Thursday, September 27, 2012

What to Remember

A few days ago, a sweet friend sent me the essay below by Anna Quindlen.  As a mom, maybe especially a mom who has lost a child-as this friend has as well, you want to appreciate every moment you have with your baby.  I know after we lost Rip I told myself that I would do just that with every second if I was ever lucky enough to have another chance.  But then life is life and it starts moving fast. You wake up and XYZ needs to be done, you go to work, you come home, and XYZ needs to be done. The baby cries and well, you start to forget what you promised yourself you would never forget. 

So last night, when I was putting Gracie down for the night, I was really glad to have read this essay.  Because, as she has started doing more often lately, even though she seemed to be exhausted she started screaming and reaching for me the moment her head touched the crib.  Sobbing hysterically (real tears).  And yes, I needed to take a shower.  And I wanted to watch something on TV (Modern Family).  And I needed to pack my lunch and find my cell phone and feed the dog.  Instead, I picked up my baby and we rocked.  She felt safe in my arms and I felt better with hers around me.

Because one day soon she is going to go to bed all by herself.  And a few years after that the days when I can get my arms around her are going to be few and farther in between.  I don't need to remember what happened on some TV show, but I sure better remember what it felt like to rock my baby to sleep.

On Being Mom

by Anna Quindlen,

Newsweek Columnist and Author

If not for the photographs, I might have a hard time believing they ever existed. The pensive infant with the swipe of dark bangs and the black button eyes of a Raggedy Andy doll. The placid baby with the yellow ringlets and the high piping voice. The sturdy toddler with the lower lip that curled into an apostrophe above her chin.

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like.

Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.

What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations --what they taught me, was that they couldn't really teach me very much at all. Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing.

Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow. I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton's wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the, "Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame." The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, What did you get wrong? (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald's drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs.

There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I'd done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.

That's what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were....

Monday, September 24, 2012

The One Where I Compare a Kitchen Drawer to Life

In our old house, we had this drawer in the kitchen and, for or the longest time, it had nothing in it (which, if you know me, you realize is something of a miracle).  After Rip died we were flooded with medical bills and sympathy cards.  Both were things I knew I needed to keep (for different reasons) but didn't have the strength to look at on a daily basis and so the drawer began to fill...and fill.

Little notes I wrote to Parke, soon some ultrasound pictures of Gracie, topped off by some in-the-flesh pictures of Gracie, hospital bracelets, Baptism notices, and Mother's Day cards.  That drawer became like a little archaeological dig of our lives over the last two years.  I knew just how deep to go before hitting something I wasn't ready to face.

Then we moved.  This weekend, I opened the box I'd (creatively) labeled "kitchen drawer" for the first time.  Right on top there was an "Explanation of Benefits" for one of Rip's bills (one that I have memories of a particularly unpleasant phone call with the insurance company over), a lovely, handwritten sympathy note from a friend that I haven't seen in probably 15 years, Gracie's baptism announcement, and my Mother's Day card from Parke this year.

And it hit me (you know I love a good metaphor) that isn't that really how life is?  You can try to keep your good, bad, and your ugly in a kitchen drawer in nice neat layers but eventually you are going to move and they are going to get all jumbled together.  I sat there for a while sifting through the little mess that was my last two years, there was so much good that came out of so much bad.  It's a (life) lesson I've learned over and over again...this time from my kitchen drawer.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Second is Best

I have always been a teensy bit needy in the love department.  You know the saying "If you love something, let it go"...that's not me.  I probably subscribe more to the Elmyra (you know, of Tiny Tunes fame, I am really on a role with these 90's references lately) philosophy on love, "I'm gonna hug you and kiss you and love your forever!" So when Gracie was born, my needy little self thought I had it ready made in the love department.  I would love her the most, she would love me the most-perfect!

I should have seen it coming, those helpful, eerily accurate weekly emails changed their tune from "your baby loves your face and smell more than anything ever put on this earth" to "your baby is starting to notice others in her life".  Still, the first time Gracie gave me the Heisman in order to get to Parke, it stung a little.  Okay, a lot.  Yep, I've got a Daddy's girl.

Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled for him.  Of all fathers, Parke Harris deserves to be adored.  No worries, I didn't mind not eating turkey, cheese, drinking wine, running, practically living in bubble for ten months or being sliced open afterwards or the 3 am feedings or the...okay, so a few snarky comments, but in all seriousness, I am glad my baby loves her daddy (really, I am).

Because it dawned on me that yes, my job as her Mama is to love her unconditionally, but that does not mean I am always going to come first in her world.  Part of being a mom is pushing my neediness aside.  No matter what, Gracie will always come first for me but sometimes I will be second, third, or fourth (in the teenage years I may be much, much lower..but let's not go there yet). 

Last night Parke had to work late.  Gracie and I had a proper "Girl's Night".  After some giggles and drinks (of milk, of course) it was times to go to sleep. Just before she dropped off she reached up and put that chubby little hand on my cheek. Sometimes, second really is best.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hello, Pot

This morning as I was walking into work, I heard a couple of girls behind me talking about their days.  I work at a college, so the conversation I overheard is something I hear a went something like, "I have FOUR classes today.  OMG, I don't know HOW I am going to make it.  I am like SO tired.  I like, totally HATE days like this."

And of course I was sitting there thinking to myself how these were the best days of her life, she has no idea, blah blah blah, until that little voice popped into my head and said "Hello Pot, This is Kettle!" (which is a phrase I heard on Friends in approximately 1996 and remains firmly ensconced in my vocabulary).

Because I am sure I did the exact same thing when I was her age, and almost every day since.  It is really, really hard to appreciate what you have when you have it. 

I have been trying to wrap my head around the concept of choosing to be happy lately.  I think, in the months since we lost Rip, that it is only recently that I could have consciously made this choice.  But some days I will find myself down about this or that and a little voice (probably the same one with the radical vocab from the 90's) will remind me that I can choose to be happy.  And most of the time it is like a weight has been lifted off of my chest.

I've spent most of my life waiting on the next best thing to come along.  It's not that I want to stop looking forward to what is to come, its just that I don't want to lose out on what is right now.  Because some day I will be walking in front of a young mama complaining about how her baby didn't sleep the night before or how she packed her turkey sandwich but forgot the turkey (yep, cheese sandwich for lunch today folks) and I want to be able to smile, remembering the days and knowing I lived them for all that they were.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Banana Yogurt

In the past week Gracie has had her first “real” fever (102 degrees), eaten an unidentified pill off of the floor (Parke grabbed it out of her mouth in the nick of time), and fell head first off of our bed. Gracie was fine. I was a nervous wreck.

Babies get fevers. Babies eat things off the floor (although, when I called the after-hours emergency care, the lady answering the phone did yell “oh no!” in a pretty alarming tone). Babies fall off beds…apparently, when I did it, my nose started bleeding.

I was the one “in charge” when Gracie fell off the bed. I was literally two inches away from her. One minute she was happily playing with a pillow and the next she was a screaming heap on the floor. My heart stopped, I grabbed her, running and screaming for Parke, almost running outside with her before I realized the whole reason I’d taken my eyes off her in the first place was to put on pants (darn pants)…in the midst of running around like a chicken with my head cut I realized the baby was no longer screaming. In horror, I looked down, fully expecting to find her passed out against my chest. Instead, I found a sly grin which soon turned in to a deep giggle.

Minutes later, baby happily chowing down on banana yogurt with nary a bump in sight, I realized that this was going to be one of the hardest parts of motherhood for me. Not letting my mind “go there”. That yes there were going to be bumps in the road and tears along the way, but most of the time they would end with a giggle and some banana yogurt (or, when she wizens up, chocolate ice cream).


Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Four Walls

Today is moving day...finally. With all of the packing and will we/won't we rent, I've been too busy to think that we are really leaving the little house we've been in for the past five years.

This morning, as I was waking up on my last morning on Runnymeade Lane, it was hard not to think of some of the memories we have had there...

Watching Parke asleep that first night we were back from our honeymoon, thinking "this is my husband" and how weird and exciting that was all at once

Waking up early mornings to go running, and returning to the same grinning, slobbering, frantically wagging big mess of an animal we pass off as a dog.

Finally taking a pregnancy test after having "He Called Me Baby" in my head all night, and what an out-of-body experience it was to see that other line appear.

Leaving to go to the hospital for six long weeks, only to return with empty arms and a broken heart...and finding comfort again in the familiar

Crying on the couch, surrounded by Christmas cards with smiling babies and telling Parke I hated everyone...he told me I didn't and he was right, but it felt like at the time

Falling on my knees, looking out the living room window after another negative pregnancy test to see a rainbow appear

Taking yet another test and not believing what my eyes were telling me

Spending hours lying on the bed, feeling that baby move

Bringing home Gracie on Christmas Eve, the baby and I both cried most of the night but Parke still said it was the best Christmas of his life

Rocking, rocking in that nursery with the big zebra painting that reminds me of both of my babies

Putting my baby to sleep at night, always smelling her sweet hair one last time

Watching that baby girl smile, laugh, sit up and finally crawl

All of the laughter, tears and life that we lived there.  In the end, it's just four walls.  But when those four walls have seen the very worst and the very best of you, they become a part of who you are.

Goodbye little house, and thank you.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy

When I started this  "Year Two, Find Happiness" thing (a whole week ago), I wasn't in a very happy place.  I kept coming across all of these things saying that God wants us to have joyful lives, and I just wasn't feeling it.  I guess my reason for saying that is I am not trying to be all "Rah Rah Sis Boom Bah" (do cheerleaders EVER say that?) about being happy, I think I just needed a wake-up call that it was time to start actively seeking joy in my life again.

And I am not talking about finding joy in something tragic.  I ache for Rip, in my very core.  Grieving for him is a part of who I am now, and its a daily process.

But the other day, after we found out we rented our house, I was talking to my mom on the phone.  She said something to the effect of how amazing it was that my three biggest prayers after we lost Rip were that I would have a healthy baby, Parke would find a job he liked, and we would be able to move...and now all three had been answered.  You know what my first reaction was, before I caught myself?  My first thought was "well, yeah...but Gracie is still in daycare and I don't get to see her enough."  How awful is that?  Three HUGE prayers answered and I am so focused on what is wrong that I can't be thankful for a minute?

There are always going to be thing to pray for...and with the track record mentioned above, I should be looking forward to the results! But in the meantime, I want to really concentrate on finding joy in my it is today...again.

Because when gets Gracie is old enough to sing "I've got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart"...I want her to know what she is singing about.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Dangit Recalled

We rented the house!!!

"Oh well. Boo hoo. Now What?"

It never fails...declare yourself determined to "re-find" happiness and your whole family will come down with a nasty cold.  Incidentally, this is one of the things about becoming a parent that nobody told me about.  I was warned that Gracie, especially being in daycare, would pick up every germ known to man.  Nobody really warned me that I would also pick up every sniffle, rash, and other, less pleasant visitors that have come our way (Hello, Stomach Flu and RSV, I'm talking to you).

Anyway, being home and teetering mightily on the brink of misery (again), I happened on the movie Julie & Julia...luckily, it was some sort of marathon so somehow between all of Gracie's naps over the weekend I think I caught the whole thing.  At one point, Julia Child, who had been working on her book for over eight years, receives a Big Fat No from her publisher and responds with, "Oh well.  Boo hoo.  Now what?" And on she went.

There are a few things that I really hope to figure out this year...
1) I pray for Parke and me to find our way back to real faith and trust.  I know it is something we work at every day...I want that for us, but I think I want it most for Gracie.  She (and anybody else who comes along) needs to grow up in a house filled with faith and trust.
2) I pray that I figure out a way to spend more time with Gracie.  When one of your children lives in heaven, three hours a day during the week ain't cutting it.
3) I pray that Rip's book gets published.
4) I pray that our ding-dang house rents or sells. Dangit.

Those are my goals for this year.  Other than that, as long as everybody is happy and healthy, things are going to go wrong..."Oh Well.  Boo hoo.  Now what?" And on we will go.