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 lap does not. I allow it of course because my son's smile 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 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 His grace.