WEDNESDAY august 24

Everett and I went to Target the other day, our favorite place. Well, my favorite place. My house is slowly becoming an ad for their home department. And of course this gets me into trouble with Chris, saying I don’t need to spend the money, but I convince myself it’s all okay because I save 5% with my RedCard. Thankfully I am not in charge of our finances.

But anyways.

The store was crowded with college kids, their carts full of “stuff”, like laundry baskets and binders and that got me thinking about my first day of college. So as I stood in the aisle and debated on what toilet cleaner brand to buy, I remembered starting freshman year.

On move in day, I stood in my half empty room at home, packed and ready to leave, looking at my life in boxes and wondering what the hell was going to happen to me. I was always a homebody, not compatible with change and beyond unnerved at the unknown.

Dad, Allison and I packed up the car and drove to campus. It was buzzing with people and I remember I had to get my room key before we could move in. There were seniors handing them out, and I was anxious to walk over and tell the older girls my name. I was anxious about everything.

I can honestly still feel that pit in my stomach, weighted by the fear of not knowing anyone or anything. I was unsure of my surroundings, and unsure of myself. I went from this confident, popular cheerleader in high school to NOBODY in a split second. My childhood friends were all scattered across cities and states, starting their own college journeys. It was weird to be away from them.

I saw so many parents around–so many moms, walking with their daughters, helping them carry those laundry baskets and binders from Target. I saw face after face, but not yours. None of them were even pretty like you were, or dressed sleek like you did. For some reason this made me even more mad, as if because you were young and beautiful, you had more of a right to live than all of these other moms on campus. I would think, “Hey you, yea you…mom with the red framed glasses and white walking tennis shoes…my mom was healthy and took care of herself…why didn’t you get cancer?”

I know that sounds so horrible, but I thought it dozens of times, at every mom I looked at. Your absence was so literal and obvious, I was ashamed to be alone. I wanted a sign on my back that said my mom died of breast cancer. she was 39 and beautiful and married with four kids. she was a successand so was I.

When I was growing up, the whole community knew you. My friends and their mothers knew you. These new college people and their parents didn’t, and somehow to me, that meant you never existed.

Anyways, once I had my key and dorm number, Dad and Allison came with me to unlock the room. It was such a small space, with white painted cinder block walls. There were two twin bunk beds, two dressers and two desks and nothing else. It was bare and empty, leaving me to feel the same way.

They said good bye, and I will never forget standing in that room, feeling trapped and alone and holy shitting myself. This is where I have to live?

I took my new sheets out of the plastic package and put them on the uninviting mattress, tucking all the loose sides in like you used to do. I guess this was my sad attempt to make the space cozy.

My room mate arrived with both of her parents, and I felt like I needed to explain who I was. She was so nice, her parents were so nice—but how could I say where my parents were? I said, “My Dad just left a little bit ago,” so they would know I wasn’t that alone, but then I thought, wait, now it sounds like I just don’t have a mom. Or I do, but she doesn’t love me enough to witness the first day of college–or something strange like that.

The transition from saying “my parents” to just “my dad” was hard. My entire vocabulary changed when you died, and these college kids did not understand my adjusted language.

But eventually I got the hang of school. I met good people, and got used to the drinking, partying and studying. My room mate and I got along really good, and I even met a boy I was interested in. We had fun together, and I started to enjoy the “college life.” Campus was small though, and I wanted a refuge from the craziness and constant chaotic crowds. Home was not the answer because you were no longer there, so I really remember feeling stuck, like I didn’t belong anywhere. Not only that, I simply wanted more. Going to class wasn’t satisfying, and neither was forcing myself to be drunk every weekend (how hard, right?).

And then my yoga journey started, and the rest seems like history.

And then Chris came along and changed everything for the better.

*

So this all leaves me now, sitting here at my kitchen table, thinking about when my kids start college someday. I now understand that it will be such a privilege to guide Everett into the transition (whether he wants me to or not) and to witness his journey. If I feel sad or stripped away from my baby when he leaves, I’ll remember how lucky I am to still physically be here for him.

Because I know you would’ve given anything to be with me on that first day.

 

 

 

TUESDAY august 16

I found the eulogy I read at your funeral, typed up and folded between the sleeves of a book on my shelf. Ironic, huh? This is probably about the day that I stood in front of all those people, just weeks past seventeen years old, and tried my best to convey what I was feeling, who you were, and how our family would go onward.

I want to read it to you, because part of me wants to scoop that younger version of myself up and hold her. And cradle her body because that grief was so heavy. And whisper in her ear that life will go on, and the answers will all come in time. That her life was not over, just beginning in a different way.

I’d tell her she would learn how to live again.

So here it goes:

My Mom is the most beautiful person I will ever know. Anyone that knew her, will remember the Jenifer always looking her best in the latest Cache outfit and matching Coach purse, picking up her kids from sports practice and socializing with the other moms. But there was much more to her.

I’ve never seen a person as strong and determined as she was, whether it was about getting new carpet or having a fourth baby–she was relentless with spunk and beauty. She lived for her family, always doing everything to make our lives as perfect as possible, ensuring we were happy. I know that we were her world, and I take such pride in being her daughter.

We all won’t forget the things that made her her, like the nicknames she called us, or the tradtitons she was so good at creating and carrying on. Christmas was literally magical every year at our house. And dying Easter eggs or our fancy family Valentines day dinners are among the things I will remember, and hope to carry on with my own family someday. She had a way of making everything better, always going beyond what was “standard.”

She came to all of my cheerleading competitions, and drove me to every practice. She made a whole day out of shopping, whether it was for back to school clothes or a dress for a dance.

Our home was always kept immaculate and every night we would have a home cooked meal, eaten together as a family. Allison and I loved this one pasta dish, and Cole adored her fluffy scrambled eggs. These things, we cannot forget.

The most important thing she taught me was to be independent and know that life always changes, whether you want it to or not–that you have to be able to adapt. Once when we were driving in the car together, she told me that life can sometimes be like a rollercoaster. One second you are up, the next you’re down. And just when you think you cannot get any lower, you slowly crawl back up. Sounds so cheesy, but it made sense to me and stuck.

My mom was and still is surrounded with so much love. She always told me she hoped one day I would see what a wonderful marriage her and Dad had. I knew they were happy, but when I witnessed the way Dad took care of her in those last months when she was really sick, I finally understood. Getting to grow up with such loving parents has taught me a great deal of what I will want in my own marriage someday, and for that, I am grateful.

Once while scrubbing dishes at the kitchen sink, she told me I was to carry the lily of the valley flower at my wedding. She said if anything should ever happen to her before I got married, I needed to do that and think of her. I know someday on that day, I will do her the honor.

Her leaving has created an absence in all of our hearts. I do believe, though, that she left this world knowing she did her best as a mother, daughter, wife and friend. What she has taught my siblings and I are lessons that we will carry all throughout our lives. I know she will be guiding each one of us through our different paths in this life. We have her legacy to carry on and can always find comfort knowing we have her fiery strength to keep us going. Someone with as much spirit and grit as my mom will never leave us, and I find security in that.

I promise her I’m going to do my best as she always did. I promise her that I am still going to accomplish all my goals. I promise her to always be a leader, not a follower, just like she taught me.  I promise to be a good daughter and a good big sister. And most importantly, I promise to have her strength through my life and make her proud of me, always.

 

Reading this does not made me sad or angry. Rather, it fills me with so much pride. Honestly. I am so PROUD of myself and of my family. We survived. Actually, there are some moments where I think we have thrived.

And those lily of the valley flowers? I did carry them on my wedding day, freshly cut from Nana’s garden. It’s funny to think back on that conversation we had about them at the kitchen sink. I was sitting at the island, and you had your back towards me, looking out the window. You had a view of the yard in front of you, of the spot actually, where I married Chris. It was right under the willow tree you planted when we first moved into that house and onto that property.

How did that all become to be? How did you know? How did you make sure I would find the man I needed and create such a beautiful day for us, just like you planned when you were living. EVERYONE at that wedding was in awe of the weather, the yard, the love. The grass was a vibrant green on that May day, and I swear everything looked kissed by a golden light. You can see it in the pictures. You could feel it all around–you were laced in and through each person there.

To me, those lilies represent the power you have, even on or in some different realm where I cannot see you. When Chris and I arrived at our honeymoon bed and breakfast in Maine, there were fresh cut lily of the valley right on my nightstand. The owner there had an entire garden of them. No chance that was just a coincidence.

If I could stand and read the eulogy again, having these past eight years behind me, I would tell everyone listening that life continues after this world. I have been a witness to it. And there can be different beliefs about how and where you go when you’re gone, but underneath it all, I know your energy is still alive, just as I know I’m sitting here at my kitchen table, typing and keeping an eye on the baby monitor, hoping that Everett continues his nap.

There are some days that I do not believe this. Some days that I cannot fathom where you have gone, why you are away from me, why Tatum only has four years of your memory. There are days where I scream and cry in the basement while folding clothes for you to come back to me. For you to come home. And I think the LOUDER I call for you, maybe…just maybe, you’ll return.

But today is good. I feel you. And let these words be my reminder the next time I cannot bare your absence, that you are not far.

AND Everett woke up and fell back to sleep (after I debated for ten minutes on whether or not to get him) marking a two hour nap right now. I’m literally snapping my fingers and groovin’, savoring a moment where I feel like I won a small victory.

SUNDAY august 14

Today marks eight years. And to be honest, it really feels like any other day. Chris and I have been in full Sunday mode: laying around, making food, playing with Everett and just genuinely enjoying each other’s family company. I am lucky.

Writing sadness or explaining to you what I remember happening on that August night, just doesn’t feel right at the moment. Maybe because I’m not upset at all, maybe because so much time has passed since 2008, or maybe because I have such an incredible amount of love surrounding me right now, that all I can do is be thankful.

So on this day that marks when you left our world, I am saying thank you for what I have. Thank you for guiding me into motherhood. Thank you for showing me what a marriage was and how to be a loving wife. Thank you for raising me to understand the importance of family and solid roots.

Thank you for the accurate example you set on how to mother. I witnessed what it meant to stay at home with children, and can honestly say that’s the reason I was so driven to get to where I am now, with a husband, home and baby.

I can’t see you today, can’t speak with you, can’t hug you and bury my face in that familiar blonde hair. But I can sit here knowing you are still a part of all the beauty in my life, and celebrate how far our family has come since we lost you. All four of your kids are doing just fine, Mom.

I remember you. I thank you.

And I love you.

MONDAY august 8

I got sick of writing and wanted to use Everett’s nap time as nap time for me. The past week I have been so tired, and feel so guilty because I’m actually getting sleep at night. It’s hard to remember the beginning months of getting up and up and feeding and changing diapers. And my nightmares with pumping and handling mastitis in the wee hours of the morning with heating pads and ice packs and hot showers. And only a half hour of sleep every two hours.

Everett is of course not taking the two two hour naps a day anymore, but napping isn’t such a stuggle. I don’t want to get caught up in telling you about schedules and how long he sleeps for—remember, this is my space to talk to you about much more important things. And I don’t ever want another mother to read what Everett does/doesn’t do and feel bad. Because every time I read an online blog about sleep or eating or development, the guilt and inadequacy creeps in, like I don’t know how to properly care for him.

 

Last week Chris and I got into our first “real” fight, one where I told him not to come home after work. The next morning he returned, but stayed in the basement. And no our basement isn’t finished or nice. It’s a basement. That night he slept on the family room couch and in the morning, I wrote down directions for Everett and said I was leaving for the day.

In retrospect I was being really mean, but I was really mad.

For my place of escape, I went over to Dad’s. I walked in and he said, “You want breakfast?” and I told him yes as I sat down on one of the island benches. With no questions asked, like no time had passed, he started making an eagel bagel (ham egg and cheese). I felt taken care of, and my heart swelled with a warm familiar recognition; that was what I ate every Saturday morning growing up.

Remember our family breakfasts on weekends? Dad always made eggs and bacon and bagels on Saturdays and Sundays were for pancakes or waffles. I always woke up to him down in the kitchen, making coffee, opening and closing drawers and the stereo playing. I’d walk down my attic room steps, lean over the banister and see him down there, doing his thing. And we’d eventually all flock downstairs, requesting what we wanted to eat. You would buzz around in one of Dad’s t-shirts, cleaning and giving orders.

Even in the early morning, with your messy hair and bare face, you were so beautiful.

There is a collection of about thirty DVDs at Dad’s and I watch them almost every time I go over there. They are absolutely such a treasure to have–evidence that yes, our lives really were what we remember them to be before you got sick. And a reminder that yes, you really were as gorgeous as we all remember. How you fixed your hair, makeup….how you dressed. You were so confident in yourself, and I have you to thank for teaching me the importance of self-love and confidence.

Seeing those videos makes me feel pressure though, to create such a love nest here at my home. A place that always has good meals and is never dirty and is always positive, because that is what you did.

Then I dig a little deeper, and remember that our house wasn’t always perfect and you were not always cheerful. And you yelled a lot.

I remember sometimes having scrambled eggs for dinner on nights that Dad was away or you just didn’t want to cook. I remember our normalcy. I remember the chaos and the sibling fights and even you and me screaming at each other on a daily basis.

But there was so much love, and I understand now that that’s what it’s all about.

Honestly those weekends are some of my greatest memories and such a big part of who I am. We were together.

And I’m not just remembering it all like it was so lovely-it was lovely.  I hope I can give my children the kind of childhood I had. That’s truly my honest wish and what feels like a part of my life’s purpose right now: to pay homage to you and Dad, to create siblings for Everett so my kids always have each other, and to love and covet my husband through our fights, our triumphs and our lessons.

WEDNESDAY july 20

Listen, I’m going to brag here a little–ready?

The baby is taking two two hour naps, and sleeping so wonderfully through the night.

Everett goes to bed at 6, and wakes up anytime between 2 and 5 in the morning to eat. I go back to bed after that, and he doesn’t wake up for the day until 7 or even 8! Then a nap around 10, lasting two hours and two hours later, another one usually from 2 to 4. At that time we play, Chris and I eat dinner, Everett gets a bath and 6 o’clock rolls around and it’s time for bed.

I know he will change this “schedule”, but right now I am loving it.

I cannot even begin to tell you the relief I feel. I’m so proud of Everett, and so proud of myself for finally finding a method, sticking to it and listening to my gut. After this victory, having more babies does not scare me, and I’ve got my confidence back in growing our family.

Because that’s a big responsibly. Having to quite literally grow your children inside of yourself, birth them, and then give all the love you humanly can to a little creature two bodies somehow created. And still have love to give your husband or spouse or partner, and then still have love for yourself. And your dog. Or cat or what have you.

Being good at loving so good is very simple, yet sometimes very hard. Am I always capable of loving and receiving so much of it?

 

On a different note, I am teaching yoga again and it feels wonderful to have a piece of the “prior mom” me back. I just wanted one class, and it’s the 6am I used to teach on Wednesday mornings.

When I teach, I forget about being a mother for those short, sweet sixty minutes in the studio. My job is not Everett, not even my husband, but those students who make the commitment every week to wake so early and roll out their mat for practice.

I come into a different form in front of everyone, I swear. A form that is a better version of my chaotic, everyday self. And I speak truths and words of encouragement all while guiding them through physical postures. I teach how to breathe.

Honestly, when I started yoga at the age of seventeen, right after we lost you, I found a new compartment to myself that I never knew existed. One of calm, peace and belief that there truly is a power out there bigger than myself. That whatever force grows the grass and shines the sun and moves the stars is helping me out, too. And on a good day, I believe that you are a part of all that.

Deciding to take a class back was a big decision. I thought and thought about it (like I always do when it comes to making a choice) and am so very glad I am back to doing something I love, that’s outside of my family. Even if it’s only for two hours, once a week.

If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.

The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” –Deepak Chopra

Isn’t that a wonderful quote? I read it at the end of class early this morning and it just cannot be more true. I need to remind myself every day to ride the flow, ignore the right or wrong tug-of-war thoughts, and simply feel it all out.

When I stopped obsessing over what was right or wrong when it came to Everett’s sleep and just tried different things–like making the nursery dark and not rocking him so much– and believed that there was a solution, it all came together.

I actually wrote on a random page in my journal, I will get Everett to sleep 9-11 and 2-4 for naps. I wanted to make my desire real and concrete.

And well, it worked.

Let’s see what I’m saying in another month from now because I’ve learned these little babies change just when you think you’ve got them all figured out.

THURSDAY july 14

Letting Everett “cry it out” has been the best parenting decision I’ve made so far. In my attempts to get him to nap, I put aluminum foil on the nursery window (for blackout purposes), bought an awesome swaddle transition blanket for him and got a yoga ball to bounce him to sleep. All of these things made a wonderful difference. With these changes, I could get him to cat nap for about 40 minutes, three or four times a day. Compared to a month ago, I felt like I was doing fantastic.

But I was exhausting all my energy bouncing and bouncing him to sleep and eventually it caught up to me. Sometimes (well, a lot of the time) he would wake up five minutes after I’d put him down, and then of course I would cradle and bounce him until he fell asleep again. And if sleep failed a third time, I would just take him out of the nursery and bring him downstairs to use his play mat or something. That usually backfired twenty-five minutes later, when the poor thing was cranky and sleep deprived.

I finally realized I was making him miserable, while making my day SO much harder than it had to be. I knew in my gut what the answer was—let him cry. We started this new trial on Tuesday, and he only cried for thirteen minutes for each nap, knocking right out afterwards. On Wednesday he cried for ten minutes, and today only two. Even nights are all of a sudden easier now. And the blanket we got him, called the zipadee-zip, allowed him to suck his fingers (opposed to the swaddle) so he learned to soothe himself! Very quickly too.

I was so so scared to let him cry because of what I read on the internet. I fixated on when it was appropriate and how old a baby should be before they can soothe themselves and so forth. And let’s face it, it’s hard to hear your baby cry and not go get them. Well, that’s at least true with the first born before you know any better.

I was desperately asking other mothers on their opinion, and of course, everyone said something different. Because there really are as many answers as there are babies (Allison’s boyfriend’s Mom said that to me the other day and I thought it was brilliant).

When you become a mother, it’s up to you to decide what is right, what is wrong, what works, and the fine lines between.

When you become a mother, you are forced to make “big girl” decisions, and there really is no set guide, no right or wrong way to solve certain issues.

When you become a mother, you have to trust yourself beyond belief. You have to go through  trial and error and problem solve and filter through all the advice you receive. You decide what is best yourself.

When you become a mother, you have to love love love to your fullest. I saw you love your kids and sacrifice so much for us. Under it all, that is the most important thing I can take with me as a mom myself–just love.

I understand now that even if you were here, telling me to do this or do that, I probably wouldn’t listen anyways (you know how I am). And your advice probably wouldn’t have worked because Everett isn’t a baby that you raised. He is mine, and I need to be brave and strong and accept the fact that I AM A MOM myself. I don’t think that has fully sunk in yet. I haven’t really “owned up” to this role.

It’s funny. You pop a baby out (or quite literally become a raging warrior to push it out) and unbeknownst to you, you become an entire different person with an entire new set of responsibilities with absolutely no “for real” clear cut information. Instinct is your best friend but in this day in age we are so far removed from that. We rely on our parents wayyyyyy more than our parents did with theirs, and we rely on the interent and other people’s opinions on everything. From what we wear, what we eat, what we do with our kids.

Honestly, this is all true.

There is so much responsibility to the title “Mom.” Not just lack of sleep or loss of independent freedom like the stigma says. But mental toughness, problem solving ability, mastery of multi-tasking and the ability to love beyond what you ever thought possible. And it’s scary to love that hard–your own life’s happiness depends on it always existing.

I’m understanding that even if you were still alive, it would ultimately be up to me to decide whether or not to let Everett cry. It would be up to me to know when he’s old enough to start eating food and so forth. Yes your advice would be golden and I’m sure very accurate but when it comes down to it, Everett is mine and I have all the answers. I just need to stop thinking that you do and I don’t and because you aren’t here, motherhood is so hard.

Motherhood would still be hard with you here. Motherhood would still be hard if I had a million dollars. Motherhood would still be hard if I didn’t stay home full time. Motherhood will always be hard and it is shaping and changing me at such a fast pace I cannot catch grip sometimes.

But I can say, I like who I am becoming.

 

TUESDAY july 12

Well, it’s been some time since we’ve talked. I don’t have much time now–have just sat down for bed, but wanted to at least say hello.

Is that sad? That I can’t call you right now and ask about your day, what you and Dad did and how Tatum and Cole are doing? Is it sad that I can’t tell you about shopping with Nana today or how Everett was when I FINALLY allowed him to cry for his sleep? Is it sad I can’t say, “good night Mom, I love you,” right before I snuggle under these covers for bed?

It is.

And I’m sorry that when I write to you there is something negative to say. Because I have actually been fabulous lately, and never on one of those super good days have I taken the time to write to you.

Ah, I will try harder the next couple days.

THURSDAY june 30

Everett is napping, on his second hour of sleep. If someone reading this has a three month old who regularly does this, I’m so very jealous. I usually only get forty precious minutes.

I have to say at this point in parenting, the self doubt is real. I’m always worried that I’m not doing things right–that his lack of napping is somehow my fault, or that I am failing the cry it out method. Letting him scream is something I just cannot do. I have tried it a handful of times and literally can’t stand it. But if I tell someone that, they will tell me I “need to do it.” Perhaps they’re right. I just don’t like not listening to myself.

I’ll get on the internet and read what another mom is doing–how she schedules and her tips/advice. Then I just get down on myself, creating a storm of “I am doing this all wrong” in my head.

And then I think of you. You raised four kids, starting with me when you were twenty-one. You did not have Google to ask questions, and you probably didn’t know about sleep training. I bet there was debate between moms with their opinions, but I guarantee you in the eight years you’ve been gone, the battles have heated.

I mean there are pulls of opinions on everything–when solid food should start, how and where the baby should sleep, how long to breastfeed, ways to get them to sleep, how to be swaddled and even what kind of diaper is superior for catching their shit.

Honestly, it’s so freaking overwhelming. And I think the best tool that I have for Everett and my sanity is my own gut. My mama instinct. I swear it is a thing. When it is time for Allison and Tatum to have their babies, I will tell my sisters to simply listen to themselves. I’ll tell them to not make it harder than it has to be. I’ll remind them every time they need reminded, that their baby picked its mom, and they have all the knowledge to raise him/her.

WEDNESDAY june 29

Yesterday was hard.

Not because of Everett, but because of you.

At one point while rocking him to sleep, we were cheek to cheek and our tears melted together, smushed between our faces. He was crying out of exhaustion, I was crying out of grief.

I wanted my mother.

And in that moment as I danced in circles, bouncing and bouncing and swaying, I tried to imagine you were with me. That you were with my little boy.

Did you get to “meet” him before he came to me? On some level, in some way, in some place, in some form–did you hold this sweet sweet baby and know he would be mine?

Say yes. Say yes. Because the answer could not possibly be no.

TUESDAY june 28

Today was a rough one, and it’s only the mid afternoon. Little Everett wasn’t really even hard–he had a pretty good day and slept a few forty five minute naps. He is on his fourth one, right as I write this.
But his cries while refusing to sleep as I rocked him really stirred up missing you. And once that feeling surfaced, I have cried and cried off and on all day. At one poing, Everett’s cheek was up againt mine and I could feel our watered tears mixing together. I just imagined you were in that dark nursery with me, watching me and my baby.