It’s been a little hard for me to look at this blog lately. When I first started this, my purpose was two-fold. One, all of our family is out-of-town, so it was an easy way to share our day-to-day lives. Two, it was a substitute for my noticeable lack of baby books. But, as is almost always the case in life, what starts as one thing ended up as an entirely different thing. I talked to my mom almost daily. She heard every story I had. And yet, this blog became a thing between us. I would write a post, she would call me laughing, and we would re-live the blogged-about moment. Before long, each time I wrote a post I was writing it for her, including the tidbits I knew she would find funny, writing in much the same tone as our blunt conversations.
And now she is gone. But the blog lives on. And I hate the blog a little bit. I’m holding a grudge against a blog. As much as it has encapsulated the joys and pitfalls of my growth experience as a mother, it reminds me of what I no longer have. Herein lies the problem with my attitude towards life these days. I have thirty-three years of the brightest of happy memories with my mom. But I won’t let myself open them. I can’t bare to peek in, to think about that happiness because it makes my pain much more acute.
I’m not good with grief. I have never known what to say to other people who were grieving. I think, in part, because I have never understood what I could say to alleviate someone else’s pain, could never find the words. But I also think, in part, it was because I couldn’t bear to feel that pain, to let myself imagine having that kind of loss myself. I remember the first time I ever let myself think what it would be like if my mom died. It was almost two years ago, and we had just learned about the first of my mom’s health problems. It was a flicker across my mind, quickly buried. It kept bobbing back up over the next two years, always dismissed, but each time returning more quickly than the last. And then one day, it wasn’t me quietly fearing that my mom wouldn’t make it – it was my dad telling me that she was not going to make it. It was me watching my mom fade away.
Apparently, I’m not good with my own grief either. I’ve never been a sharer of my deepest emotions or comfortable feeling sad or vulnerable. I always thought that I was strong. But grief is the thing that shows you how breakable you truly are. And how changeable your life really is.
But as uncomfortable as I am in my own skin these days, I have to start letting the happy in. I have to relive the happy memories to chase away the bad ones, even though it will sting. Someone I love and trust very much recently told me, that “we can’t see everything as a loss and forget all the amazing blessing we had and want to pass on to our children.” And it made me realize how very much I am doing that.
So today, I’m going to try to quit hating this blog so much and try getting back on the horse with the hope that, once again, it will start as one thing and end as another. It starts with this post and this picture. A picture of my mom and Claire. In fact, the last picture of them, which coincides with the last time I remember being with her before her life took a turn down a path that led to us saying goodbye to her. And I will think of each post as a continuation of our thirty-three year, ongoing conversation.
One of my greatest joys as a mother is to watch my children play together. Not play independently side-by-side but truly interactive play. It has been unfolding over the past six months, and sometimes two-year-old CCS and five-year-old AJS are on different pages. Every single night in the tub, they divide up a bevy of princess dolls amongst themselves. Without fail, each night, a princess dialogue commences with AJS saying “friiiieeeeends, where are you?” Some nights it plays out better than others. Here’s one of my particular favorites from the past week.
AJS: Friiiieeends, where are you?
CCS: Hi, Cinderella (pronounced Cinewewwa). How are you?
AJS: I’m fine. Put on your finest gown. We are going to have a princess party.
CCS: Hi, Cinderella.
AJS: There will be dancing and princesses and delicious food.
CCS: Hi, Cinderella. I wanna go to City Bites. (Have you noticed a theme? Please see Claire Speaks).
AJS: We will dance away the night to our favorite music.
CCS: I’m Princess Aurora (pronounced Awowa). I wanna pink donut.
AJS: with slight exasperation. I know you’re Princess Aurora. We don’t eat donuts or City Bites at balls. It’s supposed to be fancy.
CCS: unphased. Hi Cinderella.
Poor Avery Jane. She has not quite completed her indoctrination of Claire yet. Give her time. Until then, I think there are going to be a lot of balls where City Bites is served.
For a recent baby shower, all the invitees were asked to bring with us a list of our top ten dos and don’ts of parenting. For some reason, I am very uncomfortable dispensing parenting advice. When friends ask me specific questions, I am happy to share my own personal experiences, a la “did you sleep train, Avery?” or “how old was Claire when she started drinking out of sippy cups?” But when I am asked for overarching, general parenting advice, my discomfort is palpable. Here are my objections: (a) what do I know? I am only loosely scraping by with my own children. Am I really qualified to advise you on parenting yours? and (b) I have a strong conviction that all children are extremely unique and my parenting advice is doomed for failure. My own children are perfect examples. If I parented the CCS the way I parented the AJS, disaster would /does most certainly ensue. However, if you are willing to take parenting advice from someone who within the last two hours said both “Claire, don’t lick my computer” and also “Avery, please don’t prop your foot on your sister’s shoulder,” then be my guest. Here are my dos and don’ts.
DO be easy on yourself. There are people for whom parenting comes easily. I don’t know any of those people. This is hard/wonderful – cut yourself copious amounts of slack.
DON’T compare your children or your parenting to others. I, of course, do this constantly because it is SO tempting. But at the end of the day, I think it is does more harm than good.
DO be generous with love and reading. In my experience, these are some of the only things I have found that you can heap upon your children with little or no backlash.
DON’T be afraid to make mistakes. One of my dear friends (hi, Jill) told me when I had a tiny baby that I would do at least one horrible thing to my baby while she was small and helpless. TRUTH. Mine? I cut the AJS’ tiny finger with the fingernail clippers (yes, the “baby-proof” ones) and was never allowed to trim nails again. I drew blood. If only that could remain as the worst thing I ever do to them. Parenting is fraught with pitfalls.
DO enjoy the moment. Each and every moment, however challenging, is inexplicably intertwined with beauty and joy. Savor, sleep, repeat.
DO be generous to yourself. DON’T feel guilty for making yourself a priority. Both of these, much harder than they sound.
DON’T listen to a word I say. Please see above, computer licking, etc.
You may notice that my ten dos and don’ts closely resembles eight. Like I said, I am bad at this. Each night, I say a little prayer, thanking God my children are alive and more or less unharmed. Yet another reason you might not listen to what I say.
What makes your top ten list? Tell me, I really want to know. The comment section, you know what to do.
I think 2014 is going to be a year of change in many ways in our household. Most notably, with a conflicted heart, we are starting to watch the metamorphosis of Claire from toddler to full-fledged little girl. Over the past month, I have frequently been away from home, which means I have also frequently been away from the girls. I am lucky to say that the nights I have spent away from my children have typically been few and far between, so this was a shock to my system. When we were happily reunited, I was struck by how much more Claire is talking. All of sudden, opinions are expressed, feelings are made known, and demands are presented in complete sentences. On Christmas morning, upon retrieving the CCS from her crib, I said “Merry Christmas, Claire,” to which she responded, “Santa Claus gimme my presents (pronounced pwesents)?” I have a sneaking suspicion that for last 2.5 years I have been living in a blissful haven of ignorance because, although I have suspected, I have not definitively known what Claire is thinking. This morning, after dropping the AJS at school, I asked Claire if she would like to go to school one day. CCS’ response: “I don’t want to go to school. I want to go to City Bites.” I am not sure there is a more honest human than a two-year-old. Last week, after I was fully dressed for the day, Claire waltzed into my closet and said “Mommy, you get ready? I like your pretty jammies. Mommy, your hair dirty?” And so it begins.
As 2013 comes to a close, my family is starting a scary new chapter of our lives – a chapter without my mom. My mom passed away on December 18, 2013. Below is the eulogy I gave at her funeral. I love you, mom.
Today, I really just want to talk about one aspect of my mom. To me there is a single word that encapsulates and explains my mom – vibrance.
My mom is outwardly vibrant, most always eschewing black and grey for fuchsia and emerald. In the last three days of her radiation treatment, she wore a different pair of boots each day – gold sequin boots, purple sequin boots, and zebra pattern boots. You might be concerned that my mom has not one, but two pairs of sequin boots. I, however, am surprised that she only has two pairs, considering that a few weeks ago she said to me with utter sincerity, “it is surprising how often I need sequins.”
My mom’s vibrance is also evident in her artwork. My mom has gone through many different artistic phases in her life. Just as Monet had his blue period, my mom had a clearly defined glitter period and gold leaf period. The glitter period had numerous sub-parts, including the gold paint-beads-glitter period and the beads-mini-Christmas tree-glitter period. The glitter period gave birth to a treasured and beloved phenomenon. The glitter period marked the appearance of a single, ubiquitous piece of glitter located on my mom’s nose. The gold leaf period was also particularly prolific, producing gold leaf Easter eggs, picture frames, and boxes. The gold leaf period also produced some household anxiety, causing my dad to comment that he was afraid to sit still for too long because my mother might gold leaf him.
It may seem strange that, in describing my mom’s vibrance, I start with her clothing and artwork. However, to me, those things are so indicative of her personality that she is those things to me. To me, mom is fuchsia, my mom is emerald. My mom put glitter and gold lead on everything because she would prefer to exist in a bejeweled and gilded world.
But the greatest indicator of my mom’s vibrance is the passionate way she loved her family. I’ve always found the description of love contained in I Corinthians to be daunting: “Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love does not demand its own way . . . If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him and always stand your ground in defending him.” When I read these words, I feel flooded with my own shortcomings. And yet, this is how I feel my mother loves me. Constantly elevating me above herself, being loved by my mother is like being bathed in golden light. She has always been the hand on my back.
When I was a little girl, probably not much older than my own five-year-old daughter, I remember being in the pool with my mom as she taught me how to swim. She stood in front of me, not touching or physically supporting me, slowly backing up as I swam towards her. At the time, I felt frustration, as she was always just beyond the reach of my outstretched hand. But as I reflect upon it now, I realize she was supporting me in the exact way in which I needed and in the exact way she has throughout my life – walking with me without propping me up, propelling me forward without carrying me.
Many people spend their lives fixated upon finding true love, but I have had it my entire life. My mother channels the vibrance of her spirit into loving me, into putting the needs of another human above her own.
In the past month, I have been called upon to commit an act of true love. The act I am talking about is letting my mom go. It’s pushing aside my fear of how to proceed when she’s not walking in front of me in the pool. It’s finding a way to rejoice through sadness. In its simplest form, it’s choosing to smile instead of cry.
To help me in this task, I have reached into my memory bank. We all store our memories in different places and many of mine are right here in these church walls. Over the past few weeks, I have gone back to a Christmas Eve service from my childhood. The sanctuary lights were dim but for the lights from the altar cross and the Christmas tree, and in hushed voices, the choir sang “Still, Still, Still.” In that moment, I felt peace, and I have relived that instant over and over to remind myself how I want my mom to feel. “Still, still, still, one can hear the falling snow, for all is hushed , the world is sleeping . . . Dream, dream, dream of the joyous days to come. While guardian angels without number, watch you as you sweetly slumber.”
So today I rejoice. I rejoice because today my mom is fuchsia. today my mom is emerald. I rejoice because her heavenly Father has welcomed her, opened his arms, and said “Welcome Jo. We have been saving this piece of glitter for your nose.” And now she is whole.
We celebrated Avery Jane’s fifth birthday earlier this fall. As with any good birthday celebration, we managed to extend it across multiple days with triplicate celebrations. First, we had the actual birthday, which seemed to require some sort of acknowledgement since her party was the following day. So, we closed the book on year #5 with a trip to one of AJS’ favorite spots – the zoo. She was fascinated with feeding the stingrays, especially our plump (can stingrays be plump?) stingray friend, Teddy. We also dropped by to give the giraffes a bite. The next day, we rolled out the red carpet for all of our favorite four and five-year-olds and served tea for twenty in the backyard. And as you might imagine, this theme was not arrived upon lightly. After discussion that spanned a year, we settled upon a tea party, but only after I firmly rejected a “Dolphin Tale” party – Avery’s then-favorite movie that revolves around a dolphin-amputee. I was convinced that other parents would question our decision to serve cake shaped like a dolphin sans tail. And so we tea-partied. Faux tea was consumed, delicacies inhaled, and tea hats constructed. Lastly, we wrapped up our celebratory tour with a visit to her school.
Five years of AJS has been so sweet. It pains me that I cannot still feel what is was like to have a baby AJS or a toddler AJS. I see the pictures, I have the memories, but I cannot take myself back to that time in any real sense. In many ways, she is a pint-sized adult but retains a child-like sweetness. Without AJS around, I would never be as educated on many topics, including princesses and pumpkin types, and I am certain I would get away with a lot more, like forgetting to use my manners and saying “ya.” But who would tell me I am pretty each and every day, even when I am wearing yoga pants? And who would tell me that she loves me more than anyone and pray for me (almost) every night? Our Avery Jane has brought us buckets and buckets of blessings, and she’s just getting started.
When I tell people I have two girls, I get lots of comments along the lines of “girls are so sweet,” “you must have such fun with all the girly stuff,” etc. And, it’s true. I love having two girls. I dress them up, we have tea parties, pinkness abounds. But, I must confess, that at the end of the day, girls are gross, too. Some more than others (cough, cough, Claire). For the benefit of my genteel readers, I try to avoid stories about poop. But tonight, I break that rule. Don’t worry – it’s not graphic. Except the part about boogers.
To be honest, this blog post is really more of an open letter to Claire. Just in case she’s thinking about making some changes around here, I have two suggestions.
First, Claire and I have fallen into an annoying pattern in the car. We’re driving along, somewhat serenely listening to Mary Poppins, when Claire starts chanting “mamma” until I look at her. I look at her, she holds out her finger and says “booger.” At first, I was not sure what was happening, but, from painful experience, I have learned that she is actually holding a booger on her finger, and she would like me to take it. After all, aren’t mothers full service? If I ignore her, she continues to chant my name, with the occasional “booger” peppered in. If I take the booger (hypothetically, of course), it quickly snowballs as another booger quickly pops up to take that one’s place. We call this “the Booger Dilemma.” You think you have problems.
Second, Claire is starting to potty train, which has introduced a slew of new vocabulary. Apparently, two-year-olds are not aware that bathroom vocab has limited acceptable uses. My least favorite use of her new vocab is as follows. About 99% of the time when I use the bathroom, Claire is with me. It used to be fine (as fine as it can be to use the bathroom with someone’s hand on your knee), but now Claire stands in the bathroom and loudly exclaims “poopin’” the entire time. Yes, including in restaurant bathrooms, mall bathrooms, etc. One time, I tried to quietly reason with her, but that only makes her turn up the volume. Now, at least at home, I shut her out of the bathroom, so she stands directly outside the door shrieking “poopin’.” It’s a good thing I find Claire super cute.
So, in summation, girls come with a lot of poop and boogers just like everyone else. See, that wasn’t so bad?