Friday, November 27, 2015

The Last Thanksgiving

I can't remember the last Thanksgiving I spent with my little brother. I don't remember whether I sat by him or across the table. I don't remember hugging him or telling him that I was thankful for him, that I really loved him. This thought is all-consuming on the drive towards Lacey for Thanksgiving dinner. I spent a good portion of the day shoving it from my brain. "Don't let it ruin your day," more than one friend suggested, well-meaning. But on the drive, my brain worked hard trying to muster up the memories of our last holiday together. Tears stung and were choked back down when the painful search came up empty.

My brother has been gone for three months. Let's be stark here: That's not a very long time. I wanted to shake everyone awake. What would you do? How would you feel? All of these friends mean so well, they do. They're thinking of us and they want us to enjoy our holiday regardless of the gaping hole in our chests. It might make them uncomfortable to put themselves in our shoes. They complain about their holiday woes while we grieve an empty chair at our holiday table.

I can't remember my last Thanksgiving with my brother. Last not meaning most recent but Last meaning the end. 

I'm learning that some days, it's okay to not be okay. It is perfectly acceptable to let it ruin your whole day, to feel the hollow feeling in your chest and to embrace it. You do not have to act normal because the first holiday without your loved one is not fucking normal. It is brutal and it is immensely painful.

You shouldn't talk about it if you don't want to talk about it and you shouldn't keep it in if you need to get it out. Nothing seems quite right and it will probably never be the same again.

If you lost a loved one this year, I want you to know it's okay to be a mess. It's alright if you want to drink one too many spiced eggnogs and have a good, long cry. It's okay if you don't want to go anywhere or spend this first holiday on vacation in Bermuda. I understand if you don't put up the tree. Whatever you need to do to feel that loss and to heal from it, do that.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


I vividly remember receiving awards in elementary school. Pasted to the yellowing pages of my baby book are little certificates bordered in yellow rulers, apples and pencils. I flipped through them quietly when I got home today and remembered how special they made me feel; language arts, citizenship, attendance. There's a free meal to Red Robin that we never used, tucked between the pages of report cards and scribbled notes from my teachers; Jessica is so bright! Jessica has a love of reading. 

This morning, Kade had his first awards assembly; actually less of an assembly and more of a breakfast with parents where awards were handed out. I sneaked into the cafeteria while Ezra munched goldfish in the stroller and slid in next to Kade and his best friend, Noah. His face lit when he saw us and he handed me a muffin. "Hi Mama! I'm going to get an award!" He was antsy and kept patting Noah's back. I had to help him open his string cheese and noted the incredible size difference between him and his peers. He looked so small, a bit distracted, a lot out of place. My heart hurt but I was also proud. He stuck out like a sore thumb but he was smiling, attentive and surrounded by little friends who were infatuated with his baby brother. "Soon I'll have two baby brothers," he said with a grin and he poked at my belly. 

When the small assembly started, the principal began with a well-meaning talk about how not every student would be receiving an award today. She told them that they can't win every time and that they would have three more opportunities this year to work hard and earn awards. Kade's shoulders dropped a bit. He gave me a nervous glance and I gave his knee a little squeeze. 

The awards started with math, science, language arts... Kade's name wasn't called while some of his friends were receiving three, four, even five awards in a row. I knew we were reaching the end and I was heartbroken for him. I was preparing a speech in my head about how we'd try extra hard next quarter and how it was important to cheer for his friends even if he didn't win. But when I looked over, I realized I didn't need this silly speech. Noah was called for his third award and Kade stood up, clapping his hands above his head. He yelled, "Good job, my Noah!" When Noah returned to the table, Kade embraced him and gave his back another pat. "Good, Noah. Can I see your award?" 

That moment was everything to me. There was my baby, as usual, teaching me the big lessons.

The last series of awards were for attendance. I felt a heave of relief when they finally called Kade's name. Looking surprised, he jumped from his seat and stood at the front of the room with his bright yellow certificate. After pictures, he came running to me. He told me, "I didn't get math and science but I always come to school! I always show up!" 

The most profound lessons I've learned have come from my children. For example: You may not always be the best but you best always show up

When the school posted photos of the kids all lined up with their awards, I had a good, long cry. There were the attendance kids, beaming at the camera... and then there was Kade. His award had slipped from his fingers and he bent down to pick it up from the floor just as the principal snapped the picture. In place of his smile, a blank spot in a line of faces and a small, blurry figure of my baby bending down. 

A dear friend came over and found me mid-sob. I choked back tears while I tried to explain what exactly was wrong. It was hard to muster a good explanation. It's a cocktail of heavy emotions. I'm sad, proud, worried and hopeful all at once (and pregnant and hormonal, lets be real). She reminded me that this is only the beginning of Kade's story. A creased piece of yellow paper does not define him and it's okay if he's not in the picture. There will be many, many more. It's only kindergarten. And she's right. In five years, I'll chuckle at the photo and whisper, look how far you've come! 

When Kade gets home from school today, he'll find that attendance award in a frame above his bed and maybe a plate of cookies on the table. We're having us a little party tonight; a celebration of being a good friend, always keeping room for improvement and always showing up; especially when the going gets tough. 

Monday, January 26, 2015


"Has he had much peer interaction?"

I'm sitting in a meeting with Kade's speech therapist and his wide-eyed, concerned teacher. She notes that he may be a year behind, she wishes she had more time with him, he's just not ready for kindergarten. She leans forward, trying to be empathetic and asks absurd questions like, "Can he form complete sentences?" At this point, there's a lump in my throat the size of Texas and tears are stinging, forcing themselves forward when I strain my eyes. I try focusing on the clay paperclip bowl on the desk, likely made by a healthy child who was born ready for kindergarten. 

I feel like Kade was robbed. I want to shake them and show them the last four years of his life. I want to walk them through the agony of waiting; for someone to listen, for answers, for a surgery to be over, for more answers. I want them to feel the desperation of losing a job, too exhausted to get up for work, spending the night with a coughing, gagging toddler. I want them to spend months toting an oxygen tank from place to place. They should try to hold their baby down while someone forces tubes into their noses and throats. Maybe if they left their lives behind and drove away, if they traded their comfort for a chance, they might not stare at me like this. But then again, I wouldn't wish it on the most aggressive of my enemies.

I promise, I did all that I could.
I wonder if they know that kids with CHD are more likely to have a learning disability. 

They don't know that while most kids Kade's age were starting their first day of preschool, Kade was on his way to Washington. Kade was eating at Salvation Army every night and slowly tapering off his asthma medications. They don't know that while Kade was in daycare, he missed a lot of days. Viruses shared by friends put him in the hospital and often, he just slept through it. It exhausted him, that peer interaction. 

I feel that he was robbed of his babyhood. As an infant, his heart was failing; unbeknownst to us or anyone. At nine months, he was surviving and healing from a very successful but traumatic open-heart surgery. By age two, the asthma started and months on end were spent in and out of that haze of hospital rooms and wearing face masks to the grocery store. 

Two years ago, I wrote that, "The sad reality is that your children become exactly who you taught them to be. And not just with interactions at home; it's the movies you let them watch, the the music you let them listen to, where they spend their time and who with, the way you talk about your peers in their presence... They're watching and they're sponges and they're copy cats. Be mindful of your words but even more so of your actions..." 

This is still true, as a good friend reminded me today. But, the sad reality is also that Kade was tossed into a very adult world very early on. He traded his play dates for asthma clinics. When a doctor comes in to deliver the news, your baby is there, picking up on the anxiety. When a nurse rushes in to start force-flow because O2 sats are dropping rapidly, your baby is there to hear some very scary words and he can feel the stress and urgency. 

I'm afraid Kade is still being robbed. He's behind, yes; understandably so. But they look down at him and see what they believe to be an under-educated preschooler, not grasping the concepts, not interacting with his peers and not responding to their childish questions. They assume he's non-verbal, not knowing that he comes home speaking volumes. He knows every word to the Pizza Song they've taught him and he remembers the names of each of his classmates. Abigail is his favorite

Because Kade is absorbing the songs and rhymes, I can only assume he's absorbing this too. He plays on the colorful alphabet rug while they tell me this: He's not ready. He's nonverbal. He's not interacting. He's lashing out. They take him to the special-education wing to use the bathroom, a fact that makes my blood boil. They separate him from his peers and tell him, you are different. You go here. Trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. 

I believe in self-fulfilling prophecy. If you sit a child down and repeat again and again that he's not ready, not interacting, that he's shy or doesn't know his colors... then he's not, he is and he doesn't. 

Kade is growing up, fast. His legs are getting long and lean, his feet are big; baby feet no more. Suddenly, his babyhood is over. He's moved on to boyhood and I'm realizing that we aren't ready. I guess we felt that we would move through all of this and have our baby at the end. Here he is: he survived and now you can start over. At least I felt that we would move on and be ready; for preschool, the alphabet, kindergarten. But that's just not so. 

So, we try to move at his pace. We play hours of candyland and remind him that red and orange are different; green and blue are not the same. We read books again and again, can you help us find the letter A? What about J? We remind him that the word Butter does not have a y in the middle. Buh-TER! And he marches about the house singing, "Buh-TER!!" This is all we can do for now. We work and we love. We push and encourage, we have high expectations, we tell him again and again, "You can Kade. You can learn anything." 

Last night at dinner, Kade looked at us and grinned. He said, "I just love you Mom and Dad! You're my best guys!" I winked at his Daddy. Non-verbal, my ass.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Our first night in Seattle, we drove up and down the hills with eyes bleak- exhaustion gripping us by the bridge of our noses and nerves shot with the stress of travel. It was maybe 2am and we were searching frantically for a hotel, a motel, a somewhere that had a room, accepted pets and would take my apparently high maintenance VISA card.

It's true- we didn't plan ahead.

Up and down what I think was the university village, all the way to Lynnwood and back, through so many freeways and byways that our heads were spinning. We had no sense of direction- which direction are we facing? Is this west? Is that water or land? We lost ourselves there. We were angry and maybe scared too. Ian exclaimed we would sleep in the car. I peeked back at Kade, already snoozing,and let out a sob. But he deserves a bed.

 Finally a hotel will take us. They have a pet room for my grumpy dog and a covered parking garage.

Running back to the car to tell Ian, a bright flash goes off in a second story room followed by a POP! Ian stares at me and says bluntly, "Great. Someone just fucking offed themselves." I rolled my eyes at him because that's just the mood I was in. Those rolling eyes turned wide as we were surrounded by SWAT vehicles. We tried to drive off and were greeted by a squad car with two officers asking questions. "Did you guys hear that?" they asked, just as shocked as we were and maybe amused. That was your SWAT team. We sort of giggled, but were frightened. Would they pull us out, search our car? Memories flooded of Ian being thrown to the ground as a teenager, mistaken as a crime suspect while walking home.

They casually turned up the radio and nodded, "You're right! Cool, man. Have a good night!"

It was apparent we weren't in Utah anymore. We drove away in a fit of giggles, the stress rolling from our backs with the sweat.

We returned to the hotel, ready for sleep and a hot shower. The awkward boy at the front desk is playing electronic dance music and remarks that this is his last night, an exciting one at that! "Well, the pet rooms are on the second floor. And the second floor is kind of... police zone right now. So I'll move you to the third! And the parking garage is full. You'll have to park in the alley behind it."

I guess that should have been a red flag. We were just relieved to have a bed to heave into.

So we slept there, with a full-blown SWAT drug raid happening right below us. When we woke, we peeked out at an industrial part of town. From the thin window, homeless wandered the parking lot of Sams Club, cheap motels boasted super low nightly rates and bars littered the small spaces between Used Car dealerships and Office Depot. The night before, in the dark, it was hard to tell where we were; what kind of neighborhood had we landed in?


I later told a friend that we stayed on Aurora and she gasped, "What in the living hell were you doing in that part of Seattle? Like, holy shit man."

I guess we still had a lot to learn.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Good Stuff, Maynard.

I often find myself thinking of this little space and what exactly to do with it. What message am I trying to portray here? Sometimes my head aches trying to think up grand ideas, new recipes, interesting new topics. Most days, I fall short and say forget it.

Winter is hard on me.

There are bedtime baths that lead to the massaging of wrinkled baby feet. Dinner conversations go on with Kade center stage, new ideas spitting from his mouth like little flurries of snow. Hair sprouts on Ezra's head, strawberry blonde tufts. Books are repeated, memorized. Train tracks are built, torn down, built again. Jenga games go on through nap time, in the kitchen so the crash! of wood won't disturb the finally sleeping baby. Promotions are being earned. Friends are warm and funny. Surprise packages, letters, cards find a cheerful home in my mailbox; a sweet reminder that I'm not the only one who has lived here and felt this.

This being that despite the good stuff, I feel sort of like a glob of tar.

Seasonal depression is no joke. It's a sticky, black tar bubbling in my brain. It's hot on my skin, it fogs my peripheral and it pulls me downwards towards the floor. My limbs feel heavy, my feet too far away, my saliva sticking my tongue to the roof of my mouth. A friend recently came over for dinner and stated that his writing voice sounded nothing like his speaking voice; it was more eloquent, more put together and wise. I nodded and rubbed at my own shoulder. Of course I understood.

On the phone with my mom, she issues the question everyone has: How are you handling the rain? I twist my hair a bit, glare around the house and reply, "I'm fine." I'm just bored. I'm stuck inside. I need to meet more people. If we had a car, we'd be good.

This isn't always. There are mornings with pancakes and coffee, afternoons of Pez dispensing and rough housing. Long walks are sacred when the sun comes out; we gulp up the air and stand directly in the sun, closing our eyes.

But there are also stiff, groggy mornings. When the babies cry is like a vibrating buzz in my brain and Kade's requests seem complicated and infuriating. The pile of dishes in the sink diminishes and rebuilds faster than I can keep up. The laundry piles high and it can all feel very suffocating.

I'm grateful for friends.
I'm learning that things don't have to be perfect to be written about. My favorite writers scarcely drone on about sunshine and lollipops. That can all seem pretty plastic.
I'm grateful for my babies.
I'm learning that they love me, no matter how forgetful and groggy.

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and have an exciting new year celebration.
Hopefully, but not promising, you will see more stories soon;
plenty of them sunny but many of them rainy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shake It Off

Kade started asking about money. He started asking if we were out of money, when we should pay rent and whether he should (no joke) go to work to help out. My four year old is concerned about our finances. We've assured him, profusely, that he has nothing to worry about. We have plenty of money Kade, we're taken care of. You're taken care of. We've done our best to discuss bills privately, out of his ear shot. But still, it's become a normal conversation to have with him. Going for a walk the other day he panicked, "Mama did we forget to pay rent? We need to go pay rent Mama. Hurry." The rent was easily paid weeks ago but still, he stressed. Then, while taking a bath one night, he responded to Ezra's exuberant splashes by sternly stating, "Stop it Ezra. This is no time for fun."

This doesn't portray the fun-loving, giggling and sweet baby that belongs to us. The tantrums were getting out of hand and it became very clear that he needed to get away; out of the house, with kids his own age, doing kid stuff. Since we moved to Washington over a year ago, he has been with us. Glued to our sides through everything; the stresses of moving to a new place, a new job, being away from family, five homes in 12 months. He was always with one parent of the other, being brave and especially patient. 

Now it's time to relax, to go be a kid, to love learning and playing and forget the rest. 

This wasn't easy for me; letting Kade slip snugly into his own, very independent skin, squeezing him one last time before guiding him to the hands of a stranger on a school bus. We talked about this for weeks and I was sure we had prepared him the best we could. But there was still that moment, at the top of the stairs: he looked back and realized that we meant by himself, by himself. I could feel the uncertainty radiating from his skin. I gave him a smile and a nod and he was buckled up; my baby, off into the world.

At home, I was a very happy and very nervous wreck. My house felt eerie. It felt quiet and hollow. I kept looking at the clock and thinking about what he might be doing right then. After spooning globs of pears and oatmeal towards Ezra, I glanced at the clock. To my horror, it was only 8:15, meaning he was still on the bus. He wasn't even there yet.

To be honest, I slept most of the time he was gone. Ezra was taking advantage of having the bedroom to himself, took a long nap and I followed suit. When I woke up, I was ready to get my baby off that bus.

Finally, there he was, at the top of those stairs. He had a somber, worried look on his face, maybe wondering if I'd abandoned him or maybe just tired. When he saw me, he lit. I squeezed him and breathed in his little neck. He told me excitedly that school was his "favorite day ever." He spent the afternoon telling us about his teacher, his new friends and how he learned a new song: Walking Down The Hallway. I exhaled a chest full of not-knowing and worry and inhaled his beaming sunshine.

Today was easier. He woke up thrilled to get back on that bus and this time, he grinned all the way up the stairs and rushed to his seat. When he got home, he asked if I missed him and squeezed my hand like he knows this is harder on me than him. He requested Taylor Swift (his favorite right now) and wanted me to rock him, like when he was a baby. Half way through Shake it off, he was sleeping soundly in the crook of my arm. For a moment, he was an infant again, rubbing my fingers. I wanted him to stay just like this, to be a baby again, and to grow up. All at once.

In the bath, he sang The Days of the Week to the chime of The Adam's Family jingle and tried to tell me, through a fit of laughter, about his teacher playing "a stomping game." Before bed he told me he wants to be, "a bike rider, a firefighter and a superman drummer." And he laughed. Oh boy did he laugh... fits of giggling erupting from deep inside his belly, just the way they should when you're a kid.

I can tell this will be good. Hard on my Mama heart, but soothing for his Kade soul.

Go on baby, Shake it off, shake it off.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Homesick at Home

We've lived here for seven months without hanging pictures on the walls.

Anyone who knows me, or has been in a previous home of mine, could tell you that this is just plain crazy talk. I guess the events of the last year leave me feeling "half-packed," even in our own home. From living in a motel, to being in a very hostile roommate situation- I suppose we've got ourselves wound in an uncomfortable knot. The fight or flight instinct is still stuck in high gear.

I didn't realize how this last year of travel had really affected me until one afternoon in summer, when I got new neighbors across the hall. I was sitting on the couch when I heard them right outside our door. I heard them back up to our door, likely moving a piece of furniture. They touched our door. And I had a panic attack.

I tried to come up with escape routes from our third floor home. My brain, unreasonably thought, they can get in and you can't get out. I expected them to knock and then open. I expected them to bang and then yell. I couldn't breathe or move. The rest of the day I was exhausted- sore from being tense, head aching from holding my breath.

The truth is, we had a roommate who was sneaky. We plugged in the webcam and caught him coming in our room while we were away. We knew he was taking things. He came home at crazy hours, spent our rent money on alcohol, refused to let us turn on the heat in January. On top of this, he was a veteran with post-traumatic stress; an absolute loose cannon. I often laid awake listening to him rummage about the house. He would go in our bathroom, he would walk by our door. It was scary. One day, he demanded extra money on top of our rent. He had spent our rent money on God-knows and was in a bind and acting very unstable. We packed the car in the dead of night. We ate breakfast at Shari's and came up with a plan. We never went back.

So, maybe I have a little post-traumatic stress of my own.

You could say we were irresponsible. I would agree with you. But my baby needed to be healthy and I was willing to do whatever I had to. If we had to eat at Salvation Army every night, so be it. I watched Kade gulp up clean, ocean air. I watched him run without growing tired. I watched the treatments lessen and then disappear completely- the O2 sats rising and then staying.

It was worth it.

Now, seven months later, we have a place of our own, Kade is healthy and Ezra is here. I was so excited for this; I thought I would decorate and get settled and be comfortable. Instead, I've been "half-packed" for seven months. I've been slow to get pictures on the walls, I've been avoiding making friends, I've been agitated and waiting. The closet is piled with cardboard boxes, waiting.

And now, I'm tired. I'm tired of being stressed for no reason, tired of thinking, "what's the point?" I'm tired of living half-way between here and somewhere else.

I was browsing through pictures yesterday and found some of my apartment in Utah. The abundance of photos on the walls, fresh flowers on the table, colorful rugs, candles burning... it left me feeling sad and homesick. I used to buy myself flowers, "nest" every Saturday, bake constantly. My home smelled like banana bread, felt like granny squares, tasted like coffee. Now, it's empty. The walls are huge and besides Kade's haphazardly hung art projects, they're also bare. I told Ian last weekend, "I feel like we live in a hospital."

So, we printed pictures. I ordered a candle. I made plans for shelving and rugs and baked two loaves of bread for good measure.

We might not be at this apartment long- but it's okay now to accumulate things. It's okay now to buy frames, vases, furniture. Because even if we rent a house next, we can take it with us.

That's a new feelings- one I'm trying to get used to. It's time to get comfortable and confident.

Kade isn't the only one who can breathe a little easier; we're home now.