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.