Pockets Full of Leaves

Hello, there!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  One of my “New Year’s Resolutions” (really using the phrase loosely, here) was to write more.  We’re practically halfway through the year, and this is the first time I’ve really sat down and made time to write.  I’m calling this a win.

I realized that, in my busyness, I was beginning to miss things.  I’ve always been a writer, always kept journals – especially since becoming a mom.  While the baby books aren’t completed, I’ve promised myself that one day my Ziploc bags with locks of hair and little scraps of paper with notes like “Grant first step 3/18/16!” will become coherent sentences in the future baby book I will finish (after I purchase it, of course).

But when there’s been too many months absent of writing, I start to feel untethered.  So I’m making a semi-conscious effort (let’s face it – all moms are semi-conscious on a daily basis) to write just a little bit more.

When I sat at my desk yesterday, I realized there were some items in my pockets.  I pulled them out one by one, and found they were the boys’ treasures they’d collected on our walk from the parking lot to their preschool entrance that morning.  Two rocks, a few leaves, a snail shell, and half an eraser.  The boys always hand their treasure to me for safe keeping, until I pick them up in the afternoon.  My purse is frequently filled with similar treasures, along with Matchbox cars, socks, and Legos.  Once a week, I empty the bag to gather the treasures, surveying the week’s adventures.  I am amazed that children can find just as many interesting things walking to the preschool entrance as they can during a trip to the park.  Isn’t this the beautiful thing about childhood?  The wonder and adventure of it all?

Sometimes I’ll forget to take these things out of my pockets, and the laundry will end up full of leaf fragments.  Sometimes someone will put half an uneaten sprinkle cookie in my purse.  Almost always, the cookie goes unnoticed, until I reach in the bottom of my bag to find something and come up with a handful of crumbs and sprinkles.  Childhood is also full of surprises.

The boys are 4 and 2 now, and it’s dawning on me that we’re entering a new chapter.  This is the twilight of the toddler years.  Soon their independence (and size) will keep me from carrying them.  You can sense the change in seasons through the way the boys talk and play, the questions they ask, and the things they learn and share.  Miles will talk to you about endangered species, while Grant will show you how high he can climb by himself.  Offers for help are more often turned down, because “I can do it myself, watch!”  The little hands that could once only hold my finger now have a firm grasp on my hand when crossing the street, reminding me to “stop, look, and listen.”  The soft baby hair that once fluttered like down in the breeze now sticks up wildly and in every direction, sweaty from an afternoon of boys’ adventures in their make-believe pirate ship.  The tiny people whose grapes I once sliced in half now open the refrigerator, find a snack, and help themselves.  Gone are the days of airplane spoons and booster seats.

So I’ve told myself to stop; to pause, to soak it all in, because we’re growing up.  Every time I hear Grant say, “Uhm-a-no, door!” or “yeyyow nana!” I want to remember that moment, because soon he’ll be able to say, “Open the door!”  and “yellow banana!”  and I’ll miss those mispronunciations.  When Miles ask for help writing his letter “S” because it really is tricky to master, I have to watch and take in his concentrated face and efforts, because one day he’ll be typing his term papers.  When the boys ask if we can build just one more fort, I’ll drop everything I’m doing to help, because one day they’ll be constructing all on their own, with no need for mom to get to the things they can’t reach.

I’ll miss those pockets full of leaves.  I’ll miss finding rocks hidden in my shoe, and Batman figures stashed in the vegetable crisper.  I’ll miss overflowing bubble baths, putting socks on their feet while they’re sleeping, and turning off the nightlight.

Every age is full of magic.  Every age we reach, I think to myself, “this one, right here – this is my favorite age” because the truth is, these tiny beings are incredible, wonderful, amazing people, growing into incredible, wonderful, amazing young men.  I treasure the beautiful series of moments replaying in my mind, from first steps, to learning to brush our teeth on our own, to putting on their shoes by themselves. 

Yes, Ferris Bueller was right about life, and it moving pretty fast.  Take time to stop and smell the roses, even if they’re covered in strawberry jelly and glitter, because one day, you’ll miss this.

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On Grief at Three 

Many of you know that a few weeks ago, my fat, old, beloved tabby cat crossed the rainbow bridge.  The loss was – is – very, very difficult.  I adopted Pookie just two weeks after moving to this coast; I was 19 years old, on my own, and when I passed him during an adoption drive at PetsMart, I couldn’t resist.
Pookie was three years old when I adopted him (although our vet placed his age at 3-5 years, Pookie was always young at heart) and the last 14 years of life together has been the absolute best.  He was by my side through not only all of life’s happiest moments, like marriage, buying our first home, and the birth of both our sons, but also through life’s most difficult, like the loss of friendships and the passing on of my sweet grandmother.  And so, to say that I was sad when Pookie began growing old, slowing down – that’s an understatement.  To say I was upset when Pookie was called home – it doesn’t do justice to the enormous grief I felt (and still feel).
And that’s just me, an adult, processing grief and sadness and loss and pain, knowing that all things grow old and eventually pass on – a time for everything, right?

And it’s hard; it’s damn hard, processing those feelings.
Yet I’ve found the most difficult part of this came not my own acceptance and understanding, but in the need to tell Miles what had happened. I spent a brief time wallowing in my own tears, and they quickly vanished once I realized I must also tell my oldest son.  How does one, at three years old, understand and process such a thing?  How long could I put it off, telling Miles where Pookie was?  Could he just forget about Pookie, and I’d never even need to broach the subject?  Of course not; he’s an exceptionally bright kid, and honesty (in all its sometimes-difficult glory) is a key pillar of our home.
I waited a full day, hoping I could be calm and peaceful in our discussion.  I had Hallmark movie-worthy conversations in my mind, and I knew exactly how this would go.  I was super-prepared, even if I was only semi-ready.
After bathtime, before we read our bedtime stories, I sat down with Miles and told him that I needed to share something very important with him.  He knew Pookie was getting older, winding down, so I thought that understanding would lay the foundation.  Here’s where we have the Hallmark conversation, with mild tears and large smiles, and we hug at the end while sharing banana splits. Right?
Ha.
As soon as I said the words, “We need to talk about Pookie…” the waterworks began.  And then, because Miles is truly his mother’s child, his reaction to the awkward outpouring of emotion was to laugh.  Not in a spiteful way; not in a “mom looks silly when she cries” way, but in a way of coping.  I do this, too.  I remember when Evan and I were saying our vows during our wedding, and I was so overcome with emotion that when our pastor got to, “For richer or for poorer…” I just laughed.  LAUGHED.  (although sometimes I tell God that I totally get the joke, now)  So, I get it.
Sometimes your mind’s defense mechanism is unique and inappropriate; we are weird creatures.
But, his laughter broke my tears.  It gave me the bittersweet feeling I needed to carry on with the very difficult (to me) conversation.  I explained to Miles that as things grow old – animals, people, plants, everything – they may begin to feel tired.  They may move a bit slower, seem a bit quieter.  And when things have reached what is usually a very old age, they may grow so tired that they can no longer be here on earth.  This is what happened to Pookie.  He was very old, and very tired, and just not feeling his best, and because of this God said, “Pookie, I know you would love to stay with your family forever and ever, but I do think it’s time you came home to me, to stay in Heaven.”  And Pookie said, “God, my family will be sad that I am gone, but they will also be happy that I am with you, that I can run and play and jump and roll in all the catnip I want.  So, if my time here is finished, then I will come home to you, God.” (I like to think he also had a Fancy Feast clause in his agreement to go heavenward)
I explained to Miles that Pookie was very happy here, but also ready to feel good again, and so it was time for him to go to heaven.  I told Miles that he will most likely (scratch: absolutely) see me cry from time to time, but that it’s nothing for him to worry about; I will feel sad, because I miss Pookie so very much.  But I will also feel happy, because Pookie can run and play again, and one day, we will see him again.  I told Miles that we would plant a flower bush for Pookie, something that would let us think of him every time we saw it.
“Mama, I will pick a beautiful pink raspberry flower bush for you, because you love raspberries and flowers, and that will make you smile!”
And there were more tears, of course, because I feel so very, very blessed to be the mama to a boy as kind and sweet as Miles.
We buried Pookie in the front yard (the boys don’t know this – while we are incredibly honest in our home, the thought of a cat buried in your front yard might be a bit much for a three year old to comprehend) and we planted a gardenia bush; our “Pookie Bush.”
Occasionally, Miles will ask about Pookie, usually if something happens that stirs a memory.  If it thunders, Miles might ask where Pookie is because he remembers he was afraid of thunderstorms.  We’ll have the heaven talk again, and he’ll carry on with what he was doing.  Sometimes Miles will mention that he misses Pookie, and we’ll talk about some of our favorite moments together, or I’ll show Miles pictures of Pookie laying on his playmat with him, when he was just a little baby, and we’ll laugh and smile and get misty-eyed together.
Then, this past Saturday, Miles asked a question that stopped me in my tracks: “Mama, when can Pookie come back from Heaven?  I think I’m ready for him to come home to us again.”
The minds of children are in constant motion; even if they’ve stopped mentioning something, it can be guaranteed that they still think of it often.  After two weeks of little conversation about Pookie, this was an unexpected question for me.  We talked about how Heaven is your forever home, and that Pookie would not come here, but that one day, a very long time from now, we would be there with him.  My answer satisfied Miles, but it brought a new river of grief through my heart.
When you are a parent, your minutes, hours and days are spent caring for others.  It is a part of life that is joyfully exhausting; there is nothing else I love more than being mama to my boys (wine is a close second, followed by chocolate) but there is no level of tired like that of a parent.  It’s not just a physical sense of tired; it’s mental, and it’s emotional.  When something tragic happens in your life, like the loss of your most beloved cat, your own grief is placed on hold while you tend to the grief, tears and needs of others.
And so, day after day, I find myself in a quiet moment of solitude sobbing endlessly over the loss of my cat, because as a mom I’ve learned that much like shaving my legs, ironing a pair of pants, or cleaning out the produce drawer, the time to grieve comes when it’s least expected and sporadically.
I remember when each of the boys were just tiny babies, swaddled safe and snug in the crib, with big blue eyes looking out at the world, and I thought to myself, “God, let them always feel safe.  Always feel warm, loved, protected, cared for, wanted.  Help us be their fierce protectors and endless huggers.  Let us follow your desire for our home; let our boys know a love like no other.”  Because it’s a bit scary, having such great responsibility for these tiny people.  They are little for such a brief period of time, and then suddenly they’re aware and conversational and they must learn about things in life that are difficult, and you lose just a bit more innocence each passing year.
It was hard to lose Pookie.  Really, really hard.  He was not just a pet; he was my friend and companion, a constant source of joy, a member of our family.  Having to tell Miles about this loss was equally hard, because it meant we were reaching a new place in life, where he needed to know about death, although not in those exact words.  But hearing my sweet boy console me, I know we’re doing something right.  I know we’re teaching him love and empathy and caring, and even though this has been a difficult time, I find the bittersweet moments to be perfectly comforting.
Like a pink raspberry flower bush.

 

The Important Conversation

I have, like many of you, followed the Brock Turner case from the moment the victim’s statement was published by BuzzFeed.  This case has created intense feelings for me, just as it has for many of you.  My grandmother used the phrase, “I’m so mad I could just spit!” on occasion and it was always one of those quirky sentences that sounded funny, but I couldn’t quite picture.

Well, I can picture it now.

I am so mad I could spit.  I am so mad I could spit, throw, yell, punch, kick, and cry.  I’m willing to bet you feel the same way, too.

Ashleigh Benfield, an anchor for CNN, took the time to read the victim’s entire statement live on air.  She allowed every emotion she felt to be put on display.  Did you see her segment?  Have you read the statement yourself?  I hope so.  We live in a world where women are sexualized, are seen as property, are seen as things instead of people; instead of human beings.  We live in a country where now more than ever, extreme importance is placed on equality and justice.  And still, if a girl is assaulted, somehow it’s her fault.  What was she wearing?  How many drinks did she have?  Was she behaving in a certain manner?  And if you found yourself asking those questions after hearing about this case, you are the problem with society.

If a girl wears a short skirt, she is confident.  If a girl has two margaritas, she is having fun.  If a girl dances, she is enjoying herself.

She is not inviting you to accost her verbally or physically.  She is not inviting you to touch her inappropriately.  She is not inviting you to rape her.  She should not wake up behind a dumpster with her dress pulled over her head, missing underwear and a swollen vagina.  She should wake up in her bed, probably not feeling the best, but not wondering what happened to her.

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While I cannot fully comprehend the victim’s pain, I am so very thankful for her willingness to speak up.  Many victims do not.  There is a stigma of shame and embarrassment for victims of assault and rape.  You somehow believe it was your fault.  You’d rather not talk about it; you’d rather not be forced to relive the events again and again, through discussion.

But we cannot remain silent; the silence will destroy you.  You will spend too many hours hating yourself for harboring this secret.  You will spend too many days wondering why you didn’t say something; why you didn’t speak up, act out, do something – anything.  You will spend months shoving these thoughts and feelings into a box in the back of your brain – “compartmentalizing”, your therapist will say.  You will spend years allowing this to affect your life, your love, your relationships, in a way that prevents you from being your full, complete and wonderful (yes – WONDERFUL) self.  Remaining silent, you will spend an actual lifetime in pain.

One in six American women is the victim of sexual assault.  Let me repeat that figure: one in six.  Do you know six women?  One of them has been the victim of sexual assault.  Think you don’t know someone who has been assaulted?  Well, you know me.

Of women victims, 44% are under the age of 18.  Again, let’s repeat: 44% are under the age of 18.  This means that nearly half of female victims are minors – children.  Of that group, 93% of victims knew their attacker.  That bears repeating, right?  NINETY-THREE PERCENT.

I am a victim who meets all above criteria, and while my experience was nowhere near as traumatic as the victim in the Brock Turner case, here’s what you should know: the experience, regardless of what specifically occurs, is still traumatizing.

I waited 15 years to share my hurt, my pain, and my eventual forgiveness, which I first shared here.  Talking about it has brought a level of healing that I didn’t know could exist.  Forgiveness is for me, and nothing else holds the same healing ability as that one simple word.  I have shared how God’s grace has worked in my life here, and this has been the turning point for me in both my life and my faith.  Being open and honest about my experience has not only helped me, it has helped others.  I have been a listening ear and supporter for others who have been through hell.  By coming out of hiding, I have encouraged others to do the same.  There are many of us; it is time to band together not only to heal, but to educate.

What I have learned through my experience is this: not only do victims not want to talk about it, neither do other people.  Talking about assault, about rape, makes people uncomfortable, and makes them feel awkward.  I am telling you, it’s time to get over it.  It is not an awkward conversation.  It is not an uncomfortable conversation. It is an important conversation.

Assault happens every day.  Rape happens every day.  The only way to stop this is to talk about it; to educate, to understand, to encourage and build each other up.  If someone comes to you with their story, please listen.  Please engage.  Please be the rock and support they’re seeking.  I have been so very blessed with a husband and friends who have listened, who have talked, who have loved.  It is crucial to the healing process. 

We need to have the important discussion.  You need to know that if someone uses words that are inappropriate, that are rude, that are hurtful, it’s assault.  You need to know that if someone touches you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, it is assault.  You need to know that if someone forces themselves upon you, whether or not they complete the act, it is rape.  And you must, must, must say something to someone. 

We need to teach our children from a very early age that their bodies are theirs, and that they are the granters of permission for touch.  If you try to hug my son, and he refuses, respect that choice.  Do not make a child feel guilty or shamed because they don’t want to hug you; this creates the mindset of, “Well, Uncle Joe is my family, and he loves me, and even though this doesn’t feel right surely he would never do anything to hurt me.”  That is not only wrong thinking, it’s dangerous thinking.  My children, from a very young age, have had the power, permission and encouragement to say NO.  My children know who is allowed to touch them, they know where and how it’s okay to be touched, and they know that if anyone ever does anything differently, even if it’s someone they know and love, and that touch makes them feel bad in any way, they are to tell us immediately.  If we aren’t there, they know who else to talk to.  Children must know that it’s not only strangers we are watchful of; sometimes the devil you know is worse than the devil you don’t.  Education and empowerment is critical.

We need to stop thinking that any adult is “asking for it.”  Boys, men, adults, you need to realize that if a girl does not consent, it’s the same as saying NO.  If a girl does not agree, does not willingly participate, it is assault; it is rape.  A victim should be able to go to a guidance counselor, law enforcement, a friend, and say she has been assaulted, without fear of the first question being, “Well, how much did you have to drink?” because it doesn’t matter.  There is never an invitation for sexual violence.

Because most attackers are male, we need to teach our boys what consent not only sounds like, but what it looks and feels like.  We teach our sons from an early age that we must ask to hug, to kiss, to hold hands.  It doesn’t mean my child will always ask, but it means he’s learning that if he can say no to someone, then someone can say no to him, and that’s okay.  If we teach this value now, it will become a normal behavior.  He will know and understand what it is to be loved and respected, and he will share that with others.  He will know that we never, ever, ever take advantage of another person in any situation, especially when it comes to touch.  We must raise boys who value, respect and love others, who know the worth of others, who not only honor others but seek to protect them as well.

We need to be comfortable with “see something, say something.”  This is the only reason Brock Turner was arrested.  If you see something, do not remain silent.  Offer help.  Call the police.  Do something.  Teach your children the same, so that if Susie’s dad says or does something that seems wrong, they will tell you.  You could be the reason a child or person is saved from assault.  Always, always, always say something.

And finally, we need to support each other and love each other.  I think that goes without saying; I think that should be common sense, ingrained deep in our personalities and hearts, to just be good people, but our own human tendency to judge can come through.  Let’s not do that; let’s not judge.  Let’s love.  Let’s be there for each other.  Let’s encourage, build up, strengthen.  Let’s educate.  Then, together, let’s demand justice.

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Three and One (working title: My Hormones are Trying to Trick Me)

The past two weeks have been a blur of joy and smiles and wrapping paper and frosting and sprinkles.  On April 21st, Miles turned three, and on May 1st, Grant turned one.  It seems like I say this with every age/milestone we meet, but really, these are my favorite ages (right now).

Miles is at an age of discovery and wonder, and to see the world through the eyes of a three year old is a magical thing.  Grant is at an age where we no longer need bottles, multiple naps or baby food; officially veering on toddler.  He follows his big brother and bravely tries to do everything that Miles does, and it’s amazing to watch him grow.  We’re hitting a sweet spot in parenting, and it’s so awesome.

But do you know what happens when you enter a sweet spot?  When life is getting really easy?  Your hormones try to trick you.  Because someone you know is definitely pregnant, and someone else you know definitely has a newborn.  You see that tiny little baby, swaddled in a flannel receiving blanket, blissful face of milk induced sleep, and you think, “Let me just smell the baby.  Okay, let me just hold the baby.  Let me take a small, soft bite of the baby.”  And your hormones are all, “YOU NEED A SMALL SOFT BABY TO NIBBLE!  YOU NEED A BABY TO WEAR AND ROCK AND PUT TINY LITTLE SOCKS ON!  YOU NEED SOMEONE BESIDES THE CAT WEARING ONESIES AGAIN!”

And your hormones make you think yes, you’re right, we need another one!

But your brain, your sweet, logical brain, helps you get back on track.  Babies are so awesome.  Babies are wonderful, they are truly blessings, and there is no greater joy I have found than being called Mama.  BUT…when your family is complete, you know it’s complete.  And we feel complete.

We have reached a time when Grant is finally finally FINALLY sleeping for twelve straight hours at night, praise the angels of sleep.  I switched from Café Bustelo to just REGULAR COFFEE.  And I still feel like a human.  Miles can put away his own laundry, help water the plants, and put more sprinkles on the cupcakes than in his mouth.  The boys play together, and I can just sit and watch and drink wine.  The DVR is empty.  I am reading books.  MY NAILS ARE PAINTED.  Evan and I might even go out for an adult meal during dark hours alone.  Oh yes, this is the sweet spot.

But every night when I put Grant to bed, after we read and rock a bit, I recognize his toddlerness and I realize I will never rock a baby of my own to sleep again.  The bittersweet feeling of the end of infancy is upon me, and I’ll fondly remember those newborn days and my hormones say well, maybe…

I see a mama wearing her tiny baby, wrapped sweetly to her chest, and it seems like it was just yesterday that I was wearing a baby on my chest, snuggled up close to my heart.  And my hormones say well, we could always…

I pack up the baby clothes and know that this time, I’m giving them away, but my hormones say hold on a minute…

Then I make PB&J for the kids’ lunch and wonder if I should really give this to them, or just open face the sandwiches and directly apply the jelly to obscure places in the house that I will touch and step in but never actually find so that I carry about my day slightly sticky and obsessively searching for strawberry preserves, and I think, “yes, we are complete.”

And before you say anything, of course I know God has a plan, and sometimes we get together and our plans match and sometimes the unexpected happens.  So could God surprise us?  Sure, he created the entire universe in seven days, so surprising us wouldn’t be an impossibility.  But it would be one heck of a surprise.

And before you speculate anything, know that I am not pregnant but that I am under the influence of allergy medication and red wine, and this post was inspired by a damn Publix Mother’s Day commercial because if there’s anything that tricks your hormones, it’s a Publix commercial.  I can’t even have proper holiday salt and pepper shakers without crying.

DAMN YOU, PUBLIX.

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Can we please just pass them back around the table already?!