couple of months. But we also had a really good time. Taking them off on a trip like that alone, left me tired, but also pretty proud of us...and me. I promised Ariana it wouldn't be our last vacation. That was how I got her out of the hotel on checkout day, but I'll keep the promise for all of us.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Break Time!

The Power Company, the Mortgage Company and the rest offer their condolences, but bills don't stop for tragedies and even though it took 10 days (after Thomas died) before my daughter actually consumed a full meal in one sitting, children still need to eat. So this Mama did what she had to do. I went back to work 6 days after I buried my husband. With the exception of taking off work 6 times for various appointments I worked everyday I was scheduled until the Friday before Memorial Day, which I took off because Ariana was out of school.

Now, though, it's time for a break. We originally planned to vacation with a group this coming week. A group cruise was planned with our church and two others. We signed up when I was two months pregnant with Elijah. Thomas' untimely departure changed those plans. I was unable to keep our reservations. This week though is also the week Elijah's daycare will be closed for preparation for the new school year. I wouldn't be able to work even if I wanted to, which I don't.

After a lot of consideration, I decided I'd do something we hadn't previously done. I made a reservation at a Holiday Inn in Virginia Beach. Some might ask how much rest will she get going away alone with 2 small children. Time away from work is...well...time away from work. I'm looking forward to getting away from the daily hustle and bustle of our routine. Everyday until school was over it was out of bed at 5:30, dress, dress the children, drop Ariana off at school, Elijah at daycare, 40 minute commute, work, pick up the children, dinner, homework, baths, bed the children, then do whatever I have to do until I pass out. In the 2 weeks since school has been out, it's been out of bed at 5:30, dress, dress the children, drop Elijah at daycare, Ariana off at summer camp, Elijah at daycare, 40 minute commute, work, pick up Ariana, pick up Elijah, home, dinner, baths, family meetings, bed the children then do whatever I have to do until I pass out. I'm looking forward to the change of scenery and just "being" with my children. I'm looking forward to introducing Elijah to the pool, watching Ariana build sandcastles and dipping Elijah's plump little feet in the ocean for the first time. Then at night after they're asleep, I want to sit either on the balcony or on the couch just inside it and listen to the ocean. I think it's a major step in getting us to a good place. I don't think I've really had a chance to wrap my brain around our new life like I need to in order to make it happen.

So now it's been three months since Thomas' death. I'm actually a quarter way through the first year. Tired doesn't begin to describe it. I see why people take off for weeks after a spouses passes away. Holding down a career, raising children and grieving is a balancing act I don't wish on anyone, but it is what it is. My children have been my saving grace. They are amazing. They are (if I may say so) beautiful and a great source of love, laughter and just enough of a distraction so I don't sink into the black hole of overwhelming sadness that threatens me. But there it is everyday. I had the American flag that draped his casket laying in the dining room, but eventually put it in a glass case and put the case on the coffee table where some random decorations used to be. I've also replaced some deteriorating wall decorations with some recent portraits of our children.

Elijah is 5 months old and his newest accomplishment is rolling over from back to tummy. He's been able to roll over from tummy to back for 2 months, but then all that takes is raising up on his hands and then falling over. Rolling over the other way is a whole other trick. At first he only turned his head in the direction he wanted to go. Next he began to turn his waste and bring his legs over. The last obstacle as usual is that lower arm, the one that almost seems pinned to whatever surface the baby is resting in at the time. But eventually with enough wiggling, the arm pops loose and they end up on their stomch. Most of the time the baby is as surprised as everyone else in the room, even startled. When I was dropping Elijah off one morning one of his classmates was having a crying fit after he frightened himself rolling over. We haven't had that happen and Elijah now rolls over at will. Of course "at will" didn't include the day my mother came to visit and I said, "look, Elijah can roll over." He's also thinking about learning to hold his bottle on his own. I'm giving him some smaller ones. He does actually reach for it, which is more than he had done previously.

Ariana is 7 and I'm now the mother of a 2nd grader. I can still remember her finishing preschool like it was yesterday. It was a cute little ceremony complete with caps and gowns, diplomas, an after party at Chuck E Cheeses and even class rings. If anyone had told me that 2 years later, I'd not only have another child, but Thomas wouldn't be here, I might not have believed it. Thomas almost had me convinced he'd just keep on going. Truth is though he lived longer than a few people estimated. The doctor at the VA once gave me a prediction of how things would work out. Thomas outlived his prognosis by just under 3 years, during which he saw Ariana graduate preschool, saw his 1st son graduate high school and his 2nd son created and brought into the world. He accomplished a lot in his life and he said he enjoyed it. I have to believe he'd want me to try to enjoy mine even now.

So, I'm going to do the best I can. Some days are better than others. Some days I can go to work, come home, cook diner, have great conversations with Ariana, bathe both children, shower and by 8:00, I'm sitting on Ariana's bed reading to both children. Then there are other days where after eating take out, we all pass out on my bed in the clothes we wore that day. Getting us settled here is going to take time and patience, and the right combination of acknowledging what we've been through, but continuing to develop at a good rate. I'm determined we'll get there. Thomas never crawled into a corner and neither will I. I won't run from this challenge. I'm just going to take a break...and I'm taking my babies with me.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Discoveries and Navigating Milestones-the Only Thing Constant is Change

My son Elijah is 4 months old. He's a sweet little thing. He and his sister love each other a lot. He's the first person she asks about when she wakes up. He smiles at the very knowledge she is in the room. I'm not deluded. There's about the same age difference between my younger brother and me so I know there will be bumps in their relationship. But at the end of the day I expect they will be what my brother and I are and what Ariana says they will be...the best of friends.
At 4 months old he's become more social, more "verbal" and more fun. Mainly he's learning more and more about the relationship between what he does and what happens. He knows that if he cries either his sister or me will at least come and talk to him and if I can I'll pick him up. He's discovered that if he smiles his sister will do whatever she has to and more to make him keep smiling. He's also discovered bouncing. If I hold him standing on my lap, he now knows he can bend his knees and straighten them, push up and he jumps. He loves it...my lap does not. I allow it of course because my son's smile is...well...my son's smile.

But I remembered how much his sister loved to bounce. It started around the same age. It was time to bring out her favorite toy. It goes by a couple of different names...either an exersaucer or a stationery entertainer. They are a safer version of a toy we used as babies-walkers. They were usually made of plastic, a tray surrounding the child with a seat attached. They had wheels. Walkers are still sold, but they are made different. By in large they are considered unsafe, especially in homes with a flight of stairs. Were they any less dangerous when we used them? A memory from the summer of my 8th year of a cousin doing a face plant into a pile of leaves while chasing us in the back yard of the family home tell me they probably were. Fewer homes had 2nd floors back then perhaps. Safety gates that are widely used now probably weren't as commonly used.

Ariana's exersaucer/stationery entertainer had 6 toys on it, several that make noise. What she really loved about it though was how it moved. It had springs in the vertical pieces so if she bounced, it bounced. The bottom is curved, so if she rocked (something she loved to do) it rocked. She still rocks. She will sit in one of the 3 recliners in the house and rock until she falls asleep. Interest fact: her father also did this as a child. It always tickled him to see her do it.

I kept the exersaucer in the kitchen and she spent time in it while I made dinner. I don't know who was more entertained. I look back at the videos I took and still fall over laughing. Once Ariana started walking we put the cherished toy away. I'd failed to sell the toy at a yard sale I had 4 years ago and unlike her other toys which I gave away, I ended up keeping the toy for it's sentimental value. When we were unexpectedly blessed with a 2nd child, I hoped the toy would get some use.

After a thorough cleaning, the moment of truth came. Would Elijah take to it or not? They come in a variety of colors and thankfully, my husband (who purchased the toy) brought home one with mainly primary colors. I think Elijah was a bit overwhelmed at first. He's only really just started to "grab" at anything and having 6 or 7 toys all within reach was a bit much for him. His eyes widened and his little hands trembled and his little head turned back and forth like a person watching a tennis match. Then he raised his feet off the floor of the toy and the bouncing mechanism kicked in. His ride was all of a second, maybe two but he noticed what happened. He looked at me, looked at his sister, gave a sly smile and raised his feet again. Another bounce. This was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

He spends a few minutes each day getting used to the old new toy, but I think they will get along just fine. Now if I could just get him to hold his bottle. We don't work on it much. I breastfeed him. For the most part, he only has bottles at daycare. Part of me is in no hurry. He is my last baby and he is already growing so fast. I mean it only took 4 months to go from a tiny 7lb 5oz, 19 inch floppy newborn to a 15lb, 24 inch (literally) bouncing baby boy. I am amazed at how much he's changed from the tiny bundle I brought home in January. He's a champion nurser, but takes the bottle well too as long as someone is holding it. Ariana held her bottle at this age, but Elijah? Once the bottle goes in, his hands are planted firmly on his chest and he's content to watch. She and I worked on it a bit more though. I nursed her, but her bedtime meal was a bottle of formula. He's content to breastfeed when we are together and unless we are out and I can't find a place to nurse, I'm content to oblige him-again...last baby.

They stay little for such a short time. At 4 months old, he is approaching the weight and height limit on his Graco Snugride infant carseat. It's a common trend. Babies are rarely in this seat until the age of 1. If they are under the 20 to 22lb weight limit, the height limit forces the change. At her 12 month check-up, Ariana was 20lbs 1oz, but she'd been in her convertible car seat for 6 months because like most babies, she grew an inch a month and outgrew the seat at 6 months of age. Some people bypass the infant carrier all together, but I love the convenience of it so I went with the Graco Snugride again for it's high safety rating, but found one on sale.

Now, I'm starting to look at the next carseat-the convertible type that faces the back of the vehicle until the child is a certain height and weight, and is then turned to face the front of the vehicle. This is a major investment. He'll be in this one for at least 3 years. I adored the Evenflo Triumph Ariana used at that stage. It had everything: popularity, good reviews, a high safety rating, side impact protection, was easy to install, easy to adjust and if the smile she had on her face when she was in it was any indication, it was a comfortable seat. I had to replace it once after I was rear-ended (she wasn't with me) and when the insurance adjuster came to our house and took it away, she had a fit. Without hesitation, I went out and got the same seat. They still make the seat only now it will hold a child up to 50lbs whereas Ariana's seat only went to 40lbs.

The new seat (appropriately named "Triumph 50") has a higher back and it was very tempting at a time in my life where there is so much change going on to reach for this familiar seat. As much as I loved the seat, it was however a bit large and quite heavy. The shape of the seat allowed her to prop her little feet up on the corner of the driver's seat (right next to the head rest) in our old car at the tender age of 2. Cute, but a bit of a distraction. The width of the back of the seat could be a problem in the captain's chairs that make up the 2nd row of the minivan I now drive. So, I'm leaning towards the seat that came in a close 2nd to the Evenflo Triumph when Ariana made the switch. Britax is the number one rated car seat company and 2 of their seats were the only ones rated above the Triumph at that time. The "Marathon" aptly named because it can be used from birth to 65lbs and the "Roundabout" (not sure where that name came from) are at the top of my very short list of choices now.

I can still clearly remember the day Elijah was born and the first time I saw his little face. But I remember it all from when his sister was born as well. Sometimes I can't believe I was blessed with these two beautiful babies. Yet here we are. Ariana (as hard as it is to believe) is 7 years-old and about to finish the 1st grade. More changes. 7th birthday means a new class at Children's Church, but she seems to be okay with it. 7th birthday will require a new devotional book-haven't picked it up yet. More changes. She's about attend her 3rd summer camp. More changes. Her usual summer stomping ground won't be available this year. Three of her school's teachers (one of whom is Ariana's 1st grade teacher) however, managed to make a small camp available. Thank God for this innovative thinking. I told a friend that with a daycare and a private school available our pastors have seriously spoiled us. It has been priceless having my children in the care of people who know and love our family. The effort that has been put into her education and the patience and care they have given Ariana especially in the last two months can't be matched. The thought of having to do otherwise and send my newly fatherless child to a new (though very reputable) camp at such a difficult time was a bit unnerving. She's clinging to any consistency and I want it for her.

It would be a change for me too. This newly single parent was not looking forward to paying $250 more a month than I was used to paying for summer camp, but I would have done it, even though what I'd be paying extra for was the camp's reputation and proximity to my house. Now, though, I am at ease with at least that part of my daughter's life. Add to it, being teachers at her school, they'll be better equipped to help me prepare her for the 2nd grade. And perhaps they'll be room in the budget for that parent/child reading enrichment class I've wanted us to do the last couple of summers. It seems the only thing constant around here is change.

Next: project planning all around-making this house a home again.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

By His Grace

I wanted to make the title of my blog "By His Grace" because that is how I am going to get through this time in my life, but the URL was taken, so I figured I'd make it the title of the first post, which I will use to set up a...how you say...back story. I guess Mother's Day weekend is as good a time as any to start.

Today, I am a 37 year-old mother of two beautiful children. I work full-time as a Clinical Data Analyst. Pretty normal I guess. My daughter Ariana recently celebrated her 7th birthday and , my son Elijah is 4 months old. I gave birth to Elijah on January 9, 2010. I remember gazing at him that day looking forward to so many things and anticipating how life would be as a family of four. I was in for far more change than I anticipated. Exactly two months later, on March 9th, my husband, Thomas, passed away in our home.

It's been two months since Thomas died. The one question people seem to have is "how are you?". Truthfully it changes often, but here, I'll lay out the highs and lows, triumphs and mishaps, comings and goings, joys and sorrows I experience as I go through this pivotal year. I have a lot going on. It's my first year as a mother of two, my first year as a mother of a son and my first year as a widow. How am I really? I'm heartbroken, tired, blessed, grateful, happy, relieved and probably a load of other adjectives depending on when you ask, but I am grateful that I had the chance to know love as some people go through their lives and never have the chance.

We were married for 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days. Thomas bravely battled multiple physical challenges for several years. I knew he had grown weary of it all. He said so. He said so outright and he said so in the conversations we had about how he felt, the questions he'd ask me about whether I thought God would accept him if he died of his illness, and whether I felt dying meant he'd given up. A year and a half before he died, I had relunctantly released him. I told him I loved him and would miss him, but he need not continue to suffer behind the notion of staying for us if it would rattle his faith to do so. A lot of people might have told God where to go after going through the things he had, (and I knew some people who had done just that) and I'd rather lose him than for God to lose him or for him to lose God. I assured him I'd never let anyone say he had given up or didn't fight hard enough. He assured me he'd know when he'd had enough. We agreed to keep that conversation between us and the walls until "after" and we didn't speak of it again.

The day before he was unusually humble in conversation and appeared to have something on his mind. When I came home from work that day (children in tow), I grabbed him a drink from the fridge and went up to check on him. I knew as soon as I saw him he was gone. He appeared to have sat down for a nap and at some point, "let go" and died in his sleep.

I won't recount the details of the trauma that followed over the next three hours. I will only profess my profound gratitude that I was able to call the children's Godparents to get my daughter out of the house so that she was not exposed to it. Note to any parent reading: If your child or children does not have Godparents or does not have reliable ones...fix that. Ours live 2 minutes away and after I ducked into a bathroom out of Ariana's earshot and called them, they were at the house in a flash. They called 911 from upstairs while I stood over the children on the first floor. Ariana was taken away without incident and brought back home after Thomas was gone. It was a conversation I'd dreaded for a long time, but I wasted no time in having it with her. I mean five minutes after I'd picked her up from her Godparents' house I was telling her she had to go back. She knew something was up, so it wasn't going to do either of us any good to prolong it. I won't forget her little face, the quiet tears that streamed down her cheeks or the first words she spoke that let me know she understood what I'd told her: "So now we don't have a father." "Well baby," I told her, "You have another guardian angel now."

Eleven days later, on March 20th, we had his funeral here in Raleigh where we'd built our life together. It was set in the church where we had exchanged vows, sat and received our most important life lessons, and tried to give of ourselves in service to God.

In honor of my husband's well known flare for clothes I had him dressed in what he told me was his favorite suit, a three piece black suit with white pin stripes I had purchased 3 years ago. I purchased a white shirt with black accents and a black and white tie to go underneath it. I added a Steve Harvey hat he wore with the suit to go in the casket, cuff links, a watch, a bracelet I'd bought him for our 8th anniversary and an ID bracelet Ariana had given him for Christmas with "DADDY" inscribed on it. We're taught that the dead will rise when Jesus returns at the end of time. I don't know what will happen that day, but when I went for my private viewing at the funeral home, I pictured Thomas waking up that day looking down and saying (as he often did), "I'm clean like a washing machine, " and I was satisfied.

I bought our son his first suit for the funeral. It was a light gray vest and dark gray pants, pink shirt, white shoes and a matching tie and hankerchief. It looked like something Thomas would have picked for him. My daughter and I wore pink as well. She wore a soft pink princess dress and I chose a two piece skirt suit. I guess Elijah didn't care for his new outfit. In true newborn baby fashion, he had a blow-out diaper right as my pastor began the eulogy. Godmother to the rescue again. She and a friend changed him while two other friends helped me with the "mark" he left on my skirt. Probably good he won't remember that. But the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Thomas' 2 favorite praise songs and his favorite worship song rang out during the service courtesy of our church's praise team. Four people gave beautiful remarks, and he was eulogized the only person on earth I'd trust with such a large task-the pastor who'd married us 10 years ago.

I decided to lay Thomas to rest in a private cemetary in his home town an hour from here. It was made the day quite long, but I felt good about it...a well kept place five minutes from the house he'd grown up in and I had him placed so he was facing the direction of the house. I was exhausted after the service and fought to stay awake on the drive to the cemetary as my children slept soundly in the 2nd row of the limosine under the watchful eyes of their older sister. This part of the day is a bit fuzzy but pieces of it have returned with time. Thomas served 8 years in the army, so his gravesite service was done with full military honors. I remember the soldiers carrying him to the site. I remember the gun salute and I remember taps being played. I remember two of them folding the flag and giving it to me, but I'd totally lost the short speech, the young man had given me when he handed it over. I remember staring at him, feeling as if I was carrying twice my total weight in just my hands, and not knowing what to do, but I managed to nod my head and open my hands just enough for him to place the flag in my lap. That was it. We had dinner prepared by some members of the church in town Thomas had attended as a child and returned home. We got home around 6 or so.

So, let's recap: I'm 37 year-old. I have a 6 year-old daughter, a 2 month old baby boy and my husband, partner and best friend is now dead. The $10,000 question had two simple words. "Now what?"

I'm going to push forward with an angel on my shoulder. I'm going to love God and teach my children to love Him trying to stay in the path of righteousness my husband laid out for us. I'm going to love me and my two babies and lead my family so that we not only survive but thrive. And I'll do it...by His grace.