AUGUST 25, 2017

I’ve been lazily in love with myself the past few months.

Since I don’t have a reason to get ready for the day, majority of the time I stay in my pajamas with undone hair. Everett is basically the only one who sees me and today, he’s truthfully wearing a toucan print muscle tank with rocket ship pants…we don’t care what we look like around here.

But I’m starting to fall short in the confidence I was once so abundantly full of because I rarely bother with a “beauty routine” anymore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic being in the comfort of home with no bra, sometimes no pants and a bare clean face. But I’m creating a yucky habit out of the mom life.

So I am getting intentional, wanting to give myself the opportunity to feel beautiful in my skin because curled hair and makeup make me feel good. Just because I’m not leaving the house for a job, doesn’t mean I don’t have one worthy looking nice for.

Each morning this week, I got ready in chunks of time, separating my shower, blow drying, hot rollers, makeup and getting dressed. It’s a lot better than a straight hour in the bathroom, something no working woman or mother has the time or energy for. And honestly, I already feel better because of this “routine.”

My world has been becoming more clear because I’m paying attention to how I think, understanding that what matters most is that I FEEL GOOD. Always, without exception. If “getting pretty” helps, then I’m gonna keep making the time for it.

You set a really good example for me. I had a mother who really and truly loved herself. It was something obvious for anyone who knew you. You always got ready, and I know it was for no one other than yourself.

I used to do my hair and makeup without any clothes on, in front of the mirror. I guess I thought it was normal because you always did. But it forced me to look at my naked body and love what I saw, especially while pregnant and going through so many physical changes.

Now when I’m undressed in front of the mirror, the first thing I look at are my boobs. They’ve become deflated, like little dispirited pockets of skin, begging for the filling fat that my body simply doesn’t have. Then I look at my teeth and the ever-growing gap between the front two.

Why is it so easy to think negative things about my body but not positive? It feels weird to look in the mirror and say, “I love my hair. I love my stomach. I love my legs.” But without even thinking, I can look and say bad things.

And that’s just it–I’m not thinking. 

I’d go through my day without paying attention to what I was talking about. Words would automatically come out of my mouth, interpreting whatever it was I was experiencing. If in traffic, I’d complain. If I got bad news, I’d tell whoever listened. If someone made me mad, I’d allow them to take up my energy by talking about just how mad they made me.

Nothing should be talked about unless it makes me feel better doing so. Worrying about something is literally like praying for what I don’t want to happen and when I verbally put it in my vibration, I’m asking the Universe for more worry, more problems to talk about.

Thinking before I speak and consciously choosing what I talk about, takes practice. I still worry. I still say bad things or make comments about other people. I’m not a peaceful all love hippy with no negativity.

But I’m learning that positivity isn’t only relative to things and experiences in my life, but to myself.

Making little changes, like tidying and gratitude lists and learning to love my body yet again, have all come into existence because I’ve been aware of my thoughts. After all, it’s me inside my own head. I have power over that voice.

I know I’m not the only woman who judges what looks back at her in reflection. I’m just refusing to do it anymore. I want everyone to be able to see their good and not feel ashamed or egotistical when saying what they love about themselves.

If we aren’t in love with ourselves, how can we attract more love? How would we feel worthy enough for all the beauty the Universe can bring us?

I had times in my life when I hated my body. I had times in my life when I over exercised, tirelessly trying to fight the demons in my head that said I wasn’t thin enough. Or trying to fight the emptiness that was left after you died, treating my body like it was nothing because I quite literally felt like nothing.

I had times in my life where I didn’t keep my food down because I felt so disgusted being full. 

When I’d throw up over the toilet, I’d think, what would Mom do if she could see you right now? But that still wasn’t enough for me to stop. 

Oh god. I can’t believe I’m admitting that to you. I know you’ve known, but even for me to write it seems like I’m making up a story about myself: I cannot believe I used to treat my body in such a way. 

I can still remember how I’d hunch over the toilet and tighten my stomach, feeling the consumed food pour out of me. I can still remember how disgusting I felt…how ashamed and dirty I felt, when throw up would splash on my face. 

I knew it was wrong, I knew I needed to stop, but I never did it constantly, maybe once or twice a month. I thought it was “under control,” kept it secret, and did it sparingly when I didn’t know how else to cope with what felt like the loss of everything: my mother, my family, my boyfriend, my father, my friends. 

The worst was my freshman year in college. I was the loneliest I’d ever been. My childhood friends were no longer with me every day like they were in high school. You had been gone for just over a year, and the first shock of your loss was over. It all finally felt real. Everyone moved on with their lives, but our family couldn’t. I couldn’t. 

When I would come home from school to visit, which was almost every weekend, you weren’t there. Somehow I still expected you to be. Dad would go out and I had no idea where he was going. Terri started to be present in his life and I couldn’t handle it. I wasn’t ready. 

To deal with the emptiness within our house and family, I’d watch a movie in the basement of our vacant house and binge eat. Home was really the only place I ever did this. 

I’d eat goldfish and pretzels, mixed together in the same bowl. Then some cereal and milk. Then a bagel with ham, egg and cheese and I’d finish off with ice cream because it made for an easy exit out of my stomach. I would go up to my bedroom on the top floor and empty it all out, leaving me to feel evenly empty on the inside. I wanted that feeling. I had control over it. Because nothing else in my life was going my way. 

I just wanted you back. I wanted my family back. I was so desperate for our love and communal chaos again.

When I started consistently going to yoga, it taught me how to respect my body. I learned that my body was a temple and filling it with food and throwing up was not treating it as such. 

Yoga forced me to sit still with myself and feel your loss. It made me feel my strained relationship with Dad and the changes he was experiencing. It made me feel the loss of who I thought was my first love, the one who left me only a few months after you died. 

Yoga showed me that the past didn’t really exist anymore, and no matter how hard I fought to get back to it, I’d never get there. It showed me that dwelling on a failed relationship wouldn’t fix it. It showed me that controlling my body through eating and exercising would never control the circumstances that took you from this world. 

It taught me that I was worthy of love again and capable of giving it away.

I can proudly tell you now that I have not abused food since one night five years ago, when Chris and I got shamrock shakes at the McDonald’s drive-thru. We drank them in his car and I threw mine up in private when we got back to his parent’s house.

Afterwards, it was like everything finally clicked together, and I somehow had the strength to draw the line and stop forever. I promised never again never again as I walked back into his bedroom. And I’ve kept my promise. I would never lie to you.

Having gone through all of that, I understand how beautiful my body is. I understand that it’s flawed, but only when I choose to see those flaws. 

If I feel good about myself and choose to say, “I love you,” when I look in the mirror, more evidence will come my way saying, “Yes! You are beautiful. See?”

I just wish it was easier to understand the power we have over our own lives. Why aren’t we ever taught this? I have to read and search and journal and post positive affirmations on my refrigerator to try and constantly remind myself to think before I think. It’s like I’m trying to rewire my brain.

All this good, loving and positive energy that I’m trying to get absorbed in, begins with loving myself. It’s an essential part I’ve skipped over.

Because if you don’t love yourself, why would you care to stop abusing your body? Why would you care to get out of an unhealthy relationship? Why would you care to listen to that beautiful inner voice that knows best? Why would you care to believe you’re magic and capable of bringing whatever it is you want into your own life’s experience?

I have you to thank for the self love I’ve found–for the way you danced, the way you played, the way you dressed and the way you carried yourself.

I have my yoga practice to thank, too. It is what keeps me accountable for how I feel about myself, still to this day. It forces me to pay attention to my emotions–my important indicators that guide each response to the outside world.

But most importantly, I have me to thank for the self love I’ve found, and I’m giving myself all the credit in the world because frankly, I deserve it. I’ve secretly overcome a lot. Very few people know about what I just told you.

One of the most important things I want to teach my kids is how to love themselves. I want them to love themselves so much, that they feel powerful enough to be brave and go for whatever it is they want in this world.

I hope I have a little girl, the one who will have her mermaid room, and get the chance to teach her how to love her body. To show her, through example, what it means to be confident. It’s something you did for me, something that I cannot possibly thank you enough for.

You gave me the zest I’ve always had within me, the vibrancy that I’m now claiming back into my life.

I am a part of you and a piece of you lives on within me. How could I not love every ounce of me there is?…the me that just started trying to get pregnant!

 

 

 

 

AUGUST 14, 2017 SIXTEEN months

I had to count on my fingers from April through August to figure out exactly how many months old Everett is. At times sixteen months feels like nothing, and I’m surprised he’s only been with us for five changing seasons. I feel as if he’s existed my entire life and that Chris and I have always been married, living in our adored house together. Who was I before my family? It’s hard to imagine my world before.

For every monthly check-in entry, I know I always write to you, “Everett is so fun!” but he really is. Chris and I are constantly laughing at him–his sounds, his faces, his mannerisms. It’s incredible how much joy a child can bring to a family.

But his attitude is definitely starting to show, and little tantrums here and there are becoming more common. Today he flipped out when I laid him down for a diaper change, sniping the poop filled diaper and throwing it across the floor. We were both in trouble.

He loves to wear shoes now, a little dorky pair of water-like velcro slip-ons I bought him at Target last month. He prances around in them like an awkward little creature, looking more and more like a big boy every time they’re on his feet.

We walk out to the car together when we’re going somewhere, a process that takes a very long time, but he is so proud to open the door and walk down the front porch steps with me and those beloved shoes. Our hands are always anchored together, and we move at a pace made for snails, but I prefer it over bustling out on a mission like you used to do. You’d say, “Come on kids, lets go,” in that I mean business way of yours, rounding up your troop for the grocery store or wherever it was we were all going.

I like giving him the chance to do things on his own, especially since it makes him feel so special. Maybe someday with more kids I’ll lose that patience, but for now, I’m enjoying it.

Everett’s favorite book is The Hungry Caterpillar, the Eric Carle book I can still remember learning about in kindergarten. When we read it together, I ask him where the caterpillar is and he points to it. I love watching him understand things. He still doesn’t have much interest in talking, besides the normal babbles and sounds, but it’s nice to be able to communicate with him in our own way. It’s as if all the mornings, days and nights we’ve spent together have created a bond that doesn’t require a mutual language.

I like to think about when you and I got to spend our days like my baby and I do now. Somewhere I know I can remember it all, on a level I can’t consciously understand.

But I got the most time with you, something that sometimes makes me feel like your death should’ve been “easiest” on me. I don’t often think about this, but my recent conversation with Tatum made it a front and center thought, too obvious to ignore.

Last Monday night I decided to go to yoga. I couldn’t wait to leave the house and get into the studio. When I parked, I got the front row spot I was hoping for, making me feel like yes, I made the right choice deciding to practice tonight…I’m supposed to be here. 

But the entry door was locked and class had already started. I got the schedule mixed up, passing my chance to practice for the entire week. I was bummed.

I walked back to my car and tried my best to trust that the night would fall into place unplanned, and what do you know, it did.

Before leaving the parking lot, I glanced at my phone and there was a message from Tatum.

TATUM: i’m going through a weird phase where the fact that I won’t have mom is becoming more apparent to me and I just feel sad and idk why it’s happening now.

ME: want me to come over? i can be there in thirty minutes.

TATUM: can you just come to lay with me?

And I quickly knew class was missed because I had somewhere else to be.

I drove to Dad and Terri’s, passing the old house on my way. When I opened Tatum’s bedroom door, she was cuddled in her covers and I joined her without hesitation or pause. I could see her eyes were glossed over and red. She had been crying, hard.

Even with sad eyes, she is so beautiful and I’m not just telling you that because she’s your daughter and my sister. Her eyes and nose and skin and hair are a stunning combination, with a built body to match her beauty. Allison and I always tease that we’re pretty but Tatum is the exception–she got all the good genes there were to get.

At first she said she didn’t know what to say, but eventually the real grit of her emotions came to the surface: she explained it makes her upset how she can’t remember you–that she cries about you but doesn’t really know who’s she crying about. She knows, though, that you were her mother and she wants you.

This is an entire different way that you are grieved, one that is foreign to me. And she used that word, grief, saying it started when she was ten years old. Before then she was “too little to notice you were gone.”

While she spoke, she was laying close to me. Her hands were tucked under her face in an accidental prayer position and our heads faced each other on matching pillows. She was so mature, so matter of fact, and it became obvious to me that she’d started questioning your absence in ways she never did before.

I felt selfish, across from her with the ability to remember you. I can remember your laugh and the songs you’d sing and the annoying way you stuffed tissues up your nose when you had a head cold.

The beautiful blooming young woman who is still my baby sister, has none of that. I’d give anything to imprint some of my moments with you onto her.

But I can’t.

I can talk about you and tell stories and I can comfort her in the times she’s feeling overwhelmingly sad–the times that have for once, finally passed in my life. I’m not saying I won’t ever unravel and cry in outbursts because you’re not here, but the heavy feeling in my foundation that something is missing, has disappeared and I know it’s because of Everett and the family I’ve created with Chris.

Seeing her upset made me think about how terrible things used to be after you got sick. It made me travel back to sixteen years old, the age when my life shattered but kept continually propelling forward. I was left stuck in a world that felt standstill and forever ruined.

And while I can’t go back and tell my younger self, It’s okay, life will feel full and happy again, I can do so for Tatum. 

My siblings will always be your greatest gift to me. This past weekend, Allison was home from Ohio and she and Tatum watched Everett for a few hours while Chris and I went out to Ikea. Leaving my baby with his two aunts, knowing he’s in fun and safe hands, is one of the best feelings. He will grow up knowing their love, all intermixed and tangled up in yours.

And speaking of brothers and sisters, I am awaiting test results that will tell whether or not I am clear of infection, aka whether or not I can get pregnant. I had reoccurring staph on my lips, a possible reason why they’ve been peeling. I know, it sounds super gross.

My dermatologist was treating me wrong, and so were the several primary care doctors I saw. After seeing an Infectious Disease specialist (how scary does that sound) and a sixth round of antibiotics later, I feel like I’m finally healing. But until I absolutely know that this is something that cannot interfere with pregnancy, we can’t try for another baby.

It’s been frustrating to feel ready to try but not able. When I wrote to you back in the beginning of this year, I told you I pictured our trip up to Maine still being just Everett, Chris and I. And I’m still okay with that. If I just take a step back away from this it has to be now mentality and trust it will all work out, I know our baby, whoever he or she will be, knows the perfect timing for our family.

***

This morning started out slow and I felt low on energy. Not just tired, but I didn’t feel like being positive or grateful, the two things that help literally lift me up. I proofread the above portion of this entry, going in circles and not getting much accomplished. The writing had been done for days but I couldn’t seem to put a final cap on it. So I closed my computer, got Everett up from the nap he never took, and headed for the grocery store.

While driving, I knew I was being a crab and knew I was capable of getting myself out of the funk. A simple shift in thinking would’ve worked: I’m glad I have money to buy as many groceries as I want…Everett is in the back seat, happy as can be…my hair looks good today…my grocery list is neat and organized. I was just too stubborn to make even that bit of effort.

Spreading good through my veins is really that simple, but this morning it was like I wanted to take a rain check on happiness. No thanks Universe, I don’t feel like acknowledging any good right now. I like feeling shitty right now, just let me be.

It’s incredible to be aware when I’m gloomy, knowing I can crawl myself out, one thought at a time. All the years of my life before this understanding, I’d think my life was falling apart during these “moods” and that my misery was forever and permanent.

And then I got a text from Mrs. Hapach, and as soon as I saw her name on my phone, I knew what today was. She messages me faithfully, two days a year: your birthday and on the 14th, the day you died.

Feeling like I connected the dots, I had linked together the day and my sad energy. I mentally changed my plans and went to Chipotle before grocery shopping. Screw it, I thought. I wanted to rebel, going out of my intended errand’s order. How thrilling.

We walked in, our hands linked together, finding our place in line. I soon realized the man in front of me was your old hair stylist, someone your friend Norma had recommended to you years and years ago. He was top notch, costing a fortune for a cut and style, but that’s probably exactly why you went.

For your first appointment, you took me along with you and we both got our hair colored. I couldn’t have been older than twelve. It was raining when we left the salon and we ran to the car, trying to keep our new manes dry. You sat down in the driver’s seat and with the car still in park, checked out your hair in the mirror, oooing on and on about it.

It’s one of those simple memories that I’ll always remember. There’s nothing special about it, but we were us: the little me, learning to be like her beautiful mom. It’s a normalcy Tatum will never experience… it’s exactly what made her so upset the other night. 

I asked him, “Are you the owner of MCN salon?”

“Yes, have you ever been?” he turned around quickly to meet my gaze, happy to have a conversation in the long burrito line.

“My bridesmaids and I got our hair done there for my wedding.” He looked pleased. And I added, “My mother used to go to you years back at your old location.”

It was like I was desperate to bring you into my words and into the real world, even if just for a moment. Out of all the days in a year, today was when I needed affirmation that you once really existed. I wanted to say, You did my mom’s hair! Do you remember her? Her name was Jenifer Norris and she was so pretty and one time we got caught in the rain leaving your salon together. It was like a child’s run-on sentence, a spew of letters that carried too much excitement to make complete sense.

We kept a casual conversation up and once we got to the register, he paid for me and Everett’s lunch. I was so surprised, saying thank you several times and telling him he made my day. He friendly patted me on the back, saying it made his too.

That whole incident turned everything around. I immediately thought, that was mom, like it was an obvious acknowledgment or message to me from you saying, I’m still here. 

I don’t pretend to feel you to make myself feel better. When things like this happen, it sparks something, almost like an ah ha moment, proving to me over and over that this energy stuff is real. That on the day you left this world nine years ago, you’re no further from me now than you were before.

Thank you for the signs, thank you for the reminders. Thank you for the small coincidences that brighten my days, reminding me that there is a rhythm and synchronicity tied into all things, whether they’re of earth or of spirit.

JULY 26, 2017

Everett is my best friend. I don’t know if that’s cute or pathetic, but it’s the simple truth. He drives me frustrated out of my mind sometimes, but mostly our days are mixed together in this perfect little orbit, where we literally dance and sing and play and have lunch dates every single afternoon. Today we ate grilled cheese and my “special spiced” baked fries, double dipped in ketchup.

He can’t talk to me yet, but he’s starting to understand me more and more. When I say, “Do you want to go na nas?” he runs for the steps and heads up to his room for sleep. Or he’ll walk to the couch when he hears, “Want to watch Little Bear?” It’s his favorite show and he gets to watch a bit of it every morning while we sit together and eat muffins for breakfast. It’s evolved to be one of my favorite times of the day.

I used to hate mornings because I would wake up and start cleaning, maybe even finishing up a few dishes from the night before. I have changed the way I clean now, and this will sound like an exaggeration, but not doing chores when I first wake up has kind of changed my life.

I have finally found a healthy routine that threads the care and needs of me, Everett, Chris and even the dog and bunny, all together in a working unison.

I used to have one big cleaning day every Monday morning because this is what you always did. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember, even though I always hated it, believing one cleaning day best because “it’s what mom did.”

But I have found what it means to tidy. Ah, just that little four letter word makes me feel light: cleaning sounds like a daunting task…tidying sounds simple and fun.

Instead of taking one day, I have broken down cleaning into segments, choosing certain days for laundry, a certain day for scrubbing the bathroom, a day for grocery shopping and food prep, etc.

Chris will take Everett upstairs for his bath after we all eat dinner together, and I start my little tidy routine. I clean the dishes, pack up left overs and wipe the counters. I’ll sweep downstairs and put everything back in it’s place. I light a candle on the kitchen counter which makes me feel like, okay this space is done and ready to relax in. 

I tidy the upstairs and rinse the tub, taking a total of twenty five minutes for the entire house. It makes both my night and next morning completely better, allowing me to wake up and feel settled instead of, okay let’s go. The bigger things, like laundry, I do throughout the day so by the time Everett’s in bed, it’s all done.

When his diffuser is put on (another thing, like the candle, that makes me feel like I’m checking off an imaginary list) and he’s in his crib with his bottle (don’t you dare judge me on that), Chris and I can get our snacks and watch TV together. It’s always been our favorite thing to do–so absolutely normal and boring but it’s ours. We like Shark Tank and Dateline and shows on Amazon or HBO. Just like morning muffins with Everett, this is my time with Chris and it’s been essential in our marriage.

I finally feel like I’m not cleaning in circles, something you did constantly. Breaking things down into days has helped immensely, but the idea of getting rid of stuff  has been incredibly effective in reducing the amount of time I spend picking up.

I’ve cleared out a lot of junk over the past few weeks, taking time here and there to organize a closet or drawer and throw away seventy five perfect of what’s in it. That’s key–throwing away. I’ve been organizing junk all this time, and then two weeks later, the drawer is messy again because I never got rid of anything. I know this has to sound familiar for other mothers or just people in general.

But by having less crap–less toys, less clothes, less towels, less lotions, less everything–the less I feel disorganized and anxious. I don’t ever want to feel like my home and kids are drowning me; the epitome of a housewife’s nightmare.

I’ve read a few blogs on minimalism and then one specifically about minimalism and motherhood: The Purposeful Housewife. And when I first came across it, I thought, eh what difference does it make…I don’t care if I my house comes undone at times. But it was like an itch in the back of my mind that kept coming up, and then in one of my Law of Attraction books, the author had an entire section on getting rid of clutter and how the process can directly clear your energy. It made sense. And once I started clearing under the bathroom sink, I wanted to keep going. It felt cleansing to throw away what we didn’t use on a regular basis.

I want everything in my home to have a purpose or make me feel good when I see it, like my candles at night. Starting this cleansing process has not only made me feel more energetically clear, but it’s given me loads of free time for Everett and Chris and myself because I’m not wasting minutes picking up meaningless crap. And better yet, I don’t have to try and ignore a mess and pretend like it doesn’t bother me.

I don’t want to portray that I’m spick and span and effortlessly cleaning every day like a pixie fairy–there’s still a long way to go. My next project is our basement, the abyss of forgotten “things,” and that is going to be difficult to tackle because Chris thinks everything will eventually have a purpose.

I’m glad I’m starting to learn about this “minimalism and motherhood” duo before more children come along and before we build our home in the years to come. When we move, we will take what we need and what we use and have one dedicated storage space for the “just in case” stuff. Our kids won’t have mountains of toys that they don’t play with. That’s an important one.

I think the less they have, the more they’ll play. Like pretend. Allison and I always said that…let’s pretend we’re lost and have to find our way home or whatever fun things we could dream up together. And when birthdays and Christmas come around, I want my kids to be thankful and appreciative for their gifts, rather than simply receiving something else to add to a stack of stuff in a play room. Maybe I’ll come to bite these words later on, but maybe not.

I’ve held onto a lot of shit, all in the fear of losing you. All this time, without even consciously realizing it, I’ve been scared to clean different than you for goodness sakes. It sounds so absolutely silly and childish now, but Mom–I would’ve done anything in the world if it meant I could feel just one more inch closer to you. And cleaning on Mondays allowed me to believe that was somehow possible.

So has ignoring any possible relationship with Terri. For so long I’ve held onto that tinge of resentment towards her because I felt like I was still able to choose you and not her.

In one argument Dad and I had, I remember him telling me that when you were sick, you said you didn’t want him to re-marry. Apparently your words were: Hayley will make sure of itI almost threw up when Dad repeated that. And I’ve never been able to forget it.

Looking back, Dad may have just said that to make a point. I don’t know. But I can still feel that younger version of myself who felt special when her Mother needed her, even if it was in some sick, twisted and possibly even false request from your grave. 

Since Dad and Terri have moved into their new house, it’s been so nice to go over there. I feel like I’m at one of the beach houses we all used to go down to in North Carolina. It’s beautiful and spacious and clean and there’s a pool–Everett’s favorite.

No longer do I feel like I’m torn between your space and hers. No longer do I feel like if I’m kind to her, I’m going against you.

Nothing that I do or don’t do here on this physical planet is going to put more space between you and I because there is no separation to begin with.

As I’ve recently really been trying to follow me and become more emotionally aware, it’s coming to my attention that for nine years, I’ve held back on discovering parts of myself because I was scared to lose you.

These old habits, like being mean to Terri or trying to mother just like you, have kept me in a state of resisting who I really am and my natural well-being. I can literally feel it. I don’t know how else to explain it.

My story, for so long, was that you died tragically at an untimely time in my life, and I carried on whatever memory of you I could. Keeping a shitty attitude with Terri allowed me to remain in a feeling place of honoring you, in whatever grief-stricken way I could. Trying to mother just like you allowed me to stay in a feeling place of both remembering and being like you.

felt like you when I got frustrated cleaning the kitchen in the morning and getting my day off to a terrible start, already feeling overwhelmed by the mundane tasks ahead. I saw way too many times, you absolutely stressed because there was always so much to do.

Do you remember that time when you were driving me to my SAT tutor and you pulled the car over, screaming and crying aloud, “I can’t feel like this! I’m not supposed to feel like this! The doctor says this stress is the worst thing for me to have right now!” And you cringed as you said it, your hands gripped on the steering wheel with your chest leaning forward and over it, like you were trying to squeeze the frustration out of your little body.

I didn’t know what to say. I just felt bad. And I still feel bad because I wish there was something we all could have done to just calm you down a bit when it came to your job as a mother.

What I can do now though, is refuse to ever let myself get to that point. I strive for a much simpler life than you ever wanted: Not as big of a house. Not as many clothes. Not as many cars. Not as many kids’ sports. Not as many marked calendar days. Not as many hair appointments. Not as many any of it, besides the amount of love our family had.

And again, this is something that’s been scary to fall away from because it’s being different than my oh so perfect mother. Maybe every woman at some point in their life feels afraid to alter from their mom, I don’t know. Or maybe I just feel like this because you’re not here.

But I don’t have to try and be like you to keep you close, and there is no choosing between anything or anyone. That feels so absolutely freeing to finally understand.

For the first time in my life, I want to be different than you were, finally not afraid of admitting such a thing because no more fear remains; I know I cannot lose you, not ever or in any way.

 

 

 

JULY 6, 2017 FIFTEEN months old

One important thing I’ve learned in my life so far is that happiness should never depend on a certain condition. I should never put my well-being on hold until a better time comes, never waiting until “this” happens or “that” ends. If I constantly worry about how to get from square a to square b, I’ll miss out on my current chance for happiness.

Writing that immediately makes me think of a quote I once saved in college:

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Mark Twain

I’ve read books before that have talked about happiness as a now kind of thing, but I never really understood that truth until recently trying to practice it.

I have mistakenly been saying, when my lips heal and I can kiss Chris, I’ll be happy again. Or when my lips heal I won’t feel miserable anymore because I won’t have any problem. When I heal, I’ll be ready for another baby. And by basically putting my life on hold, I’ve been ignoring all the good in my life–like I’ve been half awake living, just going day to day waiting for better to arrive at my doorstep.

When I feel overwhelmed or I don’t have the answers or I want to skip out and onto the next phase of my life, if I simply think of what I currently have, I’m immediately fulfilled. I’ll visually go through my day and say a small prayer of thanks for all the little things that made me feel particularly alive, like on Sunday, when I was in one room laughing with my three siblings dancing to Men in Hat’s Safety Dance.

And I’ve been getting better and better at doing this grateful thoughts stuff, slowly making healthy everyday habits because it feels so good to do so. Sometimes I write an appreciation list in my journal, or think it up mentally while driving in the car.

I know that if I concentrate on the things I already have, more can come into my life. But if I focus on lack and wanting to change because I don’t like where I currently am, I’ll never have enough and I’ll never get to where I truly want to go.

This now seems like a basic principle of my life; it’s taken me the past almost nine years to understand what now feels like such a simple Universal law.

At this morning’s 6AM yoga class, a student was talking about the thirty seventh birthday he just had, and I immediately thought, my mom was thirty-eight. This man doesn’t look old because being in your thirties isn’t old, and just like that–for the first time–I couldn’t believe how absolutely young you were when you died.

I’ve always known you got sick too soon, but my perspective is changing more and more as the people I’m surrounded with are virtually becoming your time frozen age.

If I was to die at the age of thirty-nine in thirteen years, I would make sure to do one thing: have lots of children.

Honestly, I don’t feel there’s anything else more important for me to do: not travel, not go back to school and land a high ranking career, not even writing this book. If I have my children and get the opportunity to raise them in a loving environment, one that they’ll always remember as your kids do, I will be satisfied. If I can teach them to be authentically themselves in a world that is always trying to change them, I will have done my job. And if I maintain a healthy and loving relationship with their father while doing both of those things, in my eyes, I will have led the most lush and thriving and authentic version of my life.

I know the opinion will waver from person to person, but that doesn’t matter to me. I respect my friends who are career driven, or who want to see the world during their twenties. For so long I’ve wanted to throw marriage and children at them like, “What are you waiting for! This is the best ever!” but that’s just not the case for everyone. Instead, let me feel thankful that I’ve followed my path and ended up where I’ve wanted and all the while, give my friends the love and space to do the same.

And since I’m sure on having a big family, and since I’m sure that happiness should never be put aside for things to work themselves out, I am ready for another baby.

Did ya hear me, Mom? I’m finally ready, after all the doubting and questioning and weighing of pros and cons.

The change kind of happened overnight, but the decision feels honest and true and of my gut.

I’ve been solely focusing on what negative things will happen when I get pregnant, like not being able to drink a beer, or feeling tired, or getting a big belly, etc. I’ve been focusing on how hard the change will be and how utterly scary it feels and what my memory of taking care of a newborn remembers.

A few weeks ago at the house, Chris and I had a low key party with twenty or so of our friends. Everett was up for the first hour, loving all the attention and everyone equally loved playing with him. It was nice to hear people say, you’re such a good Mom or you guys have such a nice house, because lately, I’ve been caught up in the wrong side of things.

Being online and seeing these bloggers with beautiful clean homes and expensive hip outfits makes me feel less of a mom because there are people out there with “more” than me. Or in the real world, I am a handful younger than every mom I know, and they’re in different stages of their journey, with more things figured out than me. And again, that makes me feel less.

The worst part? Because I can’t give Everett you, all this time I’ve felt like a step down from other mothers who can provide a grandma for their child. Isn’t that silly thinking?

All of these things have literally made me question if I’m equipped enough to handle another baby.

When our house was packed with friends of our age, it suddenly dawned on me that I did everything I could to get out of that young stage of my life where I still had the freedom and ability to drink until I couldn’t feel my face. It dawned on me that I have something a lot of my girlfriends are wanting and waiting for: a family.

Understanding that makes me feel ahead of the game and exactly where I’m supposed to be. My now is more than enough. And I promise myself that from this moment on, I’ll never feel belittled from other mothers and what they have because there’s a reason the saying the grass is always greener on the other side is a line everyone knows.

Focusing on what I don’t have or the things I can’t buy or what will change when we have another baby, has been shifting my energy to places it cannot possibly be powerful because I’m worrying about problems that don’t exist yet. When I worry, I’m placing myself in a moment that hasn’t happened and probably never really will.

What about thinking of how far I’ve come in the last few years and what I’ve created with Chris? What about thinking of all the clothes I already have in my closet? What about thinking of bringing another life into this world and Everett being a big brother? What about thinking about the health and wealth my family has?

No more lack. No more what ifs. No more wishing I was somewhere else. Because where I am is beautiful and abundant. No more when I heal because I am healing in my own time and I trust that my body knows what to do more than my analyzing mind that keeps trying to find an answer.

I read this at the end of Sunday’s yoga class:

If all you did was just look for things to appreciate, you would live a joyous, spectacular life. If there was nothing else that you came to understand other than just looking for things to appreciate, it’s the only tool you would ever need to predominantly hook up with who you really are. Appreciation is the magic formula you’ve been seeking.

Life feels blooming when I think of what I have first and then dream of what I want. Grasping that concept in the everyday is truly changing my life and making me more happy. And if you were still living, I know without a doubt that I would’ve never dug for these answers to questions I would’ve never had to think of.

One more thing. Everett does have you, and I can give you to him, every time he sees pictures, watches videos, or when I explain where it is that you are. I can give Everett you when I teach him your constant presence and how there is no this place or that place, no death do us part. I’ll teach him how everything is connected, and that you and I and he are all together interlaced in a way that’s so beautifully detailed, there aren’t words to quite make sense of it.

There are times I believe Everett will know you in a more special and profound way than if you were still here to babysit or be in physical person when he blows out his birthday candles each year. And it will always be my responsibility to teach him just that.

I promise you,  I will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE 16, 2017

I’ve been wanting to talk to you but never completed the past three or so entires I started to write. And the longer I went without finishing one, the easier it got to forget about how important these conversations with you are and how much better they make me feel.

I feel like recently I’ve been writing as if for an audience, not just to you, because I imagine people will read these words some day. But I have to understand that that time is not yet–for now, the words I write are the intimate dialogues inside my head, the musings of a Mother to her Mother. So I needn’t worry what other people will think.

A few mornings ago I opened the fridge to get an egg for Everett’s breakfast and just stood there, staring at all the food inside. My eyes scanned from one item to another, taking little screen shots as I tried to fight what felt like a breakdown coming to the surface. I crouched down in a little squat on my toes and hid behind the hinged fridge door, covering my face in my hands and trying desperately to drown how overwhelmed I felt.

My lips have been continuously peeling for the past three months. It is unbelievably painful and uncomfortable, holding me back from kissing my boys, drinking from a cup, wearing lipstick, and eating normally. I haven’t wanted to tell you about it all because it sounds silly, but I’ve met my wits end, several times now, not knowing what to do after countless creams, two rounds of steroids, two rounds of antibiotics and a lot of false hope from doctors and dermatologists.

know I can get better, even if there is no cure. I know I can. Because my health depends on me believing that. If I continue to wallow and stare in the mirror and feel sorry that I am inhibited in doing so many things, I will never heal.

If I am sick it is temporary, for it is natural that I be well.”

My mantra. It’s been on my vision board since March, but I haven’t really bothered to read it more than once every two weeks or so. Or I’ll read it, start to believe I’ll get better, and then when I don’t see results immediately, I think, why aren’t they healing? what am I doing wrong? why can’t I figure this out? And by those questions, I’m putting my energy and faith only in the negative, a situation where the positive outcome cannot possibly come through to me.

I know I cannot die from this. I know I am still in good health. And yet, it consumes me, placing doubt and fear and frustration behind virtually every thought.

Having this “condition” has left me with one question: how did you handle a stage four breast cancer diagnosis? 

Honestly. How did you handle the fear? How did you trample through the unknown of doctors and opinions and needles and chemo? How did you go on each day, knowing you may not live much longer? How did you wonder what would happen to your four babies if your sickness took over and took you away? Because I feel like I’m losing it and I’m far from having cancer.

What was it like when you lost your long blonde hair? What was it like not being able to fix it anymore, or brush it, or put it up in a ponytail? What was it like when you looked in the mirror and could see your sickness and what it was doing to your body?

I don’t know how you did it. I would guess you didn’t even know how you did it, just that you did.

I wish I could ask you all of these things.

And I often wonder now if you and I would’ve been best friends…if you’d come over to my house and we’d go shopping or out to lunch and hang out like we used to in my teenager years, except this time I wouldn’t be a miserable bundle of misunderstood hormones, causing fights and arguments with you.

It’s painful to think of not only losing a Mother, but a best friend. Probably the best friend of my life.

I’m lucky to have Allison. I cried yesterday at the fact that she lives in Ohio, and probably will remain there for a long, long time. She’s the person I call for no reason, and I’m the person she calls when something is wrong. Having a sister for a best friend is a privilege, and Tatum is no exception. Although we are twelve years apart, she’s my best friend, too. She’s fun and sure of herself, sharing her happily contagious spirit every time I’m with her.

But it is difficult not having “Mom friends,”–people who can understand the overwhelment of being trapped in a small house with a whiny toddler and no one to talk to. I was robbed of the best person to relate with, the best person for advice and comfort and HELP. I can’t stand not having someone to call on a moment’s notice.

There are people who want to be that person for me, or who consistently offer to watch Everett, but it’s not the same. A Mother is the only one you’d call after having a breakdown before breakfast time, hiding behind the fridge door while wondering what the hell is wrong with you.

I texted Grandma the day of my little melt down, and went over to her house for an afternoon visit. Aunt Sara came, too. When her kids walked in and said, “Grandma!” running up to her with expected requited hugs, I felt sucker punched in the stomach. My heart ached, knowing Everett will never run to you like that.

Sara invited me to a little friend dinner that night, and I decided to go. I was the youngest of the group, but I usually am in social situations. All five of us were Mothers, and it was a relief to hear grumbles about their husbands and children. I felt normal. And I felt thankful when Sara would make a reference to when her and I were little, growing up together nine years apart, and telling the group stories about you and our family, saying, “Oh that was so Jen.”

She’s like a big sister and a best friend, someone who understands every question, scenario and complaint when it comes to marriage and children. I’m lucky to have that, and Sara is family, so she’s never going anywhere.

Everett completely skipped his afternoon nap today. He cried for awhile, off and on, and I had the impulse to look at his mouth. Sure enough, there was another little tooth beginning to pop up on his gum’s surface. When I rubbed it gently, he cried even harder, so I gave him some Tylenol and we laid together. When the medicine started working, I could hear him doing his bird chirps and the day seemed to be saved, just with no second nap.

To kill time, I talked on the phone with Jessie, who was making her seven hour drive down to Kentucky. She’s moving down there and starting a life with her boyfriend, something she has wanted for such a long time but school and work and locations have kept them in a long distance relationship. I’m sure she is so relieved the wait is over and I’m happy she’s headed in the direction she wants. Maybe she’ll be my first best friend to turn Mom friend.

I made dinner, we all ate, Everett took his bath, we played together in his room, and then I left the house and drove out to get Tatum. I really wanted to be with her.

We decided to go for ice cream, but beforehand, stopped at the old house to give a proper goodbye. I don’t know if I told you yet, but Dad and Terri have been moved into the new house for a few weeks now. The old house goes on the market soon.

Tatum and I entered through the garage, which was open and bare and empty. But it’s just a garage, so it didn’t necessarily look wrong, just different. The inside of the house, though–it looked so wrong, as if the whole thing might as well been flipped upside down.

As soon as I opened the back door, I made a right turn and walked straight into the dining room, seeing the naked floral carpet and your custom curtains and the chandelier you and I picked out together. I stood there, stared, and burst into tears, the kind of tears that make your mouth curl into a stiff position and force your whole face to go contorted.

I saw us all sitting in that room as a family, having one of our annual Valentine’s Day dinners. I saw us hunting for Easter eggs, tip toeing carefully because that was the fancy untouched room of the house. I saw the spot where you used to keep everything for special occasions, like painted plates, embroidered table cloths and taper candles, kept safely in a cabinet of furniture that was once great Grandma Jenny’s.

And from there I walked into the entryway, seeing the ten foot tall front door you loved, arched at the top and made of solid stained oak. I pictured all the times us kids stood in front of it, taking pictures on the first day of school and waiting for the bus. Or all the times the doorbell rang and Tanner would bark simultaneously at whosever visiting car was in the driveway. It was the entrance to our home, and never again will I walk through or out of it.

The family room was empty of the couches and entertainment set. All that remained was clean carpet with fresh vacuum marks and the brick fireplace. I remembered all the annual December mornings we had in that familiar space, the wood fire crackling as Johnny Cash sang, we’ve got that Christmasy feeling’ again. Wrapping paper would cover every inch of the now bare floor, and we were all full of love and health and the promise that everything would always remain as it was.

I walked upstairs and went into your laundry room. I stood there with my head gently leaned against the door frame, and imagined you still there, in front of the open dryer, folding clothes into neatly assorted piles.

My room looked like a barren box, with no evidence of the sleepovers I shared in there or all the times I danced in front of my dresser mirror singing to my radio, joyous and free as could be. I opened my hinged closet doors, savoring the sound they made as the left and right sides swung open simultaneously, and remembered picking outfits for school from an abundant selection, quadruple the size of what I currently have now.

I saved your room for last. I stood at the doorway and uncontrollably slowly whined the words, “Tatum I can’t,” but she walked in ahead of me so I followed. I saw the spot where the bed once was, where you and I laid so many nights, watching t.v. and drinking tea together; the bed you’d be sleeping in every morning when I’d come in at 6:30 a.m. and kiss you good bye before school; the bed we were all beside when you took your last breath.

I cried in your bathroom and your closet, seeing you with a white towel wrapped around your head, getting ready in front of the vanity mirror. The linen closet door still faintly smelled like your Mary Kay suntan lotion and I literally stood there and sniffed the white wired shelves, trying desperately to bring you back again in some way. I even slammed the two doors together one last time, remembering the sound they made all those times I walked in on you naked, followed by your screaming.

Tatum went downstairs without saying anything, and I sat in the middle of your empty bedroom, knees bent with my arms wrapped around my shins. I cried continually and when I could, simply said, “I love you Mom.” I felt fine after that, like my peace had been made and my goodbye had been said. That space was yet another reminder of you I’ve had to part with, like your clothes and your car and the fading memory of your face, but relief flooded my veins once I got it over with and walked out of your room.

It felt like the last thing crossed of “the list of letting go.”

I met Tatum in the basement, where I caught her with bright red eyes and water welled up inside them. She was in the au pair room, reminded of the five girls who helped raise her after you were gone. That girl has had to say more goodbyes than any thirteen year old should know, but she’s so strong because of it.

Once she was ready to head upstairs, we locked the house and left, taking a walk down by the creek to see it one last time.

We got a picture together in front of the house, our eyes red and puffy but our hearts content after the chance of one last farewell in remembrance.

Dairy Queen was fun. We ate our ice cream while sitting in the car and it started to rain. We got back to the new house and I snuggled in her bed while she turned on her decorative twinkle lights and lit a candle. She loves her new room. We watched the movie Red Eye until I got so tired I had to drive home.

When her and I were up in the attic of the old house, I found a stack of folded papers I had hidden up there when it became my finished bedroom. Some of them were pages to a romance book I started to write in ninth grade, and the other is a set of poems, which I figured had to be from after you died. They were assignments from school, but I cannot remember writing them.

I can soak up your presence in the wind

As the trees sing in unison with the breeze,

I know you’re watching over me.

I can feel your comforting arms around holding me,

Reassuring problems that only seem to be.

I will overcome the void that has been left

In my heart, memories I know will be kept.

I know it’s cheesy, but when I read through the little bits and pieces such as the one above, I’m reminded at how hard I tried to make sense of your sickness. After you died, I wrote so much. I read so much. I journaled so much. I tried many physical activities. I studied certain subjects. I did “safe” drugs. I moved across the ocean for half a year, and it was all in search of you.

I did everything I possibly could to bring you closer to me, and I’m thankful I had the healthy journey to where I am now. All the books I read, all the journal entires I wrote, all the yoga I’ve done and the runs I once ran, all the places I’ve traveled, all the philosophy assignments, all the fun mind altering experiences, all the people I’ve loved: it has all been a part of you. You’ve been a piece of everything, in a way I cannot possibly explain with a keyboard.

You were the force behind all of my so called “soul searching,” and instead of going off the deep end when things got difficult, I turned to you, my own personal guiding God.

And that’s more than having you as a best friend to call when things get hard. It’s something that makes me more aware of my life, as if you can see what I see and relay to me the beauty I should be noticing and appreciating. You’re my stable reassurance that all is always okay, even if my lips are peeling off my frickin’ face, because you allow for perspective: It’s not cancer. I still have my hair. I still have my health.

I honestly don’t know if I would change it all, Mom. I’ve come to depend on you in the form you’re in now, just as much as I once depended on you when you were physically here. If you were to magically come back to life again, I’d have to go through an entirely new adjustment period, realizing that, yes I could call you, but my all-knowing angel would forever be gone.

I can let go of everything, including the house, but not the permanent protector and guide you’ve become in my life.

 

JUNE 1, 2017 (almost) FOURTEEN months old

Chris and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary last week and my best friend Kati got married. I was lucky enough to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and the night was so fun and an absolute success. It was nostalgic being with my childhood best friends and their families, all dancing to I wanna put on, my my my my my boggie shoes, in-between spilled sips of beer and wine on the hot and crowded dance floor.

I loved seeing parents from my past but still present friendships, and telling them about my husband and baby boy. And when Kati and her husband danced together on the dance floor during the last song of the night, all encircled by family and friends watching them with that new hope in their eyes, I silently wished my best friend all the joy and good change the two of them could ever hope for.

Mr. Summers was so calm, clear and deliberate in his words during the Father of the Bride speech. And it got me thinking about Dad’s speech at my wedding. And our father/daughter dance together, to John Mayer’s Daughters, and how the three minutes of our waltz seemed to sum up all our past problems and discomforts and grudges and erase them.

Somewhere in our sorrow, him and I fell away from each other for a long time, filling our distance with fights and misunderstandings of each other’s lives. I tried so desperately to hold onto you, while he tried just as desperately to let go.

I resented him for moving on so quickly. I was mad if he would’t talk about you. I hated him for not asking about my plans, where I was going, when I’d be home–the things you would’ve been on my case about. And I couldn’t stand that he was so angry all the time.

When he danced with me that night, I was reminded for the first time since we lost you, that I was his little girl and he loved me and always would.

Hayley,

I hope that you and Chirs had a lot of fun in Maine on your honeymoon. I wanted to write you a letter that you could open when you got back with some of my feelings and emotions.

I wanted to tell you again how proud I was when I turned the corner and saw my beautiful and amazing daughter standing on the front sidewalk waiting for me. While I was walking you down through the yard and the song you chose was playing, I had a rush of memories from when you were a little girl flashing in my head. Like I said in my text message, it was a magical experience. Everything I had done as a parent was all for that one moment.

The entire wedding was perfect from start to finish. If it were half the amount of people it would not have been the same. If it was at a venue, it would not have been the same. It was meant to be what it was and where it was. It was your vision manifested.

While I was emotional at times, I was not sad. I know this sounds strange but I felt like there was a dome of happiness and love over us. I know your Mom’s energy was there running through everyone. She wants us to be happy and to love and that is the best way to respect what she gave us all.

When Pinja and Cole were announced into the tent together with the bridal party, that was an emotional moment. I thought about after the the tragedy we all faced and how hard it was, and that now I was able to beam with pride because it all worked out and the au pair I chose for help became your close friend. I was emotional walking Terri to her seat, thinking how profound she has been in my life and how she and Nana are so close or the fact that I may have self-destructed years ago if I didn’t have her love and support. 

When “Dreams” played right after the ceremony was over, I thought of you as a little girl on my lap listening to the Cranberries. Also how when we danced together to John Mayer, you looked up at me and said, “I feel like I’m floating.” 

So many people were happy, laughing and dancing and having a great time. A number of them said it was the most fun they ever had at a wedding. All of the vendors were wonderful, and Veronica asked how she could marry into our family.

It was all worth it.

Have fun creating your life with Chris now. It’s not easy but everything worth anything never is.

I love you,

Dad.

The day Chris and I got back from our honeymoon, I got that letter in a mailed envelope from Dad. It was the first thing I ever saw written with my new married name.

Both the wedding and the letter changed a lot between Dad and I. It unified that we felt the same way; we both loved one another, and our past relationship could finally be put behind. And the wedding validated to him, me and everyone else who was there, that you were still with us all. Like he said, you could feel it. 

Chris and I have been together for six years now, two of them married. That seems like a long time loving only one man. What do the people who make it to their fiftieth anniversary feel like?

Earlier today I read through the journal I kept from the fall of 2011, when he and I were in full swing of our dating.

October 23, 2011

The time that Chris and I have had so far, in this little space of a few months, has been wonderful. I can’t complain about one thing. I used to say he didn’t show enough emotion, but he does–the perfect amount of it. I think he just had to get warmed up to me. And I still haven’t gotten over attracted I am to him. He’s embarrassed he has a hairy chest, but guess what? I always liked a hairy man–it’s manly.

He’s made a few jokes/slight hints about being married and when I really imagine it, I can see him being the kind of man I want as a husband. Especially when I think of his Dad and mine and the kind of men they are.

Him and I went on a date last night to Burgatory and in the morning, cuddled after I slept through my alarm to take a yoga class. Then we met in the afternoon to see Tatum at cheerleading, and we sat with Dad, Terri, Grandma and Papap. On the drive home, I cried right before the Squirel Hill tunnel, singing to the song Sweet Disposition. I was so incredibly happy and the turning trees overtook me with beauty and promising change. I wondered how everything in my life could be so wonderful, because it really and truly is.

Coincidentally, the song I was singing in my car was Sweet Disposition, the song Dad walked me through the yard, or “down the aisle,” to. I’ve always gotten good goosebumps when I hear it.

I read journal entries like the one above and am able to be taken back to when we were “kids.”  I know you probably think, you still are kids, but we aren’t.

We are adults, with a house, a dog and a baby and a thriving life.

I’ve come to just expect this thriving life because every woman in our family, including you, has stayed at home with children and been married to a good, kind and successful man. That wonderful family dynamic is all I’ve known (which is a priviledge in itself), so the fact that I have it, doesn’t seem so unusual or special until I take the time to appreciate it all.

Like staying at home. I know I’ve told you many times already, but I love being with Everett all day. I honor it. And what a privilege to get to do so because of a husband who works so hard. A husband who has learned to keep his work and his family life separate, and loves us all with the softest parts of his big manly heart.

I am so lucky. I am so thankful. I am where I am supposed to be.

Life has been good and the days seem to be blending together. I have to check my calendar when writing the date because I can’t keep track. And recently, I haven’t been thinking about you much, like I’m so concentrated in Everett, I don’t even have time to miss you. He is into everything. I must say “no” two hundred times a day, and I know anyone whose ever had children knows exactly what I mean.

Little Everett is loving his fourteenth month of life. He’s happy and free and funny and oh so loved.

I always go into his room at night, right before he falls asleep. He lays on his belly while I rub his back and talk to him, thanking him for being a good boy that day and telling him how much I love him. While he lays there and listens, he looks up at me from the side of his face like I’m the best person ever–like I’m his entire world. And when I look back at him, I get sucked into an oblivion of loving my child and feel proud that he’s mine.

When he laughs, it’s so full and pure, like the most untainted form of joy, for he still only knows love, not a thing of hate or pain or loss. His laughing is my best medicine; those deep little buddha belly chuckles are contagious.

Chris taught him how to “pound it”, a little fist pump in the air. When you ask Everett to do it, his eyes light up and when he successfully contacts your fist, you would think he conquered learning how to fly. He’s so proud to make us proud.

I keep bringing it up to you a lot, and I’m sorry if I seem to be overthinking it, but I cannot stop thinking about a second pregnancy and when. 

I constantly question: when’s the best time? Should we spread kids out or get them “done” with? How old do I want to be when I get pregnant again? How old do I want to be when we have our last child? What kind of age gap do I want between Everett and the next baby? How far apart are Allison and I? How did Mom know she was ready for a second?

I bring up a second baby often in conversations, subconsciously hoping to find my answer through someone else’s experience or opinion, as if they have the ability to persuade me into pregnancy. But I know ultimately it’s no one’s decision besides mine.

I was a $200 deposit away from buying a puppy this past weekend. For an entire month, I’ve been convincing myself that another dog would be the answer to my boredom. I think I wanted to prove that I could take on more work and responsibility, just not in the form of a baby. That is obviously very stupid thinking.

So instead of a puppy purchase, we ordered a king mattress. Chris slyly worked his ways, successfully convincing me another animal was a bad idea for many reasons, and that a new bed was the more logical option. I know he’s right, but I hate when he is.

Cheers to that man for always keeping me upright and sane. Happy two years to us.

 

MAY 18, 2017

This morning, Everett woke up before Chris’ alarm for work, and when it came time for his first nap around 8:30, he wasn’t having any part of it. He didn’t cry when I laid him down, but for almost entire hour, made what sounded like bird calls and bounced up and down on the mattress with his stubby little legs propelling him upward, over and over. I could see him on the monitor.

He managed to get the lid off his bottle of water, soaking his sheets (luckily this time it wasn’t milk or juice). I tried covering the spot with a towel, but that obviously didn’t work, so I put the sheets in the dryer, and set out for a quick walk with him in his beloved backpack strapped to me. Just fifteen minutes outside was enough to make him tired.

So now he’s napping, after I doused lavender all over his dry sheets in the hapless hope of inducing him into some calm slumber. I think it may have worked.

I haven’t wanted to do anything lately. No yoga this week, and I canceled plans with a neighbor yesterday. I hate when I get like this, but if I allow myself to do just feel it out, it doesn’t last too long. It’s just my hormones.

Last week, I watched five movies over a four day period. One of them I watched three times. It was so good, I ordered the book it was based off of on Amazon, and just started reading it this morning.

Staying home is such a privilege. All the time is ours, and I’m so grateful to share that with my first born. I can plan my day around any way I’d like (well in-between Everett’s naps) and if I don’t want to do anything but watch movies, my chores and plans can wait or be cancelled.

I’m a lucky woman to live that kind of life, and I’m trying to be even more aware of that fact, more often.

I wrote a list in my journal a few days ago, for the little things I was thankful for so far in the day:

bacon and baked eggs

E trying a waffle with butter and syrup

grocery shopping

planting basil 

my new garden

feeding Bunny

catching up on e-mails and fb

strawberries

my new hoop earrings 

texting Sara

Clifford laying with me

watching E sip grapefruit juice 

his new toy from Nacny and Alan

Chris calling me while at work

Chris watering the garden before he left

hearing an acoustic version of “Dreams” by the Cranberries while driving 

watching E play with Bunny

a mini nap on my back in bed

I tried to really feel thankful as I wrote, and it put me in an awesome mood doing so. I felt elevated in some way and full of everything I needed.

Little good things kept happening all evening, like Nana stopping by surprise and a package I had been waiting for being delivered. And I know it was all because I took a few minutes to appreciate what I have…coincidences kept spiraling onward effortlessly.

I just get lost sometimes and caught up and forget that I need to take a moment, take a second, take a breath–and feel grateful down to my toes that my life is what it is. That I have the home, husband, child and even dog of my dreams.

Oh my life is changing everyday
In every possible way

And oh my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems

I want more, impossible to ignore
Impossible to ignore
And they’ll come true
Impossible not to do

Those are the lyrics to my favorite song on earth, Dreams. It reminds me of my childhood and Dad, playing the song on his guitar and singing with all the emotion he could possibly muster, while Allison and I sat on his lap in our pajamas, unaware of our messy weekend morning hair.

But my life is changing everyday, and most definitely in every possible way. And even though I have all the dreams I’ve ever wanted, I still want more…someday. I want our property, I want the house we vision. I want a huge garden and I want chickens and fresh eggs in the morning. I want another dog to be running around with Clifford. I want the natural smell of woods and grass and clean air to be what surrounds my family’s home and life. My children will play in the earth, digging worms and run about the paths of forest surrounding us. I’ll have a whole corner of the house’s landscape planted with your lilies, and explain to the kids how special they were to Mommy’s Mom.

That is my dream, along with writing this book to you. And all those things are indeed impossible to ignore, like a little rhythm in my head, constantly daydreaming the little details into life, like what kind of tile I’ll have in my powder room or what our chickens’ names will be or what my book cover will look like.

It feels healthy to have dreams and desires so big, and to understand that there is no reason none of that can be ours if we just believe in it. I know someone reading will think, well how much money would all that cost and gee that sounds nice, chickens and lilies? But as I’m learning to appreciate what I have now, the things that can feel so unobtainable at times–like being published or owning property–are slowly becoming more of a reality and less of a dream.

The day I journaled, after I put Everett to bed, I took the dog for a walk on a whim, just the two of us. And I ended up running into my neighbor Hilary, strolling around with her three year old and five week old little boy I had yet to meet. We walked together for so long that Chris later told me he came out looking for me, saw me, and ran away home before I caught a glimpse of him.

But when I saw her beautiful baby, I felt scared, like if I were to have a newborn right now, I wouldn’t know how to take care of it. Which is crazy because I got this far with Everett, but all of a sudden I was frantic. Why?

And coincidentally, my period is late and it never is. The app on my phone keeps reminding me that it’s due.

I joked with Chris this morning that I might be pregnant (of which I’m not) and of course, he lit up with a grin the size of China.

I am in such a good place in my life, Mom. I think that’s why the thought of any kind of change makes me uneasy. But what is life without change?

I’m excited for this summer and a walking baby, ready to explore the outdoors together. I’m so beyond in love with that little boy, and selfishly enjoying my time alone with him; there are no distractions or worries to qualm my Mothering.

He’s loving all the “real” food, like quesadillas and even pizza. He has the cutest waddle walk, and is strong and determined to get where he wants. He still likes throwing his toys (especially his books) out his sometimes slightly opened bedroom window, and loves playing a tug-of-war game with the dog over their now shared stuffed animals.

Everett is always waking up from his afternoon nap when Chris gets home from work, and Chris calls for him downstairs saying, “Snuggies! Snuggernaut!” and Everett grins, squinting his little eyes like he just can’t handle the excitement.

Chris plays with him every day, as soon as he walks in the door. He drops his book bag on the kitchen table, takes his shoes off in the middle of the room, and throws Everett and spins him and kisses him until they’re both out of breath from laughing. I constantly yell at Chris because his bag is on the table, his car keys aren’t hung up, etc–but the other day when I looked at the two of them playing, with the dog trying desperately to be included in their twosome forte, I thought, screw it. Be thankful for a man like this because not every Father comes home, unloads his work load, and plays with his kid. 

I don’t even think Dad played after work, or at least I don’t remember it. He had his time on the weekends with us kids, though, and like I said, every time I hear The Cranberries, I’m reminded at how fun he once could be, before the glitter in his life left.

Everett and I have been going to lunch here and there, and it’s nice to be able to feed him something off a menu, not having to remember his food and bottles. I don’t even carry a diaper bag anymore, just my purse with a diaper in it. It’s grand.

Chris is in a really good place at his “new” job, too. He has friends there now, and comes home with stories to share and a smile on his face, like he’s a little boy telling his Mother what he did in school that day. It’s so cute and I love it.

I feel like this is the best stage we’ve ever been in since Everett was born. Everything feels known, relaxed and easy. Chris and I have every night together, from 6/6:30 (Everett’s bedtime) until we go to bed. We watch movies and eat snacks and get to be us.

I am so thankful for where we are as a family, but even more thankful for what I know is yet to come. For more babies (whenever that might be), my own lily patch, this summer with Everett and whatever else we decide to dream up together, big or small.

And just as I’m closing this entry, I could’ve sworn I heard my song on a commercial, playing quietly on the unattended T.V. downstairs. I ran down the steps to listen and guess what? It was Dreams.

 

 

 

 

MAY 4, 2017 THIRTEEN months old

Everett is walking now! He hasn’t completely committed to two feet, but he’s been successfully taking steps and strides across the room. I’d say in a month, he’ll be running around the yard, chasing after Clifford.

Everyone keeps saying, “Good luck once he’s walking!” but I’m glad he’s so close. I honestly cannot carry him everywhere anymore. My back is riddled with knots from heaving around my cute twenty seven pound ball of chunk.

We’ve been playing outside on our porch a lot. Chris just painted the wood floor, and we purchased an outdoor table–I even bought a special candle for it that I still have yet to light. Maybe tonight we’ll eat dinner out there, call it a romantic date. We’re having pork and ceasar salad, tossed with Fodder’s dressing recipe. I love making it and thinking of your Dad, the two of you together, wherever you are now.

Now that Everett’s getting older–thirteen months as of two days ago–I’m having more and more fun with him. Every time he learns something new or makes a new face or tries a new sound, it’s exciting. I know and understand why Mothers get upset thinking of their babies growing up, but they’re supposed to evolve forward. For some reason, Everett growing just makes me proud, not sad. If he was my last, I think I’d feel differently, but the plan is that there will be several more children to follow…eventually.

I always used to say I wanted four kids. If someone asked me, I’d say “four,” without question or hesitation. And that was probably because you had four and I wanted to do everything just like you did.

But when Everett was a newborn, I remember complaining on the phone with Aunt Sara, saying I wasn’t cut out to stay at home with babies and kids. I felt like two children would be plenty, which felt frightening because my whole “plan” was being rocked off its center. I questioned who I was supposed to be, if not a Mother with no career outside of her home and beyond her children.

As I sit here a year later, I’m confident I want a lot of kids again. Everett’s “fun” stage is making it easier and easier to look forward to another pregnancy and baby. Grandma has told me before that you never liked the newborn phase–you enjoyed when you were able to talk and play with your kids. I always feel so much relief hearing that, like thank god I’m not the only one. But who knows, maybe the second time around will be different and I’ll adore the months of no sleep and being clueless.

Anyways. Yesterday, Everett and I spent the day out at Nana’s house. She took us to a local greenhouse and we picked out perennials. She bought me a lavender plant and another little one called a “creeping jenny.” I had to have it because of my middle name, and it’s now snuggled in the spring dirt outside my house, ready to creep, I guess.

We then went to Home Goods and shopped for crap we didn’t need, but I enjoyed browsing the store while Everett chilled in the cart, snacking on crackers and making eye contact with everyone who passed–he loves going places, observing and interacting.

When we returned home, Chris was already here and able to watch Everett while I went to yoga. I was so grateful to go–I hadn’t practiced for two weeks. I don’t know how or why I allowed that much time to come between me and my mat, but sometimes, life just happens.

When I walked into the studio, there were lily of the valley flowers on the desk, in a little dixie cup. I’ve been seeing them a lot lately, and of course, they make me think of you–they’re your flower.

Right now is the only time of the year that their little white bells are in bloom and they seem to be abundantly everywhere: a patch of them grow below a stop sign in my neighborhood; I found a wild bunch the other day on a walk, picking just one flower and taking it home with me; Nana gave me one from her garden with the roots still attached, in hopes that it will grow successfully in my yard; I passed a lady on the street today carrying some in a tiny bouquet.

I know they’re just a flower, but on my drive to yoga last night, I asked you if you’d be there in class with me…I asked for some kind of connection, some kind of awareness of your presence. Because sometimes, during the end in final relaxation, when we lay on our backs and both my mind and body are still, I feel you. I swear to god sometimes I even hear you, like this flowing voice coming through me, without hesitation or pause and you completely fill me up.

When I saw those lilies on the desk, I immediately “heard” you say, Now how much more obvious do I have to be? 

Someone reading this will think it’s all my mind tricking me into thinking I can feel you or that you’re “with” me, but it’s not. I’m not gullible. I’m not naive. I’m not entirely faithless. I know it was you.

I ration it this way: If my body could conceive and grow and birth a human, why is it so hard to believe that on some level, I can connect with your energy?

Before becoming a Mother, I had limits as to what I believed to be possible. If I thought I felt you in yoga after seventy five minutes of moving meditation, I would dismiss it and think, that’s just my brain trying desperately to believe you were real for a moment.

But my child is the perfect proof I’ve always needed to have a little more faith in the unknown–to have a little more trust in what I feel, rather than in what I read in books, in what other people tell me, or in what I’ve always been taught.

I look at Everett and still cannot comprehend that he was once never here. I cannot understand how he started as a little wiggly tadpole in my stomach, who grew to full baby size and then came out and literally through me, into this world. I have no words for it, but he’s simply my evidence of an unexplained miracle. Sure there’s science behind conception and birth but come on, really–how does that all happen and evolve and come to be?

So I know you and I can reach each other. And it’s usually only in yoga, only after Dominique’s class. She was my original teacher, the one I learned the bulk of my practice from. And I just called her on the phone now–she’s the one who put those lilies on the studio’s desk, picked fresh from her front yard.

I wrote the following entry in my journal a few months ago, but was “afraid” to share it with you because I thought I sounded crazy. But I’m not afraid anymore, and I don’t think I was crazy.

March 13, 2017

I went to Dominique’s class last night. At the end, I laid on my back with my arms draped up and over my head, physically exhausted. My eyes were closed, my mind was off, my entire body was limp and there wasn’t an ounce of energy left inside of me.

I was all love and nothing negative or sad could puncture the balloon of bliss I was in. It was incredible. And I started remembering myself as a little girl, sitting on the coffee table at the old house while watching The Lion King. Mom was sweeping the white carpet, the extra cord wrapped around her forearm. 

In the movie, Simba had just found his Dad after the stampede, and as I lifted my legs for Mom to run the sweeper under, I looked up at her, trying to imagine what would ever happen to me if she died, like Simba’s Dad had. Somehow in that one small moment as a six year old child, I knew I’d lose her one day. I just knew, and didn’t question it.

And I felt all this all over again in real time, as I laid there in that yoga room. I was feeling that knowing, but this time it felt good–it felt understood. Everything came full circle.

I found a new kind of peace, full of a welcoming acceptance towards Mom’s death. It no longer felt like me or Dad or the kids were cheated by her loss. It no longer felt like she was cheated. It just felt like she was all through me, without an ounce of separation, and I realized that “losing” Mom was just a part of our lives being intertwined together. I still chose her to be my Mother, even though she’d have to “leave” me someday. And I’d still choose her over and over again.

Somehow, on some level, I’ve always known Mom would physically leave and I know this because of the way I felt in that class. 

May this entry be my reminder the next time I ever doubt why she left or where she is.

I know I sound strange. And I can’t put everything into perfectly explained words for it all to make sense, but whatever happened to me in that yoga class was incredible. I know in my heart that it was real. If I’m crazy, so be it–at least I feel closer to you than ever in my life…at least I feel like I finally somewhat understand your death.

I’m sure there are some people who read my words and think I haven’t healed or moved on since you died. Because even after all this time, I still talk about your death so much and about missing you, and wondering where you are. Maybe a few people even worry if I’m doing “okay.” And I get it, I understand their possible concern.

But since Everett came into my life, I’ve managed to miss you and need you in an entire different capacity, for entire different reasons than before becoming a Mother. What kind of daughter would I be if I just accepted your death one way and one way only, never to think or ponder or question or strive to find more answers that continually bring peace to my heart? I may never stop all the wondering, all the searching for you. But I don’t care, because I’ve learned so much along the way, not only about you, but myself.

Losing you has shaped me into a relatively spiritual being. Losing you has proven my faith in the unknown. Losing you has given me some sort of magic to hold on to–a constant awareness of your boundless presence.

Yoga has helped me find you again in some way, but it’s only in those moments of calm and surrendering and letting everything just be that you come through to me. So I’d like to get myself in that state as much as possible–it’s where amazing things happen. And since I know I can’t make it to the studio every night, maybe starting a little meditation practice of my own, along with a new morning affirmation prayer, is a start.

It will be hard to hold myself accountable, but I think I deserve ten or fifteen minutes at some point in the day, to sit, breathe, create intentions and be thankful for all the beauty in my life. And maybe…just maybe, feel you there with me, too.

 

April 27, 2017

Sometimes I can’t believe I haven’t seen you for over eight years. EIGHT years, Mom.

What would you think of me now? I’m different…obviously. Even just from my physical appearance. I’m more relaxed since you last saw me–in the way my hair looks, how I dress, how I act and talk.

What would you think of the way I Mother my son? Would you correct me when I did something a certain way that wasn’t “yours?” Would you love and adore being a grandmother?

Do you approve of my husband? You never met him. That, almost above all else, breaks my heart the most, you know. Chris would have loved you. You would’ve loved Chris.

He would have thought your dumb jokes and the way you teased and laughed were hysterical. He would’ve compared the two of us–the things we say, our facial expressions, saying to me, you and your mom are so alike. 

Honestly though–can I tell you something? Eight years is a long time–yes, but in the one year since I’ve become a Mother, I have never felt more close to you as ever in my life; even from when you were still alive.

I think of you constantly. And it’s not usually in a sad way–it’s in the my mother is here, kind of way. I swear you are with my always. It’s not like you’re my angel staring down on me from heaven, either–because what I feel is much more than that; it’s that you’re here. 

I don’t know what better word to use, but here.

When I think of your face and your hair and your lipsticks and the way you smelled after you applied suntan lotion–my heart aches. It makes me mourn to see you in person.

Your physicality is what’s completely gone, and it always will be. That’s a hard pill to swallow; never again will I see that face I knew and loved so well.

But what’s not gone is your soul…your spirit…your energy…your life-force–whatever anyone wants to call it. I prefer energy for some reason. It’s all the same thing, though. Energy is what we were before we came into our bodies, and it’s what we are when we leave them. It’s what you are now.

And your energy, Mom, can be everywhere–all at once. You can be with all your kids. You can be with all your family. You can be intertwined and weaved through everything, existing in nothing but love.

So that’s where I find you: in the love I have in my life right now. I find you in the love and appreciation I have for my husband. I find you in the bond between Everett and I. I find you when I see my siblings. I find you when Dad and I say something kind to each other.

I find your energy–your spirit–in all the positive things in my life.

Because in your current form, you don’t know negativity. You don’t know the absence of love. You don’t know disease. You don’t know hatred. You don’t know not believing in the magic of our world, because you are experiencing its wonders, all the time.

That’s what I believe.

And I also believe that you would like who I’ve become. You would think I was a good Mother. You would think I married a solid man. And of course you’d love being a grandmother–who would I be kidding to ever doubt that, just because I can’t see you hold Everett? You were the queen of babies and children.

You know me much more now than you ever did or ever would’ve, had you never “left.”

This is a truth I feel in my heart, as pure as anything.

Before I go–

Tatum just called me about our plans–her and Cole have been coming over on Thursday nights, and I absolutely love it. But she had one “request”–that if we sit around and talk, we do it outside because her legs are really pale and they need some sun.

I cracked up because she’s actually being serious, and because she’s so still your daughter. Your presence obviously remains in Tatum, even though she only knew you for four years.

See? Eight years, four years, a hundred years–you are with us, always.

 

April 19, 2017

A close family friend of the Pearlman’s lost her mother last week–she lived to be ninety years old. What a celebration of life, and she didn’t suffer when she left this world.

I was looking at her obituary online, and on an impulse, searched for yours.

NORRIS JENIFER ANN (SOPHER)
Age 39 of Murrysville died peacefully at her home surrounded by her loving family on Thursday, August 14, 2008 after a courageous battle with cancer. She was born April 10, 1969 in Pittsburgh a daughter of Cynthia (Jenny) Sopher of North Hills and the late Joseph Sopher. Jenifer is survived by her beloved husband of 17 years Jason Norris, four children Hayley, Allison, Cole and Tatum Norris; devoted sister Jessica Davis and her husband Todd of Lancaster County, VA, grandfather Joseph Sopher of Pittsburgh, aunts and uncles Jim Sopher and his wife Marcia, Terry Sopher and his wife Kathy, Bill Jenny and his wife Joanne, Sue Channer and her husband Brian, Ryan Norris and his wife Katie, Sara Kamerer and her husband Jared and Adam Norris; father and mother in-law Wayne and Jackie Norris, Grandmother in-law Algie Norris. Also survived by several nieces, nephews and cousins. Preceded in death by maternal grandparents Carl and Dorothy Jenny, paternal grandmother Virginia Sopher and grandfather in-law J.M. “Buster” Norris. Friends will be received Sunday from 2-9 p.m. at the WOLFE-von GEIS FUNERAL HOME, INC where services will be held Monday at 10:00 a.m. 

How. How?

I’ve had a heavy bugging feeling lately, as if there’s a brick just sitting in the pit of my stomach, weighing everything down. This usually happens around my menstrual cycle–I know I’ve told you all about my hormone shifts before, but they just feel so real. 

I never used to get this “bugging” feeling before you died. I never really knew what that weighted feeling in my gut felt like, until that August 14th night.

I’ll always remember laying with you, in your bed with Allison right beside me and Dad kneeling beside you. Your eyes were closed and your breathing was slowing with every breath; you tried so hard, for so long to just keep breathing until finally, your body stopped and you were no longer in it.

We sobbed. Papap looked like he had just witnessed the biggest tragedy of his life. I’ve never seen him emotional, and the way his face looked is imprinted in my mind, still.

I don’t remember what Dad did. I don’t remember what me or Allison did. I don’t remember who else was in your bedroom when it happened. I don’t remember leaving your side, but know at one point, I did.

The next thing I remember is being downstairs in the family room, talking with Grandma and Allison. There were paramedics walking through the kitchen and up the stairs with a stretcher. I said aloud, I feel like all of my insides have been scooped out. And to some degree, I swear to god that feeling has never left.

Most days I forget it’s there. Most days I feel used to that one tiny thing in the back of my mind that always feels like it’s just missing. And when I say your name or tell a story about you out loud, it disappears for a few seconds.

But on days like these, it’s the only thing I can think about; the weight is so heavy, and it anchors me down in the feeling of your absolute absence. It feels so shitty.

Grief is a terrible thing.

It comes, it goes. It hides, it seeks. It goes up, it goes down. It leaves, it returns. It weakens, it strengthens. It destroys, it teaches.

Once you’ve gone down to the depths of it, you’re forever changed. And you must overcome it, in your own way and in your own time, or else it will destroy–not teach.

I know that I have “overcome” your death. What I don’t know is, will the random days of random crying, (like in the middle of brushing my teeth) because I miss you ever leave?

Because that’s what happened this morning. I was in front of the bathroom sink and mirror, scrubbing away at my teeth, and when I leaned over to spit out toothpaste, I thought of you and lost control. I just started to cry and kept crying, hunched over and helpless.

I put Everett down for his nap, and came to sit on my computer, where I found your obituary and then everything spiraled, bringing me here to write to you.

I know that it’s healthy to feel this way sometimes. This isn’t like in the years before, when I would get stuck in this feeling. I know that today will pass, and I’ll be fine tomorrow or even this afternoon when Everett and I go out and do our errands.

I’m just extra sensitive right now. And my body remembers what it feels like to grieve you–it will never forget. So when I’m weak or on an extra rainy day, the grief creeps inward, into that one spot in my gut, reminding me of what I went through, what I overcame, and where I am now.