Friday, December 30, 2011

December: Our 2nd Christmas Without Daddy, part 1

Throughout the year, I purchase very few to no toys for my children. I’m too busy clothing them, feeding them, paying for their education and their entertainment.

But in October, I set a budget and made a list about 12 toys long. I figured 6 new toys was enough for each of them and the first day I could, I dropped the children at their Godparent’s house and went and put everything on Lay-away at the Wal-Mart closest to our home, only going to Toys R Us for one thing that Wal-Mart didn’t have. That was the Disney Princess boom box I got so Ariana could have speakers for her mp3 player. She’d asked for an Ipod Touch. I had to laugh. I don’t even have one of those. I also know she isn’t of an age yet, where she understands getting an expensive gift means your gifts are fewer in number. What she got was a simple mp3 player with a touchscreen that was about a quarter of the price.

December arrived and the first event of the holiday season was the Christmas play at Ariana’s school. The students in the elementary school do it. It is generally written by one of the teachers, though I’m not sure if this one was because they didn’t say who penned this one. It was the Christmas Puzzle. A group of children is snowed in with their grandmother. She gives them a special puzzle to assemble. There’s no box cover to go by, only bible verses as clues. As the play goes on, they assemble the puzzle and the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds. I always enjoy this. It’s super cute seeing the children act, sing and dance.

As to our tree, it had been up since the Saturday after Thanksgiving a couple of hours after we returned from visiting with family at my sister’s house. I think I loved the tree more this year than last year even. It’s just beautiful and I will always carry the memory of the night the three of us ventured out to get it and the decorations.

I don’t really do gifts for other people. My determination to reduce the stress that possibly comes with this time of year had me adopt a different way of blessing others. When you’re a parent, this thing goes to a whole new level. Cash for the children’s gift yes, but you gift teachers. Ariana has one, Elijah has two. They have parties with a gift exchange. Ariana had one at school and one for Children’s choir. I always give our pastors something. You almost have to be a magician to get the numbers to come out in your favor. I’m very fortunate to have a good job and good people looking after my children in different areas of their lives. The hardest part was finding a gift for the exchange Ariana had at school. The instructions were to find a $5 unisex toy. That type of thing really seems to be an endangered species among toys. When it comes to family, we had holiday portraits taken and I give them out. I hadn’t been in the pictures before, but this year, I decided this would be a family picture. I picked the color scheme (red and gray/silver) and on Saturday, December 10th, we had our appointment at Sears. I got several poses in various sizes, had one of the pictures made into a greeting card and voila! Christmas shopping was over.

It was two days before Christmas before I was able to find enough time alone to get everything wrapped and under the tree. Thankfully Elijah isn’t really aware of the whole deal yet and paid little to no attention to all of the packages. Ariana was excited to see everything there, but disappointed that there was nothing under the tree for me. I had thought about getting myself something, but time got the better of me. I assured her it was okay. Her Godparents had gotten me some jewelry and my mother gave me some money. I’ve come to accept not having anything under the tree as part of this life.

But at night I would sit and look at that tree. The recliner is directly across from it. Thomas used to love to sit there and enjoy the tree. Now I sit there, take deep breaths, watching it twinkle, and watching how the lights reflect on the other decorations around them. My eyes focus at times on the angel picture frame ornament hanging center with Thomas' picture inside and the words "Forever in Our Hearts" written above his head. It sinks in just how good, just how kind, just how loving, just how merciful, just how protective and most of all just how patient, God has been in our lives. Those are gifts I open everyday, gifts so expensive, they can't be found in a store, not even on Black Friday. That gift is life. I'm so grateful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Approach to Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays: Part Two

Now, it’s 2011. We are approaching the last quarter of the 2nd year of our new life. This is the second set of holidays without daddy. This year’s approach was a bit different for us. Shortly after Thomas’ death my father came back into my life. I had not seen him in eight years and neither I nor my siblings knew where he was. Thomas faithfully prayed for a reunification every day even after the rejection I felt left me with only a hope that he was safe. It was one of many things I wished he’d survived to see. My father is of course older, a little slower, but he is remarried and happy. In 2010, he, my stepmother and brother all went to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving. When I was invited I had already booked the Disney World trip. The children and I saw them a few months later when one of my nieces graduated from a university nearby. Fast forward to this year, I got a text from my sister again inviting us there for Thanksgiving. We were getting another chance to be a part of this get together and this time I took it.

There is rest for the weary after all.

I’m sure most of us have heard the saying, “There’s no rest for the weary.” I’d become very familiar with it during my married life and my time as a widow. Being a caregiver, running a household alone as a wife, being a single parent, running a household alone as a widow all while holding down a full time job, I could have had this saying tattooed somewhere if I was into tattoos that is. It would have to be a fake one that washes off after a couple of days.

But when I put the children in the van and started down the highway to my sister’s house last week, I wasn’t thinking about getting much rest. All I was thinking about was getting away from the house again and seeing my family. I had no desire to stay home, or make a big meal, or do the constant clean-up that is an inevitable part of my son being at home all day with his toys. Ariana was excited, mainly about seeing “paw paw”. That is what my father’s grandchildren call him. Elijah as usual just went with what was happening, even though I could tell he was very confused when the little box in front of him showed one of his favorite cartoons. I had picked up a Phillips two screen portable DVD player for the van after work. I ordered it online from Best Buy for store pick-up and installed it before leaving the store’s parking lot. It turned out to be the cure for the “Are we almost there-itis” my daughter seems to come down with 30 minutes into any long drive.

Something happened after we got there. My children settled in to the unfamiliar surroundings pretty quickly and found playmates as soon as we arrived. My sister was caring for two of her grandchildren while her daughter worked. Thank God for cousins. My niece is 7 and my nephew is 3. Ariana is 8 and Elijah is almost 2. You would have thought they’d known each other all of their lives, but it was only their second time seeing each other. Once their mother picked them up around 9:00, Ariana was so tired she passed out in bed. My father and stepmother arrived at around 10:00. Elijah stayed up long enough to see them, but once I got him to stay still for five minutes he was out too. I stayed up another 30 minutes to get caught up, but knew if I wanted to get enough sleep, I had to retire as well. My brother left his home later that night to avoid traffic, but arrived before dawn.

I got something out of the trip I wasn’t expecting. I was able to relax. One aunt, two uncles, a set of grandparents and several cousins meant for just a few days I wasn’t the entire world to my children. When my son wanted to be picked up, he had his choice of several people and he took to the "new" adults in his life better than I could have hoped. They all knew how to deal with him. He and “paw paw” became fast friends and it quickly became clear to Elijah that this guy was impressed with everything he did and said. He pointed to an apple and within a few minutes there was an apple in his hand. He pointed and said “cracker” and POOF, several came to him. He said "milk" and someone gave him a cup. My sister made them breakfast and once Thanksgiving dinner was prepared, we ate it for days. My brother-in-law fried a turkey outside, my sister made potato salad and several sweet potato pies. Other members of my sister’s and my brother-in-law’s families brought other side dishes.

The cousins did not stay the night but they returned each day we were there and two more came to the house on Thanksgiving Day. My sister in addition to having two daughters has two stepdaughters who each have a daughter. There were children everywhere and my sister and brother-in-law have a big yard. When they weren’t outside, the Wii video game system in the back room kept them busy for a while. I’m surprised Ariana’s arms aren’t sore from playing the boxing game. Only thing is I might end up having to buy one of those things.

On Friday I didn’t even bother getting dressed. We all except my brother who had to go to another city for the day, stayed in our pajamas. I really hope this gathering becomes an annual event. I could use the rest.

With a bit of sadness, I drove us home on Saturday afternoon. Everyone else was staying over to Sunday, but I needed Saturday evening and Sunday to get us settled back in to our life. On Monday it was back to work and school. I had rather ease back into reality than be tossed back into it. I had a simple plan in mind. On Saturday evening, I wanted to unpack the suitcase, do two loads of laundry, put the Christmas tree up and decorate it. We had a leadership meeting and church service on Sunday.

The tree is up and I love it even more than last year. We added a new ornament this year. I found it at a holiday store in our local mall. It is a picture frame with angel wings. On the top it reads “Forever in Our Hearts”. In the blank space above the picture I had the store employee write “Daddy” with the year 2010. I put Thomas’ picture inside. Sunday evening I baked cookies and began to decorate the outside of the house. The presents for the children have been on lay-away at Wal-Mart since October. I still have to make that photo session appointment. My approach to Christmas will still be to dive in head first and pull out what is good. We’ll have a chance to have fun and to further explore the true meaning of the season.

So the only question that remained was what to do with Thomas’ Christmas money. This year’s charity will be "Love Haiti’s Children". I give to American charities throughout the year, but this one is dear to me. The pastors I had before I joined Word of God Fellowship opened an orphanage there after the earthquake. It’s true, my children have no father. They are however, blessed with a lot of people who love them intensely. The children in Haiti this orphanage was built for have no one until the missionaries get there. I think of all of the times my daughter tells me she misses her father every day, but is so glad that at least I am still here. It doesn’t comfort me to think of others who are less fortunate, but it does move me in ways I can’t really express.

We still hurt. We still miss Thomas. We still have plenty of challenges to face. We still have days where we seem lost. We still have so much growing to do. We’re still here though and we’re still a family. We still have hope. We still have love. We still have laughter. We still have our faith. We still have the ability to give. Every day of our lives I am aware of all of those things. The approach of Christmas and the New Year though allows me to become aware of them on a higher level. I can slow down and see things more clearly, plan for that growth, appreciate our progress, and remember how fortunate we are. As 2011 ticks away, I’ll aim to do the same thing I did last year, but more so. I’ll take some deep breaths, thank God for His mercy and His patience with me, tighten my grip on my children and do my best to move the three of us forward.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Approach to Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays: Part One

The holidays are pretty much in full swing. It can potentially be a really rough time for my set of the population. This is our second set of holidays since Thomas’ death. We actually had several months between his death and the holidays and I appreciate that. I know several people who in addition to dealing with going through the holidays without their spouse, have the memory of losing their spouse close to a family holiday. Thomas died 17 days after our wedding anniversary and the first one afterwards was very difficult for me. My approach to the holidays last year had different themes. For Thanksgiving we abandoned tradition and our house. For Christmas, I decided to mix old ones with new ones, but to dive in head first.

For Part One, I'll go back to 2010.

Last year, we spent Thanksgiving at Disney World. I wanted to take the children there in 2011, but after Thomas died, I decided not to wait. Ariana’s fall break, which shifts according to an annual teacher’s conference fell on the week of Thanksgiving so instead of having 3 days of the week off from school, she had the entire week. I booked and planned 6 days at Disney World over a span of three months. I kept the trip a surprise for Ariana just in case we didn’t make it, but we did and we had a wonderful time. Every year of our life together we hosted several people for Thanksgiving in our home. Thomas did the bulk of the cooking because that is what he loved to do. I contributed a side or two and did the cleaning before and after. We never traveled because he had to be right back at work the next day. I found traveling to be a good alternative.

As was our tradition during Thomas’ life, we spent Christmas at home. I tossed our old Christmas tree and most of the decorations (an artificial one we bought in 2005). One evening after work/school, I bundled up the children and we went to Wal-Mart for a brand new tree and all new decorations. I found us a pre-lit Colorado fir tree. It was 7 feet tall with over 800 tips. It was full bodied and beautiful in the picture (and was outside the box as well). Elijah sat in the cart looking around while Ariana and I went up and down the aisles picking up individual decorations ranging from $1 to $3 in price…stars, spirals, a key, a reindeer, a church and some other things. I picked up the small traditional ball shaped ornaments in packs of 5 in gold, silver, red and green, then a larger box as well. Ariana picked out an angel for the top. I put together and decorated it while Ariana did her homework. It was gorgeous.

On a different day, after church, we traveled to visit Thomas' family and his grave site. He is buried in his home town. I left a picture of the children and spent some time with my in-laws. On yet another day, we wrapped up and went out in search of groceries. I set myself to make a dinner worthy of being called a Christmas dinner even though one of the three of us was barely into table food. In Thomas’ honor we had Cornish game hens (a favorite of his). We had fresh cabbage, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry sauce and two desserts.

As to presents, I generally have a photo session done with the children and give the portraits to family members. I buy very few toys during the year, so when Christmas approached I had a really good idea of what I wanted for the children and picked things up when I could. I generally spent $200 on Thomas each Christmas. Last year I donated that money to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital and also took every opportunity to teach Ariana about charity. Even though this horrible thing had happened to us, I didn't feel it was time to shield her from other harsh realities of the world. She's a giving child. It wasn't hard to get the message across. After breakfast on Christmas morning, we read the Christmas story. Then, with a restful smile I watched Ariana and Elijah open and enjoy their toys and tried to rest. Like Ariana at her first Christmas, Elijah was a bit overwhelmed when his toy supply literally tripled, but he got the hang of it.

I did not regret how I chose to deal with either ocassion. When the last seconds of 2010 ticked away on December 31st, I was at church. I expressed my gratitude to God for having made it as far as we had, and thanked Him for His mercy and patience with me. Then I let out a deep breath and tightened my grip on my children. Last year I was determined to show Ariana that God would see us through as our faith had been shaken at its base. I was also in high gear of my "Yes we are still a family" campaign and in the end it was successful.

Part Two: What about this year?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Year Two: Pulling Back the Curtain

Geez whoever said the 2nd year of widowhood could be harder hit the nail square on the head. We've got just over 3.5 months left in it. What I hoped would be a time of healing has turned into a time of revealing more of what needs to be healed. Having a new baby and some other things going on probably pushed the tough stuff back a bit. It took 18 months for me to break open about the anger I felt. I guess that is a necessary step. This is a really long road.

Children especially (and I have two) have complicated grief. With my son, even at 22 months, he is drawn to male companionship. He's fortunate to have a Godfather who loves him. He will about 50% of the time now recognize a picture on the fridge as his daddy because I told him that is who it was. My daughter, I now know will need 2 therapists. One for some reading and speech issues that showed up late and another for grief.

It's just been in the last few months my daughter has really started to talk in bits and pieces how she feels about what happened to her father and now she says it is on her mind a lot. Last night she said, she thought he would be around for her to grow up and she's outraged he is not here. She was very calm when she said it, but still hearing your child say she's outraged and you can't fix it stinks. Yesterday she saw a dad pick his daughter up and kiss her and I could see the hurt in her face.

School is an issue and an evaluation revealed some significant gaps in her learning. She tells me there is a lot going on in her brain.

And why wouldn't there be anyway? A large number of children who lose a parent also lose an entire year or more academically and have to catch up later. When we are struggling with the homework I try to remember that. Her father is dead. She's confused and she misses him. She's mad he's gone but also relieved he didn't give me what he had. He coughed a lot and at six years old of course she thought he was contagious. She's concerned about not having a father, but mostly because I have to do it all for her and her brother and she doesn't think that's fair. I certainly can't argue with her, but it is really any wonder there isn't much room left for remembering there are 3 feet in a yard?

She's a loving child who tries hard. She is brilliant in that when she is thriving she shines like the sun...the cutest little cheerleader, an animal lover, a budding Science geek, and a soloist in the children's choir. Test grades are low though and with this being an EOG year, it's worrisome. Her overall GPA is only saved by how well she does on her homework and classwork even though it takes her longer. And the mercy of her teacher who graciously sent me a packet of work she got behind on last week to complete by this Friday and still get full credit.

She is just zoning out at certain times, probably partially due to everything she is thinking about and the gaps the therapist found. Previously when she was corrected for zoning out, she'd start crying, but she has stopped doing that since I became aware of it. Yes, there's some drama queen in there too. Other than that she is very well behaved and I can count on one hand the number of negative behavior comments I've gotten in the last 2 years.

But a visit to her pediatrician is on the list too because if there's another issue causing the lack of focus I want to address it. The therapist didn't notice any, but one thing I do notice is when left on her own to write something, it comes out just like anything her father would write…a lot of misspelled words and grammatical errors that make her sentences nonsense. It's like there's a block between all the rules she is learning and putting them to use. She can convey she understands a story orally, but if left to write a summary of the story, it's a mess.

But if I put her down with her Science book and there's questions at the end of a chapter and she has to look up the answers in the content and write them down she can do it. One morning I discovered we'd forgotten to do her Science homework and she got it done in 15 minutes flat. Now she does love Science, but with her other issues, I'd think she would struggle with this. I'm glad she doesn't, but it doesn't make sense to me that she doesn't if that makes sense.

One thing the therapist did say was that there is likely nothing I could have done to prevent what has happened with her and that I'm doing the right thing getting help for her, which was therapeutic in itself. But I called our local hospice to make an appointment for myself. Life had not settled enough to fit it in previously and really I'm just peeling back the layers and able to talk about what happened in a way that therapy could be beneficial. I've always been sad or mad about him being gone, but have found a way to stay on the road to a good life. We have good times together and we stay positive about our challenges. I'm just really starting to feel the reality of what I'm facing. Some of it Thomas left me with because life and his illness meant we didn't address it during his life. Some things I'm facing directly because of his death and some things I might be facing either way, but they're magnified because of his death in one way or another. Exhaustion sets in and it is setting in when my daughter needs me more than ever.

During his life, our situation was very private out of respect for my husband and I don't regret it. But where I go from here is my decision. There's no fear of seeking professional help especially when it comes to my children. The trick of needing counseling being a structural weakness takes too many people under. Too many people are swallowed up in isolation surrounded by a fear of being labeled weak. Were I weak, I would never have survived to this point and that goes for anyone in the same situation. Is it fair? Nope, but fair only exists in children's games. Who knows why some people face things that would crush most people, but God has always proven Himself to be the equalizer and talking to Him let me know I am equipped for this. That could mean I use the strength God gave me to handle it or I use His strength to find the right resources for help. Either way, I just know that, I take His strength and take charge...hearbreak and all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Breaking Open At One and a Half Years

Yeah, I'm usually never late, but this walk I have found is one where there is no set pace.

So I haven't posted in quite some time. I have these times where I close in on myself and have thoughts and emotions I don't want to share. But that wasn't the original purpose of this blog. It was to be an open honest account of the ups and downs of my journey after my husband's death. I wouldn't have anyone reading not know it's a huge challenge. There's joy in my life and pain. That's the honest truth.

I had to come to terms that I'm still really angry about what happened, about everything, the disease, the effects of the disease on Thomas and therefore our marriage, how I don't see myself the same anymore, how some of the encounters with him during those times, especially when he was heavily medicated really lowered my self-esteem, how I'm still a product of some of the negative things I went through.

I couldn't even cry...not more than shedding a few tears here and there. I could sit and get behind on laundry, let the house become disorganized, lose focus, but I couldn't let the emotion out even when I felt it coming. I told myself I had to be strong, that I couldn't let the children see me break down. I'm all they have left, I should keep it together. I could hear my my husband telling me how it wouldn't do any good to cry, how I shouldn't be that weak (yeah, I know).

After a while I got a bit fed up...angry really. As many times as I'd told people who asked about it that God can handle your anger and as many times as I'd told myself the same thing, and even heard it in my head when I would pray, I could not seem to make the step to say, "Yeah, I'm mad...I'm really mad. I'm mad at Thomas, I'm mad at me and yeah, I'm mad at You too cuz I know you love us and didn't cause what happened, but I also can't understand why I can't catch a break."

I mean my husband is dead. My children have NO father. But one thing I learned while Thomas was alive was that having a huge life weight doesn't mean you're immune from the challenges of life other people face. Thomas and I had his illness plus all of the normal issues married couples face and his illness left us without the tools a lot of couples use to deal with those issues. We did what we could. The fact that we're on a grief journey and my children have no father doesn't keep parenting challenges away. It doesn't keep house challenges away and it invites money issues...rolls the red carpet out for them it seems. I felt stuck, but the very real need to acknowledge what I had and have that is good usually would over-ride my urge to say..."CRAP!"

Then came a turning point for me. In church the message was about dealing with stuff that holds us back and how the first step was to admit it. At the end I went up for prayer. They pair you with someone hopefully in your category to pray with you. I could already feel the tears coming. I looked up and it was a friend, another single mom, 12 years my junior but one for which I have a lot of respect. She had her girls young but has made a good life for them. One is in Ariana's class at school, the other is a year behind them. She works her behind off, has her own home, goes to school, you get the idea.

She leaned in and asked, "Is there anything specific you want to pray about?" I started to lose it, but managed to say, "I'm really angry about what happened to my husband and my marriage." As she began to pray I began to sob. I realized my mood in the weeks leading up to this were the result of me putting God out to arm's length again. At a certain point a few months ago I had come to the conclusion that despite what had happened, the children and I could have a bright future. Now, I still believe that, but it appeared that as soon as I came to that conclusion some force decided to see what else could be thrown at me since I had the nerve to still believe I could have a life after my husband died...nice right?

When she finished praying, I only meant to give her a hug, but I was so far gone by then it turned into that gut wrenching, hardly able to catch your breath sobbing, I'd probably been needing to get out for nearly a year and a half. I felt so bad for her. By the end, she was crying almost as hard as I was. I realized my failure to reach out sufficiently. Finally finding that shoulder or rather letting it find me and "losing it" didn't make anything blow up.

Go figure.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Overnight Fever, One of the Parenting Adventures that Make You Miss Having a Partner

Why do fevers prefer to strike at 2:00 in the morning? I mean you can't take the child to school or daycare or wherever they go after they've had one. You're up all night, and get to spend the next day chasing your now recovered child. My daughter had these fevers every so often, usually when a new tooth was coming or if she had a little cold. Last night my son had one. He's had a runny nose since last week and started coughing yesterday. At 18 months old, he doesn't take much medication, so I medicated the fever only. Then we prayed and he sang praises to God, raising his little hand and waving it around, saying "ha-oo-ah". That's baby talk for halleleujah. He has some breathing medications, but he wasn't having any trouble breathing, at least not until later. I pretty much knew that he'd be back to his old self soon and back to running around the house. In other words, he'd be fine. I'd see him through it.

Then there's me. I miss having someone to lean on in situations like that. I miss having a partner in parenting. I miss having someone to love them with me and having someone I love with whom to watch them interact. Some of the cutest things they do happen right here in the house, and I'm the only one here. I wouldn't have my husband back like he was. He was so very sick. But it's hard sometimes. My hopes when it comes to my children, my fears when it comes to them, my angst, no one to really share that with now, not anyone I can lean on and say, "can we do this?". Right now I'm making plans for our future and I can really feel it.

My children have amazing Godparents and their Godfather especially has really stepped up to be a big part of my son's life. My son loves him but when I see Elijah run to him I can't help but think of Thomas. I'm very grateful that my son will have someone to do guy stuff with, and a man to teach him about being a man whether I remarry or not. I know some people don't have that, but when they do things, I'll really miss that special look of pride in their dad's eyes.

But I'm noticing that just as much or even more than the sadness over Thomas not seeing them as they grow and not having the opportunity of watching them grow through his eyes, is that as much as I thank God everyday for the people who love them, there's a noticable absence. When Ariana had these overnight fevers, Thomas sat in his room and prayed. That was his part, well that and convincing me she should get to sleep with me instead of in her room. I could say I feel his presence. I could say I'm sure he's helping me through these things and other challenges and he may be. There are times I can feel him. There are also times when I feel his absence.

I think though he prayed enough to last us a while. During his final year, that is pretty much all he did at home. I know a few of those prayers were not answered until after his passing. So I may not see him an image of him in the corner of the room like I did during Elijah's first trip to the emergency room and I may not hear him praying in my head like I did the last time Ariana got a stomach bug, but I know he's still here somehow. But I won't lie. Dragging the well child to the emergency room along with the ill one, packing the ill one in the van when the well one has to go to school, pulling myself through the day with two children bouncing off the walls after pulling the night shift with an ill child...not my idea of a good time.

I ask myself sometimes who is going to love me through the challenges I love them through. But despite the loneliness I have never felt hopeless and the answer to that question comes if I look for it. On one trip to the emergency room, I looked across at a couple holding their baby who was in the ER due to vomiting. At one point, out of frustration, the mom laid her head on the dad's shoulder. She was obviously exhausted. He stroked their son's hair with one hand and her hair with his other hand. I shook my head for a moment. Then I looked at Elijah and he smiled at me. Despite not feeling well he was happy. Their baby had not smiled at all since they'd gotten there. I laid my head back on the back of the bench and asked God to heal their baby and all the other children in the hospital.

So I'm working on seeing God as my partner, on relying on Him more, not just for provision, healing, protection, wisdom and guidance, but as a partner in life, as someone I can lean on when I'm exhausted. There's no shortage of lessons on this journey. There's always something to work on and I'm still learning. I have concluded the learning never stops.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

“Why Can’t I Be a Normal Kid?”

My little girl spent part of the morning crying because she has to do something different than the other children (wear a swim cap for swim class). Asks me, "Why can't I be a normal kid?" Now, let's start with me saying I don't know what that is. In a lot of ways she is a typical eight year-old from what I see, but in a lot of ways she is totally unique. I don't want her to believe she has to do what others do, say what others say or believe what others believe. I want her to believe she can be as that one commercial says, above the influence. I want to teach her to build a sound decision making process of her own.

Not that I didn't feel her pain. I'd asked myself a similar question time and time again. "Why can't I be like the other wives?" I asked myself and God that question more times than I care to admit. Only answer I remember was "Because this is your life." It's been from other experiences, teachings and encounters that I have learned my path as tough as it has been has as much purpose as anyone else's, that my life can still be wonderful anyway. God has poured His heart out to me in His word and through people's love and my pastors' love, support and teachings to the point where I believe that now. Today, I could just tell Ariana she will just do what I say. But no. I gathered myself to pour out my heart to her.

Ariana you were not born for that. Get used to standing out in a crowd honey because you were born to be different. This time it's just a swim cap, but other times you'll have to stand up for things much bigger and do what is best for you even when it means the crowd goes the other way. Not sure what normal is, but that is not for us. You were born to stand out. You were born to be great. You were born to lead, not to follow. You're going to be standing out and being different your whole life, because that is our destiny.

My mind raced back to a day four years prior. Ariana was four years-old and then my only child. I arrived to pick her up from pre-school to find that all of the children had gotten into the finger paint and decorated themselves like ninjas while the poor teacher was vacuuming the other side of the classroom. It was a real sight and as I searched the crowd for my daughter I crossed my arms, began tapping my foot and drumming the fingers on my right hand on my left elbow. I saw her, but she was facing away from me. I called her name and I closed my eyes. I opened them when I felt Ariana grab onto my legs and heard her yell "mommeeeeee!" like she did everyday. I reached down to hug her and opened my eyes. I was delighted and I'll admit surprised to see she had not one mark on her. She had been the only child to stay out of the paint. She said she was asked to participate, but refused, telling her friends it wasn't right, that they were not supposed to be in the paint. How they managed to do this under the nose of the teacher I never figured out really. Could ten four year-olds really be that sneaky? I have never forgotten the pride I felt and I've reminded Ariana of it several times when she has these types of issues. This time I didn't fall back on that. I thought I'd come up with something much better.

Okay so my little speech did nothing for her present crisis. She continued to cry even louder, but it was true anyway. So, I took a stuffed animal that was in the van and put it on her head and asked, "Am I trying to get you to wear this?" She said no. I told her, "Now, if I tied this to the top of your head and told you to go to camp, I believe that would be a bit much." I saw a half-hearted smile. She tried not to but it happened anyway. Of course Elijah had a huge smile on his face and when she saw that, she almost choked trying not to laugh. I don't know the chlorine content of that pool and don't want it in her hair for the hours between their swimming lesson and when I pick her up. So, we came to an understanding. She would wear the cap for swimming lessons and when she goes to a pool or water park with me, and I can do her hair after, she won't have to wear it. Was she happy? Not really, but that wasn't the goal. The goal was to get to work on time, but to make sure she'd wear the cap and I could drop her off at camp in an acceptable state. She looked like I'd spent the morning slapping her around.

It reminded me of a hilarious, but accurate statement a very good friend of mine from college posted as his facebook status one day. Martin was always a funny guy and he married Melissa who was also a college friend. They have two beautiful daughters, one who is a year older than Ariana and one who is a year younger than Ariana. The girls see each other once a year at UNC's Homecoming along with two other children of a classmate of ours, but act like they've been together all year. Anyway, one day he posted "Little girls have more drama than TNT". That's the network with the slogan "We Know Drama". He had a few of his friends with daughters including me confirm his statement. He's right. They could certainly learn a thing or two from mine. But he wouldn't trade them for anybody or anything and I wouldn't take all the wealth in the world for my little girl. At least I'll never be bored.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Unclutter Train Makes Another Stop

From Webster's Dictionary, the definition of "clutter":

to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness (example: a room cluttered with toys)

That has pretty much described my house most of the time. I'd made up in my mind to make the place more comfortable and to do that, I'd have to put forth a lot of effort to unclutter the place. The Unclutter Train has been making its way around my house pretty much since the "Cleaning Up My Act" post. This has been an up and down process, as I expected it would but I'm trying to be gentle with myself. This time it was my bedroom. This stop would be very important because my room was a mess. I had become pretty good at cleaning other parts of the house, and the unclutter movement was in full swing after I had some furniture removed. I'd pulled Thomas' clothes from the two closets they were in and was almost overwhelmed by the space it left, but my room was such a mess, it was actually hard to relax in there.

There was too much stuff, the laundry was backed up…again and despite the fact he had not slept in it in about 7 months, my son's pack-n-play was still up. I was tossing stuff into it to get it off the floor and it was taking up a significant amount of space.

The other important thing was, getting this done would allow me to not only say, but enforce those four little words I'd been longing to say to my daughter, but didn't use much because frankly, I felt like a hypocrite when I did: "Go, clean your room!"

I had not tackled it previously because other parts of the house were more visible. I was exhausting myself every weekend as it was, going back to work on Mondays either just as tired or more tired than when I left there the previous Friday. So, with a three-day weekend to work with, I decided it was time. That room should be my sanctuary and it was pretty much anything but that. I had to turn sideways to go around my bed to the bathroom because of the pack-n-play and I could barely walk from one side of the room to the other without stepping over one of my son's toys. I have a walk-in closet no one could actually walk into without climbing a mountain.

The unclutter train pulled in Sunday night and departed last night. I had six 39-gallon bags. One with dark laundry, one with light colored laundry, one with Thomas' dress shirts that I originally planned to keep, but on second thought put on the donation pile with the rest (save a few of my favorites of course), one half-full with my clothes that need to go to the dry cleaners and two with things to discard. I packed two other smaller bags with my son's old clothes to give to a young lady at my church who has one infant son and another on the way. Once the pack-n-play was empty, I folded it up and put it away. I could dance across the room now if I wanted.

I transformed my bed. I always had about 10 pillows on the bed. I only used two, but it took eight for my husband to have a chance to be half-way comfortable (four behind him and two under each arm), but he didn't attempt to sleep in there the last year or so of his life. I took six of them away, flipped and turned the mattress, then put a brand new set on my bed, new sheets, a new comforter and of the four pillows I kept, I put two pillows in the pillowcases and two others in the shams, and I finally had a new room. My walk-in closet is actually a walk-in closet. Now, it's not bring out the white gloves clean, but it's a relaxing spot I want to be in now. I slept much better the last two nights.

Yesterday I dug into the laundry. My linen closet was almost bare and I figured out why. Cleaning out the closet revealed where all the sheets and towels were I knew I had. Two loads later, my linen closet was stacked again on every shelf. Bath sheets and beach towels on top, regular towels and wash clothes next. My sheets and pillow cases on the 3rd shelf and the children's sheets and blankets on the bottom shelf. I washed, dried and put away two loads of our clothes next. It had become a struggle putting together the children's outfits for each day and I knew I'd purchased enough summer clothes. It was a struggle last night too, but because I almost had too many choices.

And while I dug into the laundry, I worked with my daughter to get her room cleaned. She has a large toy box, plus one of those three-tier ones with nine boxes for small toys. Even with her protesting much of the way, we got it done and I could see she was much happier in there. She probably didn't think she could be much happier than she was after I painted the room pink and put artwork on the walls, but she was. Happiness is being able to dance wildly to a Selena Gomez song without tripping over your toys I guess.

The other task I tackled over the weekend was the master bath and half bath on the first floor. I'd purchased new rugs and toilet lid covers to match the wall paper borders in each one, but they'd stayed in the bags in a downstairs closet for a few weeks. So after I did the weekly cleaning of each bathroom, I tossed the old rugs put the new rugs down. So last night as I settled down, the Unclutter Train pulled out of the station. Its next stop: the laundry room.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wondering About Anticipatory Grief

My husband dealt with multiple health problems for years and I thought I had what I've heard called anticipatory grief. It's a term used in situations where a person loses someone after a long illness or a known terminal condition. Thomas was not techinically terminal, but in a phone conversation I had been advised at one point what to expect. I did not tell Thomas until he had outlived the prognosis. He outlived the doctor's prediction by nearly three years. Still, I faced losing Thomas so many times, I sometimes rehearsed my reaction in my head. I rehearsed the conversation with my daughter. I tried not to think about it, but I did. The reality is not what I anticipated on the rare occasion I allowed myself to think about it.

When the day came, God allowed me to go through the process with a calm that amazed everyone there and everyone that heard about it. He kept me on my feet, kept any screams silent, walked with me through the entire thing. I tossed a large blanket over my shoulder underneath which I nursed my son while an officer interviewed me about what had gone on that day. I kept my wits about me enough to plan what I've been told was a very good funeral despite never even having been remotely involved in planning one before that. Thomas always said I was right for him because all hell could be breaking loose and I'd remain calm. I would actually do my crying in seclusion. I'd been crying for years. When he died I wondered if I'd have any tears left or just be mad. I remember thinking this is the worst thing to ever happen, but I have to be okay.

I've had plenty of grief in the past 15 months and from more sources than just Thomas' death. But when it came to his actual departure, I have come to believe that for me, when I thought I was grieving ahead of time, I was really grieving the current losses. We lost the privilege of physical intimacy. We lost the privilege of sharing our bed. We lost the privilege of spontaneity. We were married for ten years, but lost most of what we enjoyed about our marriage about half way through it. I cried, I got angry, made bad decisions, got scared, tried to figure out how to live over and over again.

And since he actually died, I've done those things again. I've cried, I've gotten angry, I've made bad decisions, gotten scared and I'm still trying to figure out how to live. When I actually lost him, when he was really gone, when he didn't bounce back at the last minute like he'd done so many times, I started a life that was a lot different than I anticipated.

Part of the complication for me is in the birth of my son. From the time I got pregnant with him, I forced myself to believe my husband would just keep on going. I'd reached a point of accepting those other losses and we had reached a point as a couple where we relied on our friendship and worked together to be the best parents we could. After Elijah was born, even though my husband's condition had not improved, I somehow had hope. We got a minivan two weeks after Elijah was born and five weeks after that purchase I went back to work. One week after that, two months from the day I had our son, I came home and Thomas was dead. A couple of days later, I remember thinking, "We have this baby and you do this now? Really?" Elijah though was an unexpected blessing. He wasn't a child we planned like his sister, but like her, we loved him. He had our hearts from the start.

Ariana was almost 7 years-old and we'd gotten into a pretty good routine before I got pregnant. I had somewhat prepared myself to do this with two children with minimal help from Thomas. He was doing more of what he could to help with our daughter during my pregnancy and in those first eight weeks our son was here, but he really didn't have much energy after working and I accepted that. He also held our son quite a bit and that is significant because in those early weeks he hardly held our daughter at all. He claimed she was too small and delicate. I wondered why the difference, but didn't think too much about it. Thomas now had a very strict lifting limit. It was so strict that Elijah would reach that weight at 3 months old, just one month after Thomas' death, so when this was happening, I figured he wanted to hold him while he could.

Elijah has lessened the blow of this tragedy in a lot of ways. Both of my children have, but in truth, I looked at him and Ariana and realized I had no idea how I was going to do this with their father actually gone. He'd had too many close calls to count, but the finality of it all is the difference. When he was here I had occasion to get a glimpse of the man I married and now that's gone. When I hated sleeping alone, not being held at night and when I hated being celibate, I tried to be grateful he was just here to talk to. Now he's not here for that. I could not anticipate what that would be like because he talked a lot. That was all we could do really so we did a lot of it. When I need to make a decision outside of the areas we talked about, he's not here to ask what to do. There is way less room for error with children in your arms and no spouse at your side or an ex across town, across the state or wherever.

And I had a dream that might have warned me. I dreamt once that I was widowed and living alone with my daughter and an infant son. I woke up and figured that must have been someone else. Why? The people in the dream looked like us, talked like us, had our names. Why? I had not yet gotten pregnant and did not anticipate getting pregnant. Elijah was conceived on a trip we took in April of 2009 and we had not had any kind of baby making activity in over a year at that point. I dismissed the dream and didn't mention it to anyone, not even Thomas. I was standing downstairs with some friends waiting for him to be removed from the house when I remembered it. I looked at my son and thought, "Holy Crap!"

I wonder now what anticipatory grief really is. It certainly isn't what I thought it to be. Despite years of illness, multiple hospitalizations, several surgeries, sleepless nights and a lot of suffering he and I both wished would end at times, Thomas' actual death turned my world upside down. And it should have. He was my husband, a faithful man of God, father of four and among so many other things he was to several people, he was the only man I had ever loved. God is turning my world right side up though and when I rely on Him like I should, I enjoy my life. It's not always easy. I was a wedding day virgin and part of my motivation was to avoid having to raise a child or children by myself. But God has blessed us anyway and my children and I have a good life. And I anticipate that it will get better.

It saddens me Thomas is not a part of it like I hoped he'd be. But I knew him. He'd still want me to believe in my future. He'd still want me to believe in purpose. He'd want me to focus my attention there. He would still want me to dream. He talked more about my writing dreams than I did. When all I could think about was trying to keep him alive, he was confessing a six figure writing income for me. I'll always miss him, but something on the inside stirs me to believe that there's greatness inside me still and there's greatness in my future. Believing my children are great has never been an issue. All of that has battled well with the sadness, loneliness and grief and it's nice that the grief has competition.

There's definitely been no shortage of life lessons here. I'm learning about myself, reinventing myself for this new road and rediscovering parts of me I had put away, who Sonya the woman is beyond Sonya the mother. Do I get tired? I get exhausted. I took the children to Great Wolf Lodge for a recent weekend to get a break. I'm out to discover the woman yes, but I still get my kicks just being mommy…splashing in the pool, playing video games, watching Disney Channel and making a fool of myself dancing to some teeny bopper song by a boy I had never heard of before that night. My daughter especially appreciates that I don't seem to mind making a fool of myself. It's an ability I believe every parent should have. They are worth it. I’m just finding out that I am too.

I am not sure whether there really is such a thing as anticipatory grief. Most widows I have had any kind of contact with say there really isn't a way to predict what this life will be like before you are in it. I do however have great anticipation of our future. I believe God has great things in store for us. I still believe Thomas' prayers will be answered. He prayed way more about the future than I did. Most of my prayers were really in the moment. He prayed my father would resurface and he did. And I had one more dream. Thomas came and talked to me and assured me I would be fine. I believe him. God tells me in His word that I will be fine. He tells me I have a bright future. I believe Him. I couldn't do this if I didn't.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Whose Bright Idea Was This Anyway?

I must be glutten for punishment. Setting up an estate folder earlier in the week and then pulling Thomas' clothes from the two closets.

It was time. I know it was. It's a necessary step on the way to Elijah's bedroom becoming a reality and us having the space we need in here to store what we keep.

But I thought I'd given away a significant amount and there is still sooooooo much. I put it all on the floor of Elijah's room to make it easier for the children's Godfather and whoever helps him. I think I've gone as far as I can.

I put all the clothes out flat on the floor in piles, still on the hangers. I made 2 stacked rows of shoes. His socks filled a 39 gallon lawn bag as did his hats.

And yet again I went back and forth, again and again to my garage which is not looking too good right now. I'm only requiring myself to make sure there's a good path through it because it is one of our fire exits. Sometimes it seems like stuff is multiplying.

I did get the kids' bathroom done. Ariana picked a set with frogs, which I can appreciate because it's not girly and she'll share that bathroom with her brother. Both kids' bedroom walls are painted and decorated and the princess is in her castle with new bedding, rearranged furniture and a new (what else) pink floor lamp.

I got lamps in the family room that match the furniture and I looked at table sets (coffee table and end tables) over the week. I got Thomas' memorial wall done and am almost done with the walls in the family room.

I'm emotionally drained right now. When I was in the closet, I came across some hand puppets Thomas had purchased. They were Sesame Street Characters, 2 Ernies and one Cookie Monster. I looked at the date on the receipt and remembered Ariana was heavily into Sesame Street at the time and Thomas had purchased them so they could play together. I think they played with them maybe once. Elijah came in and I put the Cookie Monster puppet on my hand and sang the "C is for Cookie" song. He laughed and it was about all I could take. I asked him whose idea it was for me to do this on Father's Day weekend. He stretched his eyes wide. They are the one, and I mean the only one, feature he inherited from me. But they fit so well on the rest of his face that he clearly inherited from his dad. He stretched them wide and looked at me. Then I remembered. It was mine.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Didn't We Have This Conversation?

It is hard or nearly impossible for children to grasp the permanency of death or the permanency of anything really. Ariana was 6 when Thomas died and for months she would ask, "Is he really never coming back?" I think somewhere in her, she feels that after enough time goes by, he'll just show up again.

She's 8 now and was for some reason talking about going away to college and my mother was telling her we'd visit her and she'd visit us and she asked if her dad would. Had to tell her no. We're a Christian family and she's learned the 91st Psalm, and knows about guardian angels, but in our case, it's best I not complicate it with the concepts of angels and visions and visitations. I know that wasn't what she meant. We've had that conversation too. She asked if he was watching over us. I told the truth. I don't know. "GASP!" She's still at an age where me saying those three words is a shock. I figure I'll know everything for another 2 or 3 years, then I'll know nothing. Ain't parenthood grand?

I try to read where I can on how to help her. There's a lot of different advice. You can spend a lifetime reading about this. I think all we can do is keep a constant communication with them and when they ask about the parent coming back, be honest as painful as it is, using words they might understand. I've read they will develop an understanding over time and grieve in cycles which is something I have observed in my daughter.

Originally I told my daughter that some times when people get hurt or sick the doctor can't fix them and some people live like that, others don't and their bodies stop working and all they can do (because we are people of faith) is go to be with Jesus. In our case it was the heart and lungs and my daughter is old enough to understand you can't keep going without those.

I've stuck to my story, but still I have had to repeat it several times. And I think she feels Thomas is doing what he did here where he is. I still get asked if he eats, drinks, needs his TV, etc. I think she understands he can't be here (on any given day) but thinks, okay, he's with Jesus, he should be able to do stuff he likes to do. After all, Jesus is so wonderful right? I'll let her have that. I won't mess with what she feels her father is doing where he is. How do I know anyway.

I've learned to be prepared for a lot of repetition, to get asked the same questions over and over perhaps with months in between. It's hard and I'm glad we have each other, and I'll admit some days I wish it would sink in for both our sakes, but then I still have days when I want to believe he's just going to come bouncing through the front door again myself.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Even When It Looks Bad, You Just Have to Go Forward

On Saturday, June 11, 2011, my pastor's daughter got married. I'd been at the church for 14 years and had known her, now 28 for just about that long. Her parents married Thomas and me. He and I served on several committees together, had our children there and the children and I have remained there since his passing last year.

He would have been so tickled at this blessed event. At first I was not expecting to go. I have used very few sitters to the point that anyone my son could stay with was going to be at the ceremony. When one last attempt to find one fell through, I sadly on the last day to do so, sent my RSVP in as "No".

A week later, my mother called to say that the bride was a little disappointed I wouldn't be there. My mom explained why and they understood, but kind of hoped I'd still come. It was just the reception they were concerned about remaining adult only. Still, my son, though a sweet baby is a normal toddler. He'd sat through quite a few things, but if he was just having one of his talkative days, it could end up being a complete waste of time as far as me actually seeing the ceremony. I'd attended the graduation at my daughter's school and had to leave the room 4 times due to his chatter. But after an email exchange, the bride who has always been very kind hearted anyway, gave me her permission to bring him.

So I devised a plan. When we had gone to my niece's college graduation, I got there early and let him run around outside until he eventually sat down on the sidewalk. He then sat through the ceremony with minimal movement and just some jabbering. So I planned to leave the house early enough to get there at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the ceremony to allow him some run time before going into the hall.

What is they say about the best laid plans?

Elijah had a little stomach bug that kept him out of school on Friday even though he was over it, so I took advantage of my day off and got his haircut to save us time on Saturday. Then we went to the mall and I got myself a free hairdo by letting the woman selling flat irons give me a free demonstration. Didn't end up being free though. I was so impressed with the thing, I bought it.

The next morning went smoothly. We dressed and headed out for my daughter's tutoring session at Sylvan Learning Center. We are generally somewhat rushed going to this, but this time I had it together and we got there early enough that instead of parking and shooing Ariana out of the van, we actually got to go in and wait for the teacher to call the children back. I took it as a good sign as to how the day would go. While she was in class, Elijah and I went to a nearby Target and picked up a few things including a card for the newlyweds. Then we picked her up, made a quick stop at Wal-Mart for stockings for me and we were back home by a little after 11:00am.

Between then and 1:00pm, I got us cleaned up, did Ariana's hair, got us all dressed and got Elijah started on his nap. I went to to get directions to the location. I remembered the address and put it in and it was about (I thought) a 30 minute drive. Something in my head kept saying "double check the invitation" but I'd already put it in the van. You'd think I'd learned by now to listen to that small voice. It was probably Thomas.

It wasn't until I turned onto the street at 1:30 that I realized I had a big problem. The street was about as long as the one I live on (8 houses long) and the street numbers started at 8700 and I was looking for 205. Panic started to set in. I turned around hoping I'd just turned the wrong way, but the street did not continue on the other side of the intersection. What was I going to do? I looked at the invitation and realized I was on Fidelity Blvd and the invitation said New Fidelity Court. In mapquest I had just put in 205 Fidelity. I could literally feel my blood pressure going up. I had been forced to give up my lovely Blackberry for a much cheaper phone and could not get back on mapquest's website to figure out where to go. I stopped at a gas station not knowing how far away I really was and no one had even heard of the place I was looking for.

I called the person who had come to my rescue time and time again. I called the kids' Godmother and thank heavens she answered. But my heart sank when she was telling me where this place really was. We were at least 30 minutes away and it was now 1:40. It was then time to tell my little girl who was continually asking "Are we lost?" "Are we late?" the truth about what was happening.

Her first response? "I want to go home." I was inclined to agree with her. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. One thing I have noticed in this life (widowhood) is that a lot of mishaps are magnified and something like this feels like a disaster. I thought back to the pride I felt when we left the house. It is no small thing to get us dressed up and out of the house without something crazy happening even if it is just Elijah wanting to be held when I need to get dressed, but none of that had happened today. But this was far worse. But something said to move forward and I decided to give it a try.

It seemed like the longest drive ever. I was continuing to even as I drove try to figure out the best way to get to where I needed to go. I won't say I didn't waiver. I thought about giving up a couple more times. At 2:01, Ariana asked, "Is it two o'clock yet?" When I said yes, I told her I was sorry. She hadn't wanted to go because she still thinks kissing is yucky, but I'd convinced her she'd enjoy seeing the people in pretty clothes and that the pastors love us and want us to be there and that we had even been given special permission to bring her brother. She had actually gotten excited about it and I felt so bad for messing everything up. After I apologized, she burst into tears. I almost felt like she was getting it out for me. I asked her though why she was crying and she said, "I WANT TO GO!" Sometimes things that go wrong are magnified for her too.

But now I had new resolve. Somehow I was going to get us there and I actually began to ask God to delay the thing. Sad, but true. I prayed that as long as it was nothing serious and no one got hurt for something to delay the thing. Perhaps I thought, someone important would be late. My wedding hadn't started on time. Maybe this one wouldn't either. Once we finally got on a highway that would get us there, I started breathing a bit better, but still the clock would not lie. I remember looking at it at one point and it was 2:15. I shook my head. Ariana asked me if I was okay and I said, "To tell you the truth, I feel like crying." She said, "You go ahead and let it out." I chuckled a little instead. I looked at Elijah, totally oblivious to the craziness as usual and the picture of calm. Ariana had new resolve. She eventually exclaimed, "DO NOT STOP UNTIL WE GET TO THAT WEDDING!" I thought to myself…riiiiiggghhhtt. And I prayed I would not add insult to injury by getting pulled over. I'll admit I was driving as if someone was chasing me.

It's too late to make this long story short, but we eventually got there and I was almost done in by how close to our house this place actually was. It was 2:30. I parked the van, and started doing my usual, "hurry and get out of the van" pleading with Ariana. I scrambled to get everything and prepared myself to have to just leave my gift and wait outside in the hope of getting a glimpse of the Bride and Groom when they came out. As I hurried towards the entrance with Elijah on my hip and Ariana following as close behind us as she could, I was amazed at what I saw next.

The Bridal party, led by the groom was making its way from one door to another. As I got closer a guy, who by his features appeared to be the groom's brother, said to him, "It's time man," to which he answered, "I know." I couldn't believe it. It hadn't even started yet. We got inside and got seated and I looked at Ariana and said, "Can you believe it? We didn't miss any of it." She just smiled. Another couple who are also deacons came in right behind us saying they also had trouble finding it and had also prayed for some kind of delay. We laughed about it.

It was a beautiful ceremony. My pastor both gave his daughter away and married them. There was music, laughter, beautiful dresses, handsome suits and the hall was exquisite. The bride was breath taking and the ceremony was sweet. Ariana was a bit of a chatter box so full of whispering questions but she'd never seen a wedding other than the video of mine and her father's. My darling son hardly made a sound. He had some juice and after just laid on my lap for the rest of the ceremony.

I did have to go back to the van afterwards because in my haste I left the card in there, but we spent some time a the "pre-recepton" gathering before leaving. A real celebratory atmosphere and I felt priviledged to be there. Just a few people knew what I'd been through that day, but I did tell my mom I felt like giving up and crying and going home, but a voice kept telling me to go ahead. Ariana tugged on my sleeve and said, "That was me mom." She is such a crackup.

We went to a local Appleby's and had a leisurely meal before going home. I felt a need to just relax with them after that. When we got out of the van I noticed again how beautiful they both are and I snapped some pictures before we went inside and after we were seated.

I learned a lesson I have learned time and time again. It is best to keep going forward.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Adventures in Summer Camp

Some poor 8 year-old boy got his heart broken when he professed his love for my daughter. He gave her a note saying "You're beautiful. I love you" and put his phone number on it.

And she's been there less than a week.

She tossed the note and his heart in the trash. WOOT WOOT! THAT'S MY GIRL!…I mean, poor thing. He really had no idea who he was dealing with. She knows that is not what being 8 years old is about in our house.

I was tickled and amazed at her tone as she told the story. Her distinct "matter of fact" attitude mixed with a splash of "how dare he?" with a bit of "eeeewwwww" on the side. She knows about relationships, but feels they are between men and women, not boys and girls.

I wonder a few things. On the serious side, I wonder how long it will last and am continuing to pray she keeps the attitude that relationships are for men and women. On the lighter side, I wonder how many broken hearted boys she will leave in her wake. Apparently she didn't even wait until he wasn't looking to throw the note away.

I always say, "you got to love her". I guess it's true.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Restoring Life to the Man Cave: My Little Boy's Room

Well, Elijah's bedding set and wall decor arrived in the mail. Shortly after the personalized clocks I ordered for the children came. In the meantime I hit Wal-Mart for some frames and stuff for the family room. I did two walls with just pictures of the four children.

I have half of the wall over the television done. I have one group of pictures from the last session Thomas, Ariana and I did when I was pregnant with Elijah (before I knew it) with some decorative art. I hope to have a session with the children this week. I talked to a lady at Wal-Mart's portrait studio a little while ago.

I bought everything I need for Thomas' memorial wall. I'm going to laminate his awards, frame his postumus Post Office service award and the Memorial certificate from Washington and put up some pictures.

The big thing though is, I painted Elijah's room. We're still getting used to calling it Elijah's room. Every time he goes in there I tell him it is his room. I painted it from ceiling to floor in a light blue. Home Depot has a Disney Collection and it was officially called Bibbidi Boppity Boo Blue. Really I can't make that up. That was a real process. I had never painted a room before, but once I had everything I needed, I felt pretty confident about it. I got several rollers in different sizes and lengths and a lot of the pads that hold the paint. I got several brushes and trays, two packs of those disks used to move furniture and four drop cloths for the carpet.

It took about 9 hours with several breaks to eat and comfort Elijah. I finished at about 10 that night. Ariana, bless her heart, thought I should have had some help, but I had my reasons for doing it alone. She did help with some of the painting, but mostly she looked out for Elijah. She also was on microwave duty when it was time to eat. I asked her to warm a slice of pizza for Elijah and she got us all pizza and on separate plates. That was really cool.

I left the room closed with the window open and the ceiling fan on to get the smell out. I read that it takes a couple of days. I gave it four. Then I put up his wall art, stickers and decals. Cars, trucks, boats, airplanes. He loves toy vehicles and he's always moving so the theme for his room is Travel Time. His walls are done and I feel good about them. More than that, he likes them. He came in and was captivated. He looked around pointing and smiling. I picked him up and he stared at the walls in awe. Now I just need his crib and an area rug. I think he's going to enjoy his room.

It looks so so much different. But it's a good different. When I go in there now, I

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Man Cave Becomes the Boy Cave, part 2-The Man Cave is Empty

It took me over a year to get to the point of being ready to do it. For 14 months I walked in and out of the man cave, going in when I had to and forming a vision of what I really wanted that room to be.

In 30 minutes two men in a truck had it cleared. A love seat, the TV stand, night stand, two desks and yes, the recliner.

I also had my vanity set, old nightstand, the trundle bed under Ariana's bed, a chest of drawers that was broken, a broken coffee table and an old tube TV removed.

They did really well. I didn't even notice them have any trouble removing the love seat and recliner and I remember the drama that ensued when those pieces were put into that room.

It was quick and painless. They charged me according to how much room in the truck my stuff required. The pieces were just under a 3 quarter load...$310. Not bad to get rid of all that in 30 minutes and they'll recycle the items that are not suitable for donation, not just dump them somewhere.

Then I was left to clean up...a process that was the total opposite of quick and painless. I began the decluttering process prior to their arrival and it continued after they left. Vacuum, fill a trash bag, vacuum, fill a trash bag, vacuum, fill a trash bag.

I removed everything I could from the walls of the room and cleaned underneath both mine and Ariana's beds.

I eventually broke down and cried for about 30 minutes. I was beyond tired. The children had long been bathed and put to bed. I took a shower and passed out.

Next the fun part. It was time to go shopping for paint and painting supplies.

The Man Cave Becomes the Boy Cave-Part 1. Clearing My Husband's Room

Okay, so one of the things I said I'd do when Uncle Sam paid up was make some changes in my house. There'll be at least one change to almost every room: kitchen, family room, and all 3 bedrooms. Some of it is to replace old and nearly broken furniture like my kitchen dinette with the loose legs. Other things are to put my personality on the house.

Main thing? My son would finally get a nursery/bedroom. My husband was using the 3rd bedroom as a TV room and as time went on and his night-time choking fits and nebulizer use left me sleep deprived, it was also a place to sleep. We hoped to find a solution and bring him back into the master after the baby was born, but he died.

Several things including that room have stayed how he left them last year. I only recently moved his keys from the spot on the counter he last dropped them to the area in front of where his burial flag is displayed.

I scheduled an appointment with a furniture removal company. They'd come and remove several items including everything from that room except the chest of drawers, which will remain for me to build my son's room around and the 42 inch flat screen, which will be moved down to our family room to replace the huge, heavy 27in tube television that is also schedule for removal.

I wondered how I would feel. My husband spent most of his time at home in that room. He died in there as well. I found him nestled in his recliner when I came home from work. He appeared to have sat down for a nap and just stayed asleep. I particularly wondered how I would feel when they took that recliner out. I told myself it couldn't be anything close to watching the medical examiner staff take him out, but there was still an uneasiness about the whole thing.

I can admit though, I'm looking forward to the room having new purpose. It was always a place of illness then death. After the furniture is removed and some friends come and take the rest of dh's clothes, I'm going to paint the walls baby blue, add a wall paper border, order my son's crib and some other things I need to do his room in a "Cars and Trucks" theme because he loves them. I've been trying to keep a vision of my son playing and hopefully sleeping in the finished product.

Similar changes planned for my daughter's room. On the list for the company is her heavy broken part of her bed and one of her 2 chest of drawers, which is also broken. Planned on yellow wall paper, but she wants pink walls, so top half of walls will be painted a faint pink, a border a little over half way down with that same light pink and dark pink flowers, then bottom with dark pink wall paper. The bottom half of her walls already had paper and removing it tells me they will look better if I put more paper on her walls. But unlike her former paper, this paper will be peelable and washable. Part of me hopes that once I paint, her walls will look good enough and won't need paper.

These and all other changes planned are all needed to make the house safer, more energy efficient and just to make my personality the dominant one in the place including my own bedroom.

Each person's room will hopefully reflect their personality. My daughter: Pink, happy flowers. My son: Movement and Me: serenity. My husband often called the house his sanctuary. Now, I want the house to be our sanctuary and I want each bedroom to be the owner's sanctuary. Can't do that though without removing a lot of things from the house that reflect Thomas.

But he will get a wall. I'm redoing the wall where he displayed his awards from the military, church, the Post Office and the local prison where he volunteered. I'm getting some lamination paper to enclose them and will add the one the postmaster sent after his death with some pictures.

My goal is to have the project complete by the end of the summer. I'm ready for it to be over.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Making the Transition from Caregiver to Widow. Wear Comfortable Shoes. It's a Long Walk

I remember those first few days after Thomas died. As soon as the funeral home got him from the medical examiner I went to see him. They'd done the embalming and they let me see him after asking if I was sure.

He was covered from the neck down laying on a table. I stood there staring at him trying to let what had happened sink in. I went back several times for various meetings with the funeral home staff. It was a long walk down the hallway carrying a baby carrier, but it still seemed like I was watching this play out from somewhere else.

Finally the day before his funeral after he was dressed and put in his casket I went for a private viewing. I sat on a bench outside the viewing room and watched the video they made with the photos I'd given them first with tears streaming down my face still trying to let it sink in. Holy crap this had really happened to us. Then the guy opened the door to the room he was in.

I got up, put my hands on the stroller (my son was with me), gave it a push and went inside. I remember how heavy my feet felt. I took it slow, noticing they'd used the right casket, that the burial flag had arrived and was draped over the end. The guy turned on the lamp on the casket lid and left the room.

I hesitated to look down at him. I checked the bible verse I'd paid to have inscribed on the cloth inside the casket lid. It was fine. II Timothy 4:7. I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith. I have finished my course. I allowed myself to look down. There he was…my husband-what was left of him, dressed in his favorite suit. His beard had been groomed like I asked, his hairline shaped…it was all done. I thought to myself…my God, it's really over…all his struggling...all his pain…all his suffering. Then I thought…my God, he's really gone. His smile, his laugh, his way of telling a story, the little sayings he used everyday…my husband, my children's father…he's gone. I have to bury him tomorrow.

Then Elijah began to cry. I picked him up. He was so tiny. He was just 2 months old. He'd just gotten here and his father was gone. How in the world did this happen? Elijah stared at his dad for an amazingly long time. I'd never seen a baby that small stare at anyone or anything for that long when the person or thing wasn't engaging them in some way. I held him there until he turned his head. It had to be well over a minute.

Thomas looked about as well as anyone can look in that state and that was a relief. How he looked when he was dressed up was very important to Thomas. Not sure if it had anything to do with how messed up his insides were, but looking good, especially wearing a Sunday suit was extremely important to him. And he was known for it. Several people when informed of his passing confirmed who they thought it was by asking, "You mean the guy who wears all those fancy suits?"

I looked at the door. I knew that in two hours they'd be opening that door to the public. His co-workers, fellow church members, people from the community where he delivered mail, people from the community where we lived, people from his past and his present, his mother, biological and adoptive father, his sister, brother, his older children and several other relatives would all be coming through that door. I'd be at the salon getting my hair done as people began to come in to see him. As I'd done several times during his life when he couldn't do it himself, I gathered myself and inspected him for detail.

I opened the door to find the guy who had let me into the room was still waiting. I asked for a few more adjustments to make sure everything Thomas did during his Sunday morning routine was done before that happened. Then I gave the stroller a push and walked away. Dang that hallway was getting longer and longer.

I returned that afternoon with both children. My daughter was walking this hallway for the first time and the walk seemed longer than ever holding her little hand and pushing the stroller. The room was full of friends, aquaintances and family members.

We funeralized and buried Thomas the next day without incident. That is unless you count the blow-out diaper my son had just as my pastor began the eulogy. That was it for him and his first suit. I'd painstakenly purchased our clothes the day before. Apparently we were lovely color-coordinated in pink, gray and white. I'm told we were the perfect picture of a grieving family resting on faith. I'm told I looked heart broken but was the picture of strength and hope.

Was this the look I was going for? Hardly. I just found a lovely pink dress for my daughter and saw the suit my son would wear a few feet away. It was mostly gray, but the pink shirt was the exact same shade as my daughter's dress. When it came time to get my own outfit, I thought…why not. How I looked during the funeral was the result of who my husband had required me to be during his illness. Cry if you need to, but stay on your feet and get this done. It was another long walk into the church that day. Stoic as I may have seemed, I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world. I was wearing high heels for the first time in almost a year because I'd just given birth 2 months prior and to take precaution against falls, I don't wear heels during pregnancy. They were a bit tight. I was exhausted. I was nervous. I just didn't want to drop my son. I also could not bring myself to hand him to anyone else. I'd purchased a sling, but he hated it and all well and good as it was recalled the next day. His Godmother did keep him with her after she and a friend changed his clothes and my daughter had laid her head in my lap and stayed there the balance of the service.

The end was coming…the last. At the final viewing I walked up to him. I bent over him for the last time. I stared at him for the second to last time. I touched his face for the last time. I held his hand for the last time. I rubbed his hair for the last time. I nuzzled his face for the last time. I felt his beard for the last time. I stared at him again. I remembered all the other times I did those things…how his breathing would change…how it would calm if it was ragged. I remembered how he would respond by just moving one finger to touch me back or by telling me to go to bed if we were at home or by telling me to go home if he was in the hospital. None of that was happening no matter what I did. We weren't at home. We weren't at the hospital. We were at his funeral. He's gone. I straightened up, asked my daughter if she was okay to go and sit back down. When she said yes, I turned, and walked away. I watched the funeral home staff as they situated everything inside before they closed the lid. I let out a deep breath. I told myself again, "He's gone."

Leaving the church I got my son back and we followed them as they pushed my husband out to the waiting cars. We moved slowly on yet another long walk. How many times had I walked from the front to the back or from the back to the front of this church in the 13 years I'd been a member there? I didn't know. The last time I'd done the walk this slowly was my wedding day…wow.

That's what this journey has been. Both life as a caregiver and my life as a widow can easily be described as a series of long walks. My life as a caregiver was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of loving, fighting, praying, crying, parenting, laughing and learning. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of frightening nights, hopeful days, moments of anger and frustration with periods of understanding and peace. It was a walk of faith…unyielding faith, shaken faith, unyielding faith, wavering faith, unyielding faith, shattered faith, unyielding faith.

In preparing for marriage I thought I knew who I'd be. It was 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days of something much different than I expected. Thomas seemed to see me as someone much more independent than I wanted to be and he had no problem telling me that. Half the time, I didn't want to hear about that. I didn't want to be in charge. I wanted to be taken care of like the other wives. A large portion of those 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days, I wondered why. Why him, why me, why us. But who were we really. We certainly were not the only ones with these types of issues.

It felt that way sometimes though. I spent a lot of that time feeling alone, isolated, like I didn't fit in with the couples we knew, like we'd never have what our friends had. And hardly anything hurts like feeling alone in a crowd of people who love you. But Thomas pushed me. For most of those 10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days he pushed me. He expected me to rise above it all. I got tired of rising above it all a few times. A few days I stayed under it, in a corner refusing to come out. He did too, but by the grace of God, most of the time one of us was able to pull the other one out and back into the game, sometimes with tenderness, others with verbal force.

Then he died. Care giving was over and I was widow. I was a widow with two little children, one of whom was still attached at the breast. If I got into that corner now, I was going to have to reach inside myself for God and pull myself out of it. I'd have to do it without even Thomas' prayers going up in the background.

Over the past 14 months, I've had ample opportunity to hit that corner. The ups, downs, surprises, exhaustion, and the of emotions that go with widowhood…the lonely parenting without even an ex I normally can't stand available to call when I need responsibility for 1900 square feet of living space and the grounds and appliances that keep things running. It's been 14 months of loving, fighting, praying, crying, parenting, laughing and learning. It has been 14 months of frightening nights, hopeful days, moments of anger and frustration with periods of understanding and peace. It has been a walk of faith…unyielding faith, shaken faith, unyielding faith, wavering faith, unyielding faith, shattered faith, unyielding faith.

Only now, the challenge is to love myself without him. The fight is with my own occassional thoughts of inability as a widow rather than my inability as a caregiver. The praying is about the unknown future rather than the strength to face the unchanging challenges of the present. I cry because of his empty chair rather than because he can't get out of it. I'm finding the adventure in parenting as opposed to wondering how I will find it and be a caregiver at the same time. I'm still laughing to keep from crying. I'm also still learning who I am and in the process, seeing that in order to do this, I really need to be who Thomas was trying to get me to be for a long time. He's become to me like that coach the athlete doesn't understand. The coach rides him or her relentlessly and almost coddles the others. The athlete is frustrated to the point of quitting until one day it becomes clear. The coach did that because he or she believed in the athlete more than anyone else. Thomas used to say I was the right wife for him because even when all hell was breaking loose, I could stay calm. With ever step I take on this walk I try to remember what he said. Cry if you need to, but stay on your feet and get this done.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We are Still a Family. We Won't Be the Same, but We'll Be Fine

While we were getting ready to go this morning my daughter was watching the family channel. Full House was on. It's amazing how the shows we watched are catching on to our children in syndication. For anyone who may not have heard of it as it was popular in a previous decade, Danny is a widowed father of 3 young girls DJ, Stephanie and Michelle. They live in California in a home they share with Danny's brother-in-law Jesse and Danny's college friend Joey. The three men are raising the girls together. When the show first aired, DJ appeared to be around 9 or 10 years-old, Stephanie was 5 and Michelle was 9 months old.

Anyway, it happened to be the episode a few years into the series where Michelle (now a kindergartner) tries to match Danny up with her teacher because she wants a new mommy. One of her little friends (TJ) tells her everyone should have a mommy and since she didn't, that her daddy needed a lady to fall in love with and marry. So Michelle (unknown to Danny and her teacher) set up a lunch date to get them together.

When her plan is revealed, Danny tells Michelle that there's no chance he and his teacher will fall in love and Michelle runs off to her room heartbroken. Danny assures her that she had a mother who loved her very much. Then he has the "there are all different kinds of families" talk with her and they work through it as these sitcoms often do. When it ends, Michelle is suggesting another lady for her father, but all is right in her world. We were late getting out of the house staying to see the end. I looked at Ariana and asked her if that looked familiar. She said "You and me," as we have on occasion had the "there are all different kinds of families," talk. She gave me a hug.

Then I looked at her brother. Elijah is the Michelle in our family. She was an infant and has no personal memories of her mother. Elijah was 2 months old when his father died. I noted that this issue was coming up as Michelle entered school and I remembered how I'm dreading that point in time when Elijah realizes something is amiss. I fear sometimes it will be like losing their dad all over again. I’m attempting to strengthen my faith in my own words. We are still a family. We won't be the same, and we'll always miss and remember daddy, but we'll be fine as long as we stick together here, work as a team and love each other.

I'm reminded of the name of a chapter in a book I'm trying to read, "Single Parenting that Works" by Kevin Lehman. He says, "You can't do it all, but you can do what is important." In the long run, that is what I want my children to see that I did. Children in two parent homes don't all get to do and have everything that they want and I know I cannot do the work of two people in every single area of our lives. And I can't change the fact that their father died. But I'm fortunate in that Thomas and I discussed at length the important things we wanted to do for any child(ren) we had. And even though he isn't here, I can follow the basic plan.

He left us surrounded by people who love us, loved him and are well aware of who he was and what path he'd want his children to follow. All four of his children can walk the path he laid out and not go wrong. That is a real blessing for them. Those of us still here to love them can give them the constant assurance that they are important and the constant assurance they are great despite what's happened and that they can be great in their future. My stepchildren's mother will no doubt stand with them as they go forward. And I'm still here too. I can stand beside Ariana and Elijah in their endeavors and adventures and while there is no doubt we'll feel Thomas' absence, when those important things happen, I can say, "These are the plans your daddy and I made for you. He is still our hearts and he would be so proud."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Woman, A Teenager, A Child and a Baby on the Road

When I woke up on Monday, April 25th, I was relieved when I realized the day had arrived...the start of the vacation. My son woke me as usual with a gentle tap to the side of the head. I much prefer it to the alarm clock.

I got myself and the children ready like usual, but at a much slower pace. The plan for the day was to leave home around 7:55, pick up Jessica (Godparents' daughter) at 8:00, stop for breakfast at a nearby restaurant and be on the highway between 9 and 9:30am.

We were about 10 minutes later than I planned, but unlike every other day when being that far off schedule would have me grinding my teeth together, it didn't bother me. Jessica was ready and waiting so once her suitcase was in the van, we were off. We stopped at a Chick Fil-A and lingered over breakfast. We were on the road by 9:30 and we'd make up ever more time later.

The last time I did this drive, I stopped after two hours so we could get out of the van and I could do a diaper change and allow Ariana to visit the restroom. Well, Jessica fell asleep about 45 minutes into the drive. That was my first reminder of how teenagers like to sleep. Elijah went to sleep about an hour and fifteen minutes into the drive. Ariana went to sleep about an hour and a half into the drive. So, when the magical two hour mark came, I looked around at everyone and just kept driving. Before long, Virginia Beach was a mere 30 miles away, then I saw a sign that said ocean front was 9 miles away. Ariana woke up, then Elijah, then Jessica. I still can't believe we were able to drive straight through with a woman, a teenager, a child and a baby.

I found our hotel without incident and parked in the area in front to check us in. Here's where having a teenager along came in handy for the first time. I jumped out and walked in alone to check us in, got the key and a luggage cart and had everything in the room in two trips. The last time? I strapped my 5 month old baby to my chest, grabbed the luggage cart and with Ariana in tow got everything into the room in 4 trips. Of course at 5 months, Elijah required a bit more equipment for travel as well. I was also a little better at packing this trip.

The room was as expected, a two room suite with a living room and a bedroom that contained 2 queen beds. The kitchenette had a mini-fridge (waist high), a counter, sink and a microwave. The living room had enough space and a table for four. There's a flat screen in both rooms, a set of drawers in each room (but we opted not to unpack). There's a desk and chair in the living room and that's where I'm sitting to write this entry. There's ample lighting, and a really large bathroom. The shower turned out to be large enough for me and both children. Finally, one nice thing I see that I have not seen in a previous suite. There's a balcony outside the living room and outside the bedroom.

I really want to get some time in out there. First night we didn't leave the hotel. When we got settled we had lunch. Once our lunch was settled, Ariana, Elijah and I hit the indoor pool. Jessica opted to relax in the room. After we returned and got cleaned up, I ordered dinner to go from the hotel restaurants and we ate in our room. One other thing that attracted me to this hotel was its three restaurants. Two of them serve lunch and dinner. The other serves breakfast. And there's three words that may actually mean Holiday Inn has my heart for quite a while. Kids eat free.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Woman, A Teenager, A Child and a Baby Take a Break

It's spring break and it never seems to arrive too soon. Unlike a lot of other schools, my daughter's school scheduled spring break for the week after Easter. The plan was to escape the local digs and obligations for the week. The stesses of those was wearing on me. Changes need to be made at the homestead. Cleaning needs to be done, furniture needs to be removed to make way for new furniture that hasn't been purchased yet.

Work has its own pressures and I feel like I'm right in the middle of it, although I may not be in the middle of it at all. I have a lot of responsibilities at work although I'm not in a position of any real importance. I've been back there since a week after Thomas' funeral and at times the exhaustion is overwhelming. In fact I'm likely foregoing a long summer vacation in favor of this long spring trip.

But sacrifices must be made. I needed a break and so did Ariana. She's been working really hard going to school and going to Sylvan Learning Center twice a week for tutoring. She's shown significant improvement in her reading and didn't have an anxiety episodes during the week of testing last week. And the amount of work required for me to keep up at home, keep her up at school, get her back and forth to the learning center, take care of both her and Elijah, work everyday and everything else was wearing on me. And finally, if his reactions to being dropped off in the mornings was any indication, Elijah needed a break too. He'd begun to whine at drop-off and was trying to follow me out the door as I left. He loves daycare and would not actually cry, but it was different from the usual kiss and walk away routine I was used to.

The plan was slow to develop. The budget was perused constantly in my deciding what I could afford and what I could not afford and what would be fun and give us some nice memories. Ariana would also have her 8th birthday during the week. The news that she wasn't having a party for the third consecutive year did not go over very well. But what was I going to get? Likely a load of "Sorry we'll be out of town" responses whether it be in notes, emails, phone calls or a quick verbal in the school hallway. So I figured the best thing for us to do was to go out of town ourselves.

The location? Virginia Beach. We'd spent our summer vacation there in 2010 and there were enough activities available for me to make a spring break work as well. Ariana loves animals, fish, science and nature. So we'd visit the zoo, aquarium and science center. She loves nice hotels, so I picked a good one with an indoor pool and lazy river. To celebrate her birthday on Thursday, we'll hit the local mall so she can do "Build-a-Bear", which is such a rare treat, she's only done it once. I'm also getting an oreo cookie ice cream cake from the local Cold Stone Creamery, after we do a little additional shopping. The mall is perfect for her actual birthday because thunderstorms are predicted and she loves shopping.

Friday is predicted to be a clear day and that's what we need. That is to be the highlight of the trip. I've planned a day trip to Busch Gardens. It's a bit of a drive from our hotel, but not nearly the drive from our house. There's a lot of additions to the place since I was there last. There are a lot of rides Elijah can get on and an entire area based on Sesame Street complete with character interactions. Fortunately even though she's into Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, she still loves Nick Jr. Disney Jr. and yes, Sesame Street. We have a reservation for a character lunch at noon where we should get some nice pictures like we did on our Disney World trip last November. She is very excited.

And this trip won't be as much work for me because Elijah is a toddler now. He can walk on occassion. He no longer has to have formula, he eats regular food and can now drink from a straw. I also have some nearly grown up company on this trip. My children have Godparents and their now 17 year-old daughter babysits for me on occassion. She and Ariana go to the same school so her father asked if she could go with us. I agreed without hesitation. She's a good girl, the children adore her, I adore her and the best part...her parents can afford to send her. I did opt for a suite instead of the regular room I had originally reserved for us, but her tickets to activities, her meals and such, her parents took care of it. Her parents can't get away until June, and she's been working hard in school and everything that goes with being a junior in high school, so it worked out well. We'll fully achieve that mix of her being able to relax and giving me a little help. So I'm luvin' me and my 3 this week. I'm sure it will be great. As I say, time off from work is well...time off from work. I'm grateful for a break.