Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Conversations with Benjamin: Part I

My friend Brooke inspired me with her recent posts about her daughter, Zuzu, and the hilarity that is spoken in her house. You have to go over and read her posts... toddlers are a riot.

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Scene: Early morning and the kids are rummaging around in our bedroom. Claire finds a plastic bag with an empty bottle inside.

Benjamin: {grabs bag and runs} No, thief!

(Apparently all the readings of his favorite Peter Rabbit book are adding to his vocabulary. He just loves that naughty bunny.)

--

Scene: Living room, climbing on top of the very unsafe and not to be climbed Ballapallooza toy.

Benjamin: {yelling to me as I'm in the kitchen} Mom! Take a picture. I being dangerous!

(He loves being dangerous. And naughty. Dangerous and naughty. He also was proud to tell me about his dangerous ways as he attempted to climb the luggage rack on the commuter train from the second level on Sunday.)

--

Scene: In his bedroom after nap. We were talking about going to the children's museum that morning and why we left the museum prematurely.

Mom: Didn't we have a fun morning? What did we do?

Benjamin: I go to children's museum. I kick off my shoes. I make a poor choice.

--

Scene: Afternoon, just hanging out in the kitchen.

Benjamin: Mommy, sing please mommy dod? Know dat song?

Mom: Yes, I know that one... "Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad..."

--

Scene: Benjamin finished art at the table (i.e. scissors, paper and glue stick, no rules)

Benjamin: I cut dis for you. Mommy, are you proud?

Mom: Yes, Benjamin. I'm so proud of you!

--

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

We Remember, 2014

This is our fifth Christmas since becoming pregnant with Andrew. All five of which he was not here to celebrate with us. Each year I struggle with decorations. Even though we have two children in our house (judging by the looks of the messes they make at the very least!), it's still difficult to hang the stockings (four or five? where? which location will make us the least sad?), buy the tree and find a location (same place as when we arrived home from the hospital in 2010? no thanks.), and go about the whole holiday cheer business. I'm still not there completely. I'm not sure I'll ever be. There will probably never be an Elf in our house and I'm pretty content with that.

Each year we attend a remembrance ceremony held about a block from the hospital all three of our children were born. It's put on by the hospital's SHARE program and is free, funded by the hospital and volunteers. There are cookies and punch at the end, baked by the staff in Labor & Delivery.

This is our "favorite" (odd to favorite a remembrance ceremony?) one to attend and one we like keeping as a tradition for our family, especially during the Christmas season. It is also nice that it's the same week of Andrew's birthday each year. It's specifically for families who have lost children, so it almost feels like a group of comrades coming together who fully understand the magnitude of this type of grief. It's really wonderful and really heartbreaking as the numbers continue to grow.

The sanctuary is full of hundreds of families. Some are childless. Some lost children days, weeks or months before, and some are like us and have lived through this for years now. There are babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, parents, grandparents, family members and friends all sitting in pews listening to the church choir sing and SHARE organizers speak the names of our children, hand us the lighter to ignite our candle and stand near the tree we hang our ornaments.

They open the mic and some people go up to share poems or speak about their experiences and love for their children. One woman spoke about approaching her daughter's first birthday on January 7th, just a week before Claire was born. I could probably tell you what I was doing that day (itching in the OB office, flipping out). In the end, I did birth a live child, and she did not.

One man spoke of this being a tradition for his family each year. In tears, he spoke about how other family members might forget, but it's important they keep their son's memory alive and attend these ceremonies with his people-- us-- other broken families. He thanked his wife publicly for making this important to their family, because he is important and being open about your grief and sadness is important.

Another woman spoke of this being her 14th year at this ceremony and it being a tradition for her family as well; how the grief is easier now, but that it still makes her sad.

Claire spent the majority of the time crawling up to the front of the sanctuary and trying to get her little hands on those shiny ornaments. I pulled her back each time, knowing there were people sitting there, hoping they would have a child accompanying them to future ceremonies. How they wish that were them right now. We've been that family. Claire found a toddler boy and spent her time entertaining him by handing him a Chapstick and then giggling, over and over again. That same mom and son were there the year prior and sat behind us-- they are missing their firstborn son that bears the same name as ours. It's really a comradery. It's not quite the same as my group of blogging friends that dragged me through that whole first year and still are there supporting, but it was nice to see familiar faces, shed similar tears, and nod with the understanding that only a family who has lost a child can really comprehend.
Wearing her rainbow hat, made by the grandma of a good BLM friend of ours who also lost her daughter..
Benjamin first wore this hat along with 14 other rainbows at our first babyloss get together here in Chicago.
Benjamin was practicing his terrible two stage of fun by tantruming in the car for the first 20 minutes of the ceremony. These can last upwards of 2-3 hours lately, so I didn't think they would be coming inside. But, miraculously there was an apology given and they arrived in the sanctuary just as the names were being read. We walked as a family of four to hang an ornament for our five. I lit the candle and Benjamin hung the ornament for Andrew on the tree. That moment was really special {except after he walked down the aisle saying, "I all done...we go now...get cookies."}
No photos from the ceremony of our middle child, but here he is all dressed dapper after nap in his collared shirt and sweater.
(because he refuses to wear any jackets at all and therefore I must dress him in the warmest clothes possible!)
I knew there were families there that saw our family of four (one boy! one girl! jackpot!) and thought to themselves that we were the lucky ones. We may have lost, but look what we have now. We have hope. And, we do. We truly feel thankful for the squealing little girl who was literally crawling through the pews under peoples' legs during the ceremony and the boy who was thrashing himself in his carseat because I don't even remember why (and neither did he). That first year after losing Andrew, we attended, quite pregnant with our rainbow baby. We saw the families around us with children and hoped that would be us. We even talked about the hope we had to bring our future children there each year to celebrate the life of our firstborn and keep his memory alive in the midst of the present-buying, cookie-exhanging, Santa-picture-taking madness.

Here we are. Hope has arrived. May there be many more (other peoples' rainbow children) in that sanctuary next year and years to come.
Made an apple pie yesterday with initials of December babies we miss, just because. Grief baking and eating + apples that needed to be eaten = humble pie for sure.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Gobble Gobble

We headed east for Thanksgiving like we've done in the past. We have family in Pittsburgh, which is about a 7-hour drive from Chicago. We love Pittsburgh. It's big enough to get a city feel, has bridges and water and rolling hills and good food. It's a fun city. Did I mention I am a city girl? Yep.

I'm always happy to leave the Midwest for something more exciting and Pittsburgh is always more exciting. It especially helps that when we're there, we're with family who loves on our kids and gives us breaks. Three cheers for that!

We had a great time. We woke up at 3 a.m. on Wednesday and drove the entire 7 hours with just one 20-minute stop for gas and a stretch. We arrived at lunchtime and had lunch with Gramie, Grandpa, Aunt Mansa & Max. The rest of the day was pool time, relaxing, skipping naptime, and Primanti Brothers (though they're rated a 5/10 this time and I'm honestly not sure we'll return).
Thanksgiving morning we woke up and ditched left the kids with the grandparents and ran the Turkey Trot Downtown. I made some pretty fun costumes that Aunt Mansa and I wore, while the guys sported some Target turkey hats.
Thursday afternoon and evening was spent at Aunt Ceil's house. I love their house and love them even more. They made this vegetarian some delicious red lentils and rice that I could seriously eat for every meal. Thanksgiving dinner is always really underwhelming for me because it usually consists of mashed potatoes, a side of veggies and bread. But not there! Delicious all around. Benjamin disagreed, but he never really eats anything, so that's no surprise. Family was great and we had a great showing. {Great} Gramie & Papa were at Thanksgiving and it was so nice to see them, as well as Aunt Jan who spends most of her time in Portland (another one of my favorite cities!).
Friday was spent at Aunt Helen's house, about 45 minutes from Downtown. She has three horses and Benjamin sat on one. Maybe next year he'll actually ride! We spent the day with everyone just relaxing. I was exhausted because Claire seemed to think waking every two hours the night before was a good idea... so we made the decision to head home that evening and just leave around dinnertime because if she was going to be waking every 2 hours anyway, we might as well leave before bedtime rather than wait until 3 a.m. again. That way we'd make it home just past midnight and get at least 7 hours of sleep (and it worked!).
I drove the first 3.5 hours back home and the husband drove the last 3.5 hours. We literally stopped for 2 minutes just to fill a 1/2 tank of gas and were off again. We arrived home around 12:30 a.m. and Claire slept the majority of the time. Benjamin was awake for the majority (even at Midnight!), but was so tired from all the family and festivities that he was calm and cool just sitting in his carseat.
It was our first road trip with two in the backseat! This was our first one over 2 hours with both of them and we deemed it successful!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Letters to Andrew: 4th Birthday Edition

Just over a month before Andrew was born, we were sitting in a soccer stadium in downtown Chicago watching my cousin's game with my aunt and my cousin's girlfriend (now wife-- Benjamin went to the wedding in 2012). I remember telling her how nervous I was to give birth because it was scary and foreign and sounded, well, painful.

I vividly remember her telling me that no matter how much pain, in the end, we will get to take home the most wonderful gift ever when it's all over. Those words are burned in my memory, because that never happened. All the pain, none of the gain. {Well, the love during pregnancy and beyond is most assuredly a gain, but not without an immense amount of emotional pain that will never end.}

Not pain and then gain. How I wish that were so.

----

Dear Andrew,

You are absolutely missed. Every single day of my life, I miss you. There will never be a birthday that we don't celebrate you, or a holiday, first day of school, soccer practice, park visit, family vacation that you go unmissed.

On your fourth birthday, I miss the preschool-aged boy you would be. I miss the boy who would be starting to read and getting excited for selecting his birthday party theme and blowing out those four candles tonight. I miss every bit of it.

Always Loving,
Mom, Dad, Benjamin & Claire.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dear Abby: Stating the Bad

Despite this being our big grief month, we still have to carry on and parent our living children, sometimes lacking the correct way to handle the many adventures Benjamin throws at us. Here's my Dear Abby for you all... because kids don't come with handbooks. I'd seriously pay a pretty penny for one tailored just to this toddler.

Recently he has been verbally recounting all of the unfavorable things he does. Sometimes immediately, but mostly days and weeks and months after the fact.

I hit the TV.
I throw Mr. Potato Head on the floor.
I hit Gawbee at IKEA (which he says often and this happened in SEPTEMBER!).
I go pee in Buzz Lightyear underwear (yeah, those didn't work).
I bite Daddy.

Usually we respond with conversational language about the incident and attach feeling to the story so he learns that not only is the action unfavorable, but it hurts our feelings. He does need to know that the action disappoints us and why.

Yes, you did throw the toy on the ground and it made Mommy and Daddy very sad. Was that a good choice to make? If we throw our toys on the ground, that is not respecting our things we are lucky to have and it could break the toy. We would have to throw it in the trash if it breaks.

At this point, he usually agrees and repeats some of what we have said and says things like "bad choice" and "no throw in the trash" and whatnot.

Yet, he still continues to exude this toddler behavior (he is still a toddler and they are irrational, so obviously) and recount these behaviors almost like they are verbal trophies he is giving himself for poor behavior.

Should we be ignoring these statements of negativity he is trying to use? Is he doing this because he is getting a reaction or is it important to continue reacting and talking through his memory again? I know he's only two, but sometimes it feels like he's pulling the reverse psychology on us and almost mocking us. Maybe it isn't that at all and we are just beat down from the same repeat behavior.

Fairly certain at this point that our firstborn would've been much more agreeable.