Three years ago today, I was lying in a hospital bed, waiting, waiting, waiting.
And when you finally did emerge, the next evening(!!!) you had almost-black hair, long thin legs, and dark eyes.
I’m going to tell you a secret. My whole life, whenever I imagined having a child, I always thought it would have blue eyes, like me. Never would I have guessed that I’d have a brown-eyed girl.
I’m not sure why I had this idea in my head, but I did. Even the black hair didn’t surprise me, as I had the same black hair when I was born. But mine lightened into the color of damp hay, and so did yours. In fact, when we intertwine our hair now, I can’t tell where yours ends and mine begins.
And you have my mouth, pouty and full. But those eyes remind me that even though you came from me, you do not belong to me. This fact humbles me, and sometimes scares me, but it is important.
It reminds me that you probably won’t end up fixing people’s mistakes for a living, or making pasta sauce from scratch, or loving strawberry-rhubarb pie (though you probably will love it).
I look at you and I see a small person who resembles me, but I am reminded daily, through those big brown eyes like mugs of strong coffee, that you are not me.
I do not say this with any sadness. It is not bittersweet. It is more for me than for you, and when you are older, I think you will understand.
But for now I will love you with everything I have and you will do the same for me. And, in the spirit of living in the moment…
The other day, Lena and I were playing with a green balloon in the kitchen. We were hitting it back and forth to each other, and laughing a lot, and generally having a good, care-free time. The balloon was a memento from an afternoon we had recently spent together, after riding the carousel and playing at the mall playground and having a special lunch, just the two of us. It was a balloon that Lena had formed a bit of an attachment to, probably because of the fun times that went along with it.
And then it popped.
Just as she was reaching for it, ready to hit it back to me with glee, it popped in mid-air. First, she jumped at the loud noise. Then, she looked with confusion at the dark, deflated pieces that lay on the floor, and then at me for some explanation, which, I quickly realized, I couldn’t give her. It just popped.
Then, her face scrunched up, and she started wailing.
I repeated, “sometimes balloons pop” over and over, as if that was enough of a reason for why our fun had just been cruelly and inexplicably destroyed. I whisked her out of the kitchen because I didn’t want her to witness the sad remains of her once-cherished balloon. I didn’t want her to be reminded of the happiness it brought her, because then it would just remind her that it was gone.
When she settled down, she whispered plaintively, “I wish I had my green balloon back.”
I know you do, I said. I’m sorry, I said. We’ll get you a new balloon, I said.
But I wish I had my green balloon back, she said again.
I just cradled and rocked her on the couch while she cried some more and continued to process what had happened.
Soon enough, she hopped down off my lap and returned with the pieces of the popped balloon. We put them on the counter. I knew she wasn’t ready to throw them out just yet.
I had a hard time sleeping that night. All my parenting anxieties floated to the surface of my brain. I realized that simple POP! woke me up to a moment I would inevitably have to have with her some day. About loss and how to handle the fact that sometimes the things we love in life leave and don’t come back. I dread seeing that look in her eye that she had after the balloon popped.
We have dogs and cats that Lena loves very much. I know one day, while she is still young, one of them will die and I will have to explain it to her. I have a lump in my throat just writing those words. The thought of that is overwhelming to me as a parent, and yet, I know it is part of my job as her mom.
And, I have to admit something. This is a big part of the reason we only plan to have one child. While there are many, many wonderful things about being a parent, which I would never trade for anything, there are many awful things that I only want to have to deal with one time around. The worry; the fear; the difficult conversations. They’re all too much for me to imagine doing more than once.
Does that make me a weak person? Selfish?
I don’t know.
But maybe not.
On October 25th, 2012, I found out I was losing my job. This happened over three months ago, and I am only now realizing how much it affected me, and how I need to actually deal with the emotions i'm left with in order to really move on. This may sound dramatic, but when you've worked somewhere for 12 years (which is a third of my life, if that helps you put it into perspective), just letting go and moving on is not as easy as you'd think, even when you find another job fairly quickly (which I did).
The day I found out began ordinarily enough. I work from home, and my boss called me around 1:30 PM. I remember her exact words: "I'm going to be sending you an e-mail that you're not expecting. Read it, and we'll talk about it during our meeting at 2:30."
I knew then that something was not right. But even when I opened the letter and read it, it took me a good five minutes to process what it said. But what it said was that my job was being restructured, and therefore my skills and expertise no longer fit what they needed. And so, on December 28th, my employment with them would be over. Stunned, I managed a phone conversation with my boss and the Director of the department, who emphasized that it had nothing to do with my performance, it was just a result of the needs of the department. They valued my service, knew it was difficult to hear, blah blah blah.
This was on a Thursday. Three days later, Superstorm Sandy hit, and we were without power for a week. It was actually a welcome distraction, going into survival mode and just trying to stay warm and take care of my daughter in the dark. When the power came back on, I went into a different sort of survival mode, based on sheer panic and uncertainty. Could we live on just my husband's salary? Would we be able to pay the bills and maintain our current lifestyle, even with my severance pay as a cushion? The nature of my job would allow for me to freelance, but not having a regular paycheck caused me great anxiety. I knew we would be okay, but I couldn't help feeling lost and frightened at the prospect of having to struggle to pay my bills. But looking back, I don't think it was the money issues I was most anxious about.
January was an incredibly difficult month. I started my new job on January 2nd, which was less than a week after I finished working at my old company. I went from working for a non-profit to working for a large media company with branches all over the world. I was able to negotiate telecommuting three days a week, and then working in the New Jersey office two days a week (with an occasional commute to Manhattan). We had to hire a part-time nanny, and my daughter had to get used to not having me around all the time. She stopped sleeping well, and the new routine really threw me off as well. More than I anticipated, in fact. At the end of each week I felt defeated and guilty. Even though I had found a new job and was pleased about the continued paycheck, I was angry about being forced into this new situation. It got to the point when, if someone even mentioned working at my old company, I would feel bitter about the fact that they still had a job there and I didn't.
I don't know what I expected; after 12 years, I thought maybe I was safer in my role than others who hadn't worked there as long as I had. That somehow I deserved some loyalty for having stayed there as long as I did, despite some very, very difficult times and a lot of unexpected transitions. But, in the end, none of that came into play. I convinced myself that this was for the best, and it was meant to be, and I was getting to start fresh in a new place, and it was a good thing for me, albeit in disguise.
And all those things are true. But what I didn't expect, especially 3 months after I first found out, was the enormous sense of loss I felt. Like someone close to me had died, and I never really got to mourn. Along with getting so used to my working situation that I couldn't imagine my career in any other light, I was desperately sad about the fact that I was being forced to leave the people and situation that I had grown to love and for whom I had carved out a special place in my life. This was not my choice. This was not what I wanted.
Thankfully, social media has allowed people who normally wouldn't stay in touch to communicate on an almost daily basis. So I knew that my co-workers----at least the ones I formed a strong relationship with---would still be in my life, to some degree. But it IS different now. And i'm processing. Writing this post is helping me to process, but I think I still have a ways to go until I completely accept and am okay with this happening to me. It feels selfish to say this happened to ME, like i'm the only one this ever happened to, but regardless, it still feels personal and painful.
I know that soon this will hurt less, and my new job will eventually not be new anymore, and everything will adjust to a different kind of normal. But for now, i'm just going to let myself grieve for what i've lost.
This is Mya (and my daughter, Lena).
Mya became part of our family about a month and a half ago. We weren't planning on a second dog. I saw her photo on my Facebook wall through an organization called Helping Connecticut Canines. I had seen many, many homeless dogs pop up on my Facebook wall, but her face stopped me in my tracks. There was something about her. I even sent her photo to Mike, who I expected to say "No, stop sending me photos of these dogs, we're not getting another one." But his response, instead, was "I can't stop thinking about her." So, we decided to go visit her at the pound up in Waterbury, a 45-minute drive away. We didn't know what to expect other than that she was a big dog (counter height), and seemed to like everyone and everything. When we got to the pound and Mya came out, the first thing we noticed, other than how big she is, was the baseball-sized tumor on her stomach.
But we fell for her anyway and knew she belonged with us. We had to wait a whole week to actually bring her home, and we just prayed that no one else would adopt her during that time. No one did. So we picked her up on a Monday and for the next two weeks marveled at her gentle temperament and loving nature. She obviously had a family before us---she knows tricks, is patient and sweet with Lena, good around cats, playful with our other dog, and loves nothing more than a head rub and a treat. If you give her attention, you are instantly her friend. Her only major issue was some separation anxiety, which is completely understandable, given her situation.
After a few weeks, we decided she was comfortable enough in her surroundings to have her tumor removed. Well, tumors, actually. We found two more lumps on her after we adopted her---one on her thigh, and another on her neck. I admittedly began preparing for bad news at that point. A few days after her surgery, our awesome vet called and told me what the lumps were---Mast Cell Tumors. Cancerous, yes. But very unpredictable and variable, so there were options for treatment, although there was no way to predict how the cancer would play out. The vet consulted a dog oncologist, who recommended she have another surgery to take out more tissue around her large stomach tumor to help reduce the chance that the cancer would spread. However, she has to heal from her first surgery before we can do another. She gets her stitches out this Friday, and we'll give her a little time to enjoy being conehead-free and able to run and play, and then we'll do the second surgery. But regardless of what happens after that, even if the tumors come back or more show up, we decided that we wouldn't do chemo or radiation, because this dog deserves a happy life, no matter how long she has to live. Chemo and radiation will make her sick, and we don't want that for her. The reason we adopted her was to give her the happy life she deserves. We will love her no more or no less whether she lives 6 months or 6 years.
I think a lot about her life before us. Did the family she was with know she had cancer, and couldn't deal with it, either financially or emotionally? Was it just too much for them? Mya was found alone and collar-less wandering the streets, so we'll never know her history or what her story was prior to finding us. We will just have to write a happily ever after for the rest of her story, however long it may be.
I feel the need to preface this post with an apology for not having posted anything on this blog since last July. For a while I really wasn't inspired to write anything, or maybe it was just that I didn't feel like sharing. I don't know. I even thought maybe I would call it a day with this blog. That changed on Sunday night when I HAD to write about what I was feeling, and I only decided today that I wanted to post it. So here ya go.
Today was one of those days as a mom that I wish I could have bottled and saved so that I could open it up later in my life when I need it the most. It wasn't all that remarkable for any particular reason, but when I was putting Lena to bed tonight I realized I was truly sad to be leaving her for 12 hours, even though we would both be sleeping just down the hall from one another. Most nights when I put her to bed, i'm happy to have a few hours to myself to decompress and have some kid-free time. But tonight I was just filled up with love for this little person that I thought I might lose it. I closed the door to her room and felt like crying for all that I would lose in the future, and laughing at the sheer joy of getting to be her mom, and punching the wall with anger that none of it would last. And God, that's such a sad way of looking at it, but only parenthood can open your eyes to how fleeting these moments are. A smile in the sunlight is suddenly a door slamming in your face; a cuddle on the couch before bed turns into a broken curfew and watching for headlights coming down the street. When I first found out I was having a girl, I was honestly terrified. Because my brain fast forwarded to her teenage years, and then I remembered my own teenage years, and not only did I not want her to have to deal with the angst I did, but I had no idea how I would be a good mom to a teenage girl, STILL not knowing the answers to a lot of the questions I had back then. But now that Lena is almost 2, my whole perspective on having a daughter has changed. I am painfully aware that it wasn't the teen years I should have feared---it was the childhood years passing by before I could register that they had happened.
Part of me wants to write down the events of today so that I can remember them perfectly later, but it wasn't anything of consequence, really. Just a gorgeous, cloudless day, and a kid that loves bubbles and nature and running like she could do it forever. And an hour of pure bliss with my daughter in my arms, contentedly watching her favorite cartoon while I stroked her soft, honey-colored hair, her head tilting up to look at me every so often, just to make sure I was still there. I'm sure my specific memories of this day will eventually fade, so what I choose to never forget about today is how fiercely and purely I love this girl. Mommy's Baby.
Often times, when a nearby relative comes to visit us, they comment on the renovations we've done to the house, and ask me what I think my grandparents would have thought about the changes we made. In all honestly, it's nearly impossible for me to answer that question. But here's what I do think about.
My daughter Lena (their great-grandaugter) eats all her meals by the picture window in the kitchen where they used to eat their meals together, every day. And every morning she looks out that same window at all the wildlife that my grandpa used to love to nurture, and she already seems to appreciate it in the same way.
My parents look after Lena here during the day while my husband and I work, just like my grandparents did for me. They get to watch her grow and learn and explore this house, just as I did when I was little. I see Lena's grandparents adore her and shower her with as much love as is humanly possible, and it fills this house with joy on a daily basis.
We now sleep as a family in the same bedroom that my grandmother took her last breath in. Although that may seem creepy to some, to me, it is a sign that life continues in all it's cyclical, poetic beauty.
I always knew my grandparents wanted me to live in this house someday. They told me so ever since I was old enough to understand. But I never knew why it was so important to them until now. But now, I get it. It hit me like a ton of bricks recently, because I realized that I now have the life they always wanted for me.
So yes, everything in this house is the way they would have wanted it.
I must apologize for the month-long blog absence. The last few weeks have just been bonkers for me. I feel like I have had maybe 2 hours total to myself, which is probably equal to the cumulative number of minutes i've spent in the shower during the past month. So, here's what's been going on in my world.
My friend Alicia came to visit for a week and the day after she arrived, we "ran" the 5K together. Remember all the fuss I made about running the 5K, and training really hard and being a bad-ass? Yeah, well, that plan kind of didn't work out. This winter was a bitch and I couldn't really get outside to run like I wanted to, and I don't have a treadmill, and, oh yeah, I have a BABY and all of those factors put together did not equal a regimented training schedule. I exercised when I could, but I honestly did not feel prepared when the time came, and I kind of freaked out about it. And it also turned out that my husband couldn't watch the baby during the time we were scheduled to run, so we took her with us to the run and I didn't have a jogging stroller so anything over a slow jog was too much for it to handle. So we ran a little bit, but ultimately ended up walking at a brisk pace the whole time. It was a gorgeous day and Lena enjoyed it immensely and it was by the beach and I was with one of my closest friends, so I can't complain. I admit, I felt kind of like a giant failure for not following through on the training plans i'd made, but we ended up finishing the race in under 45 minutes, so it was still an accomplishment and i'm going to say i'm proud of us and leave it at that.
During that week that Alicia was here, we spent a good deal of time planning Lena's 1st birthday party. If you head on over to Food Lush you can read all about our cake adventures, which turned out to be a rousing success. And honestly? If Alicia hadn't been here i'm almost certain there would have been a sobbing, hysterical, last minute grocery store run to buy an already made-cake. Alicia brought a ton of adorable decorations and seriously helped make the party a wonderful success. The birthday girl had a blast, and loved the attention. She also got a giant stuffed lion the size of a golden retriever from her mom and dad. We couldn't resist. She hugs it and loves on it something fierce, and every time she sees it she says, "ROAR!"
About a DAY before the party, our 15-by-15 foot stone patio in our backyard was completed, and it is definitely an improvement over the giant mud pit that used to be there.
We also treated ourselves to a full landscaping makeover, which made our property look SO nice and now we're not "those" people on the street anymore. You know, the one house that brings down everyone else's property value simply by having unmowed grass and unwieldly shrubs. Oh and right about now is when the dogwood trees in our front yard start blooming and the azaleas begin busting out and I wish it was May all year long.
Hmm, what else happened? A friend of mine from high school and his wife had their first child, a boy! And some other friends of mine in Virginia had their first child, a girl! And some other friends of mine are expecting their first child any day now, a yet-to-be-discovered gender! Babies everywhere, man. And I just found out last night that one of my very close friends is buying a house only 20 minutes from where we live, which means lots of good times ahead with him and his wife and adorable little boy. So i'm super psyched about that.
Oh yeah, and did I mention my daughter turned A YEAR OLD??? What the....? How the hell....? Argh.
I've really been missing my best friend lately. I mean, I miss her all the time, but for reasons I am about to explain, I desperately miss her these days. If you don't know our history, here it is. We met in pre-school, yes PRE-SCHOOL, over 30 years ago, and our storied friendship was born. My grandparents house (now my house) was just a walk through the woods to her house, and we spent every possible moment with each other from the age of 3 until the age of 8, when we were tragically ripped apart by her dad's new career opportunity on the other side of the country. She moved to CA, I stayed in CT, and despite all the odds against us remaining friends, our friendship grew stronger and deeper over the years. We visited each other as often as we could. In fact, my first solo plane ride at the age of 9 was to visit her (and bonus! first trip to Disneyland). There were random back and forth visits during our middle school/high school years, and then for almost two glorious years in college we were only separated by a few miles on the Mass Pike. But then she transferred back to school in Cali, only to reunite with me 2 years later in London for 8 months of debauchery after college. In fact, we shared a room and it was like, well, sharing a room with your best friend. We gossiped and laughed until we cried. We nursed each other's hangovers and heartbreaks. We made up for the near 20 years of being separated by savoring practically every second we had together.
And although that period of our lives doesn't seem that long ago, it's been over 10 years since we've been able to spend an extended amount of time together. Since then, we've both fallen in love and gotten married (participating in each other's weddings, of course). I gave birth to a little girl last May, and now SHE is expecting her first child in late August. It just seems so wrong that we can't be near each other to share in these experiences, though. Sometimes it physically pains me that I can't see her growing belly in person, and that I can't hug her when she is having a particularly tough preggo day. In fact, I think I cried more when I found out SHE was pregnant than when I first found out I was having a baby of my own. But I wish wish wish more than anything that I could just call her up and say, "Hey, Jo, let's go grab a decaf and talk about your weird cravings and ligament pain." But alas, we have to talk over the phone or by text, and it's just not the same. There is something so bittersweet about experiencing all of these life moments together, but from a distance. On one hand, every time we talk, or send a letter or a special gift to each other, it is a reminder of how much she means to me and how incredibly lucky and blessed I am to still have her in my life. But then there's the fact that I can't just put my arm around her shoulder whenever I want to, and tell her to her face how much I love her and what a great mom she's going to be. This fact creates a lump in my throat that takes a while to dissolve.
So, I guess not only is this a lamentation of what seems so far away from me right now, but it is also a little love letter to my bestie. The one girl who knows most of what there is to know about me. HOBART! (sorry guys, private joke from 25 years ago.)
And my little Lena Jo will always know how special it is to be named after her momma's best friend.
Remember my kitchen before the backsplash?
Remember how much I talked about it on Twitter and Facebook and then stopped talking about it abruptly? It's because i've pretty much been sitting in my kitchen staring at it since it was completed.
I went against my initial plans to get a lighter, sand colored glass tile and went with the tile I fell in love with as soon as I walked in the store. It's hard to tell from this photo, but it's a dark brick color. I hesitated with it only because I was afraid it wouldn't match my red KitchenAid mixer and other red kitchen accessories, but in the end it was an unfounded fear. I LOVE the way it looks. And now, I can actually say that my kitchen is FINISHED (except for some window treatments, but that doesn't count, in my opinion). And if you mention anything about the missing knob on the right hand cabinet above the microwave, I will kick you in the shins. Seriously. Don't ask.