Thursday, August 27, 2015

He said it.

We had friends over this morning for a water table and outdoor flour paint playdate. My friend has a daughter Claire's age and her second daughter passed away nearly three weeks ago, an hour after she was born premature. We were on the deck and the kids were playing away.

There was a conversation about friends who continued to be pregnant at a similar gestation after our children died and how it's still hard seeing them, and for me, seeing their living child growing and learning. I said something along the lines of "When Andrew died..." because that's what happened and that's often the segway into a story about emotions and grief.

A minute or so later, Benjamin turns from what he was playing with and said, "Did Andrew die, Mommy?"

"Yes, Benjamin, Andrew died."

A couple hours later, Elliot came home for lunch with us (rare treat!). About 10 minutes into our casual lunch and lots of cuddles, Benjamin told Elliot, "Andrew died." It was totally out of the blue, but it's true and Benjamin now knows it.

We hadn't withheld this information before. I'm sure we've explained to him that he died, but we didn't explain what dying actually means, because that's too abstract for a child so young who hasn't personally experienced it with a close family member. He knows he has a brother and that his brother was born before him. He sees his pictures in our home regularly and even picked up his ashes the other day (cue the anxiety). He knows that he is in heaven, but what does that even mean for a child of three-and-a-half years old?

Well. He said it. I wonder what that really means to him and I wonder when more questions will come. Regardless, I'm proud to be a mom who shares love and heartbreak with her kids. After all, it's because of love that heartbreak exists and that itself is beautiful.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The New School Park Experience

Benjamin starts at a brand new preschool on Tuesday. Four days a week this time. I'm stoked. He's stoked. He's mostly stoked because he gets chocolate milk every day (and he'll tell you that). It's probably his favorite drink ever and when I noticed about three-quarters of the kids in his class also signed up for chocolate milk, I knew there was no chance I was getting away with signing him up for the white milk. He wouldn't drink it anyway. It's going to be great leverage for those rough mornings.

We went to preview day last week. After, the kids played at the park in front of his preschool. People slowly trickled out until there were about 4 kids left. I was nearby when a kid asked his mom to get on the other side of the see-saw. It was one of those newfangled ones that is on springs and didn't require leg work. Super chill. When she replied that she couldn't, I explained that I go on it frequently with my kids and it's so much nicer than most. She replied, "No, I just had a baby."

I rescinded my comment. Of course I wouldn't be getting on that thing either (and probably shouldn't have said anything). Through further conversation with the mom, I learned that she was a surrogate for a (stranger) family an hour away. She has two biological children and then carried another baby to term, all vaginally. She plans to have more kids of her own.

I found myself instantly uncomfortable. Jealous even. It was entirely directed at her innocence in birthing babies and understanding that there is an absolute living birth at the end. Maybe she doesn't entirely believe that, but I'm sure birthing a full term deceased baby wasn't in the forefront of her mind when she considered surrogacy. I told her about Andrew because I felt like leveling the playing field when she told me she birthed three babies. ME TOO. That, and I just talk about him because he's mine.

One thing we had in common: We both had breastmilk arrive a few days after birth. I asked her how that went. She told me it wasn't a big deal and just went away after a few days. She did mention that it felt weird because she breastfed her two boys, but was otherwise fine. That milk devastated me. In common, but NOT same-same.

I'm so grateful for surrogates and have friends who have used them to bring children into their families. I just never actually spent time talking with one. I didn't realize my emotions would be so involved and my grief would play any sort of role.

School is going to be an eye opener for the both of us, I presume. Kleenex ready.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mt. Whitney 2007

Eight years ago today, we started hiking just after midnight (when our permits were valid) with two friends to the top of Mt. Whitney. It's the tallest peak in the lower 48. We took 16 hours from start to finish, hiking 22 miles. We'd been engaged just two months at this point and were loving life.

I'm only bummed we didn't know there was a geocache up there when we hiked! We would've totally found it!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Date Night in NYC

When I graduated college with an undergraduate degree in journalism, my parents took me on a trip to New York. It was a wonderfully epic trip and we did just about everything a tourist would do in the city. It was all we wanted and we all had a great time. I hadn't been back (well, not to Manhattan) since.

When we planned our Cape May vacation, we immediately thought about leaving the kids with their grandparents and Aunt Mansa for a date night in the city! I'm a city girl through and through. Our suburb is populated, but it's not a big city. I love the energy and nightlife and activity.

We booked the Broadway tickets in advance to see The Book of Mormon. More on that in a moment. We booked the hotel in advance. Baby, we were getting out of town!

I'm just sad it's over now.

We drove up Tuesday morning, early. On the way, we stopped in Atlantic City to check out the hoopla. We'd never been there, but we knew a great deal about the financial strains they've been dealing with. We literally pulled right up to the sand next to the Revel Casino (closed in 2014) and parked. We walked on the boardwalk, saw the Steel Pier and grabbed a few geocaches. It probably helped that it was a Tuesday around 8:00 a.m.

Atlantic City, Revel Casino, Showboat (both closed), Times Square NYC
We pressed on to NYC and about 4 miles before we got to our hotel (still in New Jersey), we stopped off for E to call in to a work meeting. We grabbed some lunch after and headed into the city. We probably paid over $150 in tolls on this trip. Like woah.

Parked, explored, shopped, grabbed a geocache and checked into our hotel. We were 500 feet from Times Square. Awesome. We dressed up for dinner at Toloache and then off to Broadway.

Those cocktails were ridiculous.
We left feeling... disappointed. Kind of disgusted. Wishing we'd chosen another show, honestly. It was just offensive. We know it was meant to push the envelope and what we saw on the Tony Awards was downright hilarious. Half of the show was funny. The other half was just too dirty. There was a reoccurring joke about raping babies. That's not funny. There was a joke about domestic abuse. Not funny. There was a song that literally said, "Eff you God" on repeat. You don't have to be a believer in God to find that offensive. It's just hateful.

We grabbed some cookies at a fun place called Schmakary's. It doesn't get more wholesome and innocent than cookies. The key lime and oatmeal scotchie cookies we ordered were delicious. On our way back, we noticed ABC News was right on the corner of our hotel street.

Caching around NYC and in Central Park + wishing we were at Jimmy Fallon.
GMA peeps.
We set our alarms for early (I know... no kids...why!) and headed out to watch Good Morning America. I don't watch the show, but my major in undergrad was journalism. I still have a love for all things broadcasting and get a little giddy when I get to see it all in action. At one point, that's exactly what I wanted. It's not where I belonged, but I do still find it exciting. On the other hand, MY MOM is literally Good Morning America's BIGGEST FAN. For serious, y'all. She calls me probably once a week to tell me something she "heard on Good Morning America." I knew it's what she would do if she were there, so I figured it would be fun to do it for her. And then call and tell her we might be in the audience!

We were. It was interesting. We've both been in audiences for quite a few shows before having lived so long in LA. This was unique because we were just standing around the entire time, coming and going as we pleased. Anyone could walk up at any time. The guests were Ed Helms and some Bachelorette contestants.

More Good Morning America, Philly Liberty Bell & dinner & mini date night back in Cape May at The Lobster House
Once over, we started our run into Central Park and found three more geocaches. We made our way back to the hotel and then got ready to head out. This time, we took ourselves south via Philadelphia. We had lunch at a really cute sandwich shop. I'd never been to Philly before and there was a work colleague of E's we were able to squeeze in a little visit with. After, we explored Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, found a couple geocaches, had a few beers and a great Thai dinner before eventually ending our super long date driving the 1.5 hours back to Cape May after the kids were happily in bed for the evening.

We continued the trend with mini date nights after the kids were in bed each night. We'd walk the little town, find geocaches in the dark, enjoy a beer... whatever we wanted. It was so luxurious. It's also reason enough to sing the praises of overpriced house rentals over hotels-- kids had their own rooms and spaces which meant we could move about without disturbing them.

Our 7th anniversary was celebrated the day after we arrived in Cape May. My SIL surprised us with the best cake, congratulating us on our 7 years and my awesome husband on his recent appointment to president of his company. What a great trip.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mother of the Year Material. Alternate Title: This Week Sucks

I've had one heck of a parenting week.

Benjamin has never been agreeable or interested in following the rules. Claire is now turning terrible two and is therefore also uninterested in following the rules. It's not like she has a good example. The only difference is, when I scold her, she actually shows remorse. Benjamin ignores me entirely.

Monday was a rough day. Everything went wrong. I didn't have the week planned (my mistake), so we woke up sort of in a fog of boredom. I couldn't get my creativity flowing. I packed up the kids and some PBJ sandwiches and hit the road. We were having a park picnic. Except the first park had zero shade trees and Benjamin was protesting "skunscreen." The second park had an enormous lawnmower blowing bits of grass everywhere with no sign of ending soon. The third park was having their driveway re-paved (I'm serious). The fourth park was the ticket. Only a wee bit of shade at the elementary school playground and swarming bees around our lunches we gave up on eating halfway due to fear of stinging, but we played.

In the afternoon, we packed up to head to the pool. We arrived and applied sunscreen. Before our feet touched the water, the inclement weather alarm sounded. That means at least 30 minutes of pool closure. We had to exit immediately. I'm scrambling to get my kids out before the downpour, but so are the 150 other people. We make it in front of the pool area and it hadn't sprinkled yet, so the kids were playing at the park directly in front of the pool. It begins to downpour. I grab our things and Claire...

...but where's Benjamin? No where to be found. Have I mentioned he's a perpetual runner (away-er)?

Usually he heads back up the grass hill to the pool locker room because he's obsessed with urinals and those disgusting pink urinal cakes (thanks, husband for the terminology I went 32 years without knowing-- gross me out). He is gratified by pissing on pink, flushing, and then washing his hands in the BOYS LOCKER ROOM BECAUSE I HAS A PENIS. I want to encourage him using the potty and standing to pee because it's socially acceptable and easier on me, too. So I let him go in alone. There is a door near the entrance and a door near the pool. I never know which he will exit because no matter what I say, he does what he wants.

I digress. We were in a downpour with imminent lightning approaching and I can't find my 3-year-old. I put Claire in the car and a stranger comes over to watch her while I run up to the pool to hopefully catch him there. At this point, multiple moms are helping me look. I run in hysterics and as soon as I arrive at the pool entrance, a lifeguard says, "I have your son and I was just about to come looking for you." I start bawling. He had apparently wandered into the guard office (which is never open except this day, so his curiosity got the best of him). I explain to him how dangerous it was and give the whole child abduction speech. And then he looks at me, laughs in my face, and having apparently heard nothing I was saying, says, "It's raining outside." 

And now the lifeguards look at me like I'm a negligent mom.

Yesterday at the pool, Benjamin pulled his whole, jump in the deep end while making eye contact with Mom super far away because he knows he's being a punk routine, but luckily he can swim to the edge and does with great success. Still scares the daylights out of me though. As we were leaving, he faceplants and scratches his entire right side of his face.

Two days later (today), we're at the pool again. Benjamin has to use the urinal (he's making it his goal to eventually use all of them--also applies to water fountains. ICK). I stand in front of the locker room facing the pool. Wait 5 minutes. I decided to head to the other locker room entrance (WHY ARE THERE TWO???) and a lifeguard once again walks out as I'm about 15 feet from him to tell me she was just about to come looking for me because she, once again, had my son. Because he cannot, for the life of him, listen to me about returning exactly to where Mommy is standing in front of the door you entered. It sucked even more when she said, "I recognized him from the other day." He's lost all privileges of peeing in urinals at the pool. He's stuck peeing on wet toilet seats in the girls locker room like the rest of us (with vaginas or kids who don't listen to their mommies).

Ugh. I might buy a leash. Just call me #supermom. I'm feeling every bit of it this week.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

When Friends Lose

We have a bunch of local friends. Most are tied to the church we attend. It connected us to some great people who have been our friends ever since. Those people were there for us when Andrew died. They visited us in the hospital. They cooked us meals. They dropped off gifts on the doorstep and groceries and cards and celebrated his life with us. They practically pushed our door open to spend time with us. Some brought over board games to make us laugh and get us out of our grief funk. They were there to peel us off the couch. They send cards and speak his name.

I often told them, "No, it's okay. We're fine. We don't need anything."

I also remember telling all of our visitors who came to our actual delivery room during our state of shock that while I'm not the type to ask for help, I am going to need them to kick down the door and keep us company.

One of those friends (and her husband and daughter) said goodbye to their second daughter, Alexandra last night. She was born at 23 weeks and labor couldn't be stopped. She was born at just over a pound and lived for an hour.

She was born in the same hospital and Labor & Delivery ward as Andrew, Benjamin and Claire. I couldn't help but feel those feelings of angst and sadness and longing and grief with that deep pit in my stomach as soon as I heard she was in labor. I knew the odds were not on their side and I knew what it would be like to lose a baby in that very hospital. Possibly in that very room.

What compounds the loss even more is that they conceived all of their children via IVF. They tried for years and have struggled desperately to grow their family. Their first daughter came after years of trying and prior miscarriages. And their second daughter was conceived after several rounds again, only to lose again someone so desperately wanted. These expenses have been financially burdening. Knowing they will be receiving bills in the mail months from now for their 10+ day hospital stay in addition to caring for Alexandra and their living daughter hurts.

That little nugget is Claire's age. Alexandra's big sister. Conceived of IVF as well. 
We started a GoFundMe for them. Most people who read this blog don't know my friend Kim and her husband Eric. I would've shared their story anyway. I'm so deeply sad for them.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cape May Vaca(tion)

Most of the time, we come home from a vacation saying, "Yeah, it was great but we're glad to be home in our own beds."

Not this one. I could've slept in the bed at that beach house for the duration of my life. Family, beach, great food, lots of dates (and an overnight!) with the husband, exploring, a lantern release for our loves, morning jogs with Aunt Mansa, geocaching, seeing my kids giddy with excitement each day...

We planned this trip for a number of reasons. Elliot's grandma from NY would be able to meet Claire for the first time and see Benjamin again (since she last saw him at 4 months old!), Elliot's uncle and aunt who live in Maine would come down to meet the kids as well, and the rest of the family would be able to make it for a portion of time. E's grandma who lives in Maryland, E's parents and his sister along with her boyfriend would all be able to make the 3-hour drive. And let's not forget beach house vacation for all!

We took the 1.5 hour flight from Chicago to New York and drove three hours to Cape May. The kids were perfect and it was all good as long as I kept handing over the snacks (aka the only foods Benjamin consistently eats). On the way home, Claire was graded a marginal C-, but Benjamin rocked it. The sweet age of flight is about 2.5, so little sister has a ways to go; just in time for us to shell out the cash for four seats. (We're squeezing in two more flights before that happens, thankfully.)

We had a date night out of town as well, but I'll save that for my next post. Without further adieu... let the photo bombardment begin!

It was a two-two seater, so B sat next to a stranger for the first time! 
We explored Wildwood one afternoon. Beach naps. Sand play.
Blanket forts with Gramie & Great Gramie, ocean play, Gramie rainbow ball love and some baby snuggles on the beach.
Aunt Mansa and Ben are besties.

Jumping to Grandpa from the ottoman never got old. Jumping into sand pits. Aunt Mansa reading up on marathon training (her first Savannah this November! Gramie and granddaughter.

Grandma Wilson with her son, grandson + me, great granddaughter and great grandson. Uncle Sam, Aunt Fran and her sister Mary + pool time!
Great Gramie play. First flowers gifted from Grandpa who bought them from a corner flower stand.
We visited Sunset Beach, the lighthouse and a WWII lookout (that was closed for the day). We collected these pebbles from the beach as part of a geocache.
Some precious moments between Ben and Grandpa. Grandpa turned 63, so Benjamin and Claire helped decorate a cake for him. Then Benajmin proceeded to scold Grandpa on his choice of  books, deeming the book on Japanese culture the "mean" book. He expressed great displeasure that Grandpa would read such a book (and later made me read SIX pages of it to him).
During one of Claire's naps, we took B on a trolley ride around the town. This was part of Claire's silly behavior on our plane ride back.
Great Gramie signed the guest book at our cottage. 
The week was divine and one we're not likely to stop daydreaming about for quite awhile.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sky Love Lanterns for Papa & Andrew

We'd been looking forward to our family vacation at Cape May, New Jersey beach for over half a year now. When we booked our flights and the beach cottage rental, we were on total countdown mode.

In the midst of this planning, we said goodbye to my husband's incredible, sensitive and amazing grandfather, Papa. We hoped he would be there to celebrate family and life with us in the flesh, but he was surely with us in spirit.

In order to remember him and hold him in our presence, I wanted to bring him there to the beach with us, just as we planned. Papa's favorite color is red (so much that he asked Gramie to wear a red dress when he returned home from the war!). I'd been wanting to send a Japanese lantern to the sky for Andrew for years now. My parents had sent one to him last year, but I had yet to experience it myself. Sending a red one up for Papa just seemed like the right thing for the occasion and the perfect opportunity to send one for Andrew. We were at the beach and the landscape would be beautiful.

On the evening of our lantern release, it began to rain during dinner. I had given up hope that we would be lighting them that evening, until the rain stopped as soon as it started. We made the effort to write a few notes to our beloveds and loaded them into the car. Benjamin and Claire had their hands traced on the thin paper while the rest of us (Samantha, Kay, Steve, Ray, Gramie, Benjamin, Claire and I) wrote notes of love.

As we were all piling into our cars to make the approximately 5 mile trip to the Cape May Lighthouse, we saw a full rainbow in the sky. It was present when we arrived, too.

Papa and Andrew were there with us. We could really feel it.

We walked halfway down the beach as Gramie and Kay waited and watched up on more even ground as we lit the lanterns. At first, they weren't catching fire quickly as we'd hoped... but eventually... a minute or so later... Papa's red lantern was ready to take flight. Andrew's lantern followed and there was a glimmer of red and blue in the sky on the beach at sunset on that Thursday evening, July 30, 2015.
Papa's lantern taking flight.
Family of five.
Andrew's lantern taking flight.
Both lanterns here are visible. Papa's is almost exactly center and Andrew's more visible to the right.
The lanterns were incredibly beautiful and so peaceful. We set them off not only near a lighthouse during sunset with a full rainbow in the sky, but about 500 feet from a World War II bunker on the beach. Papa served in WWII and it was just an added piece of warmth to tie into the moment. May Papa and Andrew always feel the love we have for them, deep in our hearts.