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.

 

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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?!

 

Winning isn’t everything (unless it’s bedtime).

The Global Parenting Truth: Consistently easy bedtimes are the unicorn of the toddler universe. That’s not to say bedtime is a never-ending battle of wits (although I’m sure it is for some – and for you, parents of bedtime battlers, I send you wine and chocolate and coffee) but bedtime, at least in our house, is always an adventure.

Bathtime has always been a dad thing. Maybe Dad is the fun bathtime guy because he lets Miles bring 847 Batman toys into the tub, along with every triceratops, stegosaurus, t-rex and other –aurus type prehistoric creatures. Once Miles hit a certain age, he decided that just because bathtime had ended didn’t mean he needed to say goodnight to these metal and plastic toys of bedtime weaponry. Oh no; we needed to bring them to bed with us.

So my husband is sort of a pushover when it comes to things like this. He’ll admit it himself (LOVE YOU, HONEY). The nightly challenge of choosing two toys and two toys only to bring to bed began. And, as with any toddler negotiation, this easily escalated into three, four, five, and then seventeen thousand toys. I’m positive there was a night I asked Miles if he would just prefer sleeping in his toy box with a pillow because clearly that’s the direction in which we were headed. (Note: don’t ask toddlers questions like that, because the answer is always YES)

But it wasn’t enough to bring all the toys to bed; oh, no…we had to bring the toys with pieces. Legos. Guys who wore hats. Dogs with construction trucks. Do you know what happens to a toddler’s world when his Lego guy loses a hat before he falls asleep? CHAOS.

Miles: “Mama! Daddy! Mama! Daddy! Come in! Quick!”

Me: *running because clearly this is an emergency* “Hey buddy, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Miles: “Ryder fell off his motorcycle.”

Me: “…”

For those who aren’t as “with it” as parents of toddlers are, you should know that Ryder is on Paw Patrol. He rides an ATV and leads dogs around town to save the day. I could give you a more detailed explanation but A). It’s sort of weird I know this much about Paw Patrol and B). It’s even weirder that I really like Paw Patrol and could write an overly lengthy thesis on it because C). I was like a NO TV EVER mom and now I’m like an “Okay, some TV is fine if it means I can cook dinner and go to the bathroom without worrying about you climbing on the dining room table.” What were we talking about?

BEDTIME.

So, Ryder fell off his motorcycle. And guess what? I put him back on. Then at 8:17p, he fell off again. He fell off at 8:23p, 8:35p, and 8:52p. Like good hippie parents, we want Miles to have his things in his space, but we had reached the point of needing to stop this incessant Ryder falling off his ATV thing. And so, we instilled A LIMIT. Dun dun dun.

Miles: “Mama! Mama, come quick!”

Me: “Yes, Miles?”

Miles: “Mama, Ryder fell off AGAIN. He’s so silly.”

Me: “Okay Miles, I will put Ryder back on one time, and one time only. If he falls off again, you will need to either learn how to put him back on yourself, or let Ryder sleep without riding his ATV.”

BOOM. Limit = set.

The following night, Miles wanted to take his entire menagerie of rubber insects to bed. And this time, we introduced yet another limit: two toys, and two toys only. And the nightly process of choosing which two would stay began again. Just like that, the limit was set again.

But of course a child can’t just take a toy to bed and go to sleep. No, toys are to be played with, and we both understand and expect that to happen. The reality is that none of us just lay down and fall asleep. We read, we watch TV, we think about the day, but we need some time to unwind. For Miles, that time involves our nightly routine of bathtime, jammies and the longest Dr. Seuss books he can find, but even then, he’s not necessarily ready to sleep. And so he usually talks to his stuffed animals or toys after we’ve said goodnight.

The occasional chat with his four teddy bears or Thomas the Train turned into what sounded like a demolition derby through the monitor. Certain toys – ones with wheels – must be played with on top of the dresser. WHO KNEW?! And so, another limit was introduced: no toys with wheels. Something along the lines of, “Fine, Mom” was the response, but I ignored this because I’m not ready to have a teenager.

Miles would still get a little rambunctious with his bedtime companions, and so I reminded him that if it was difficult for him to fall asleep with the toys, and that if he felt the need to play instead of just putting them to bed with him, we would need to say goodnight to our toys in the tub. He nodded in understanding.

And now…NOW, I was winning. The next night, we had our regular routine. Miles chose his two favorite Batmen of the day. We put on jammies, we read The Lorax and Little Blue Truck and Goodnight Moon. We snuggled and talked about the day. We said goodnight. I closed the door.

Standing in the kitchen washing the days dishes, I noticed how calm and peaceful and blessedly quiet it was in the house. No one was asking me to put some guy back on an ATV, or put a hat back on a Lego, and no one was mashing buttons on a damn Thomas the Train that can’t stop telling me he has big important jobs to do (JUST GO TO SLEEP, THOMAS). I was winning!

I washed dishes. I put on my PJs. I sat down to read. I silently patted myself on the back and congratulated my ability to set limits and talk to my child and come to a mutual agreement. For the love, I actually knew what I was doing.

Then my husband got home, and asked why Miles’ bedroom light was on, since it was now 8:30p.

‘Scuse me. His light is on?!

I walked down the hallway and as sure as the sky is blue, there was a sliver of light peeking from beneath his door. I opened it, and found Miles playing very, very quietly at his train table, with soft toys that make no noise.

“Mama, look how quiet I can be!”

And I laughed, because he’s cute, and he’s also much smarter than me. You see, our discussion had frequently involved the fact that bedtime was a quiet time. Well, here he was, being quiet. Who am I to argue when he’s truly doing the one thing I was asking him to do?

The truth is that I am consistently outsmarted, but in the most adorable way. You win some, you win some.

PS – It’s important to know that as I sat here writing, I was summoned by my tiny dictator to come to his room so he could tell me that his new big trucks do not, in fact, fit behind his headboard. IMPORTANT. Kids are so weird.

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HE’S HERE!

You may have noticed my absence over the past few weeks.  This was primarily brought on by the family circus of life and the importance of eating burritos.  Well, after 487 weeks of life as a toddler-chasing preg…HE’S HERE!

Grant Charles arrived on Friday, May 1st at 10:20p – literally HOURS before Princess Charlotte (beat THAT, Royal Family of Windsor).  We are in love with every squishy, squirmy ounce of our new kiddo.

I know I faux-complained about how totally over being preg I had become.  Grant was apparently eavesdropping on these conversations; when he decided it was time to show up, he did it in a big damn hurry (which is totally unusual for our punctually challenged family).

Our due date was April 30th.  I saw my midwife on the 29th, and knew she would be going on vacation out of state from the 30th through May 4th.  She didn’t believe we’d go into labor on our due date, and her advice for over the weekend was to cross my legs and make it to my appointment on Cinco de Baby, if I wanted her to deliver.  Of course I would have loved for her to deliver, but the reality is that at 40 weeks pregnant, you really don’t care if it’s the hospital’s cafeteria lady birthing your baby, you just want that kid OUT.

I went to work on May 1st (TGIF – also my last day before officially beginning maternity leave on Monday).  I was concerned that this kid would show up very, very late, as our original due date was May 7th.  But I also knew I was ready to be home preparing mentally and physically, and that a day or two of extra rest by myself would be pretty awesome.

When I left the office at 5p, I noticed my back was hurting worse than usual.  Not bad, just more uncomfortable, and I attributed it to chasing Hurricane Miles around the library the previous afternoon.  I picked Miles up from school, we loaded up and headed home.  On the drive, I noticed the back pain was coming more in waves, and not a consistent, lingering pain, so at the first red light we caught I called my husband and told him to pack up and head home, that something could be happening.  It probably wasn’t, but just to be safe, since he was working about 60 miles south of home on Friday.

By 5:30p we were home, and I decided maybe I should time these pains, just for fun (HA).  You know, just in case they were contractions.  They totally weren’t, but just in case.  I started my contraction counting app, set Miles up with some crayons, paper and an episode of Thomas the Train, and I headed to the kitchen to start his dinner (side note: Friday night has been burrito night in our house throughout this pregnancy, so I was really really looking forward to a burrito).  I tapped my phone at what I presumed to be the beginning and end of each pain.

“That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “these are coming about three minutes apart, and lasting 45 seconds.”

I continued cooking macaroni and cheese.

By 6:15p the pain was just a little, teeny bit worse.  Evan was almost home.  I sent a text to my best friend and just gave a heads up that maybe I was having contractions.  Maybe.  Nothing to worry about, but just pack a bag.  By 6:45p I decided it probably would be best if we went to the hospital, just so they could tell me it was pre-labor, nothing to be worried about, and that I’d probably have the baby over the weekend.  I sent another text and asked my best friend to head to our house.  Evan and I sat down for dinner with Miles.  We talked about his day, and I breathed through the pain, which was still no big deal.

We did our normal bath, bed, jammies and story routine with Miles.  I explained that we would be going to the doctor to see about the baby, and that maybe we wouldn’t be home in the morning, but that Aunt Ashley would be here.  In typical Miles fashion, he was totally cool with this and ready for us to hit the road so he could hang out with his much cooler aunt.

I finished packing our bags just in case.  We loaded up and drove the five minutes to the hospital, and checked in at the reception desk.  By 8:45p, we were in the maternity wing’s triage room, waiting on an OB nurse to come and tell us that we weren’t really in labor.

Just after 9p, a nurse showed up.  She checked my vitals, started a monitor for the contractions (by now I had relented and acknowledged these really could be contractions).  Yes, we were probably in labor.  The OB on call would confirm.  A few minutes later, the very nice OB who was on call came to check me.  “Oh, you’re at 5cm, we should get you to a room.”

Excuse me…I’m at what?!

See, with Miles, my water did break, but the contractions never really started and I never really dilated, so they put me on Pitocin to get the show on the road.  I remembered those contractions, the ones that made me yell like a hyena for two hours before it was even time to deliver.  And those were the contractions I’d waited on.  That, and my water breaking.  Neither of those had happened.

After eighteen attempts to put in an IV port (exaggeration – it only took the poor nurse seven tries) I was ready to head to my suite.  The contractions were definitely stronger, but not scream-inducing.  The OB nurse asked if I could walk, and naturally I looked at her like she had three heads.  No, there’s no flipping way I can walk right now.

At 10p, we were in the room.  The OB confirmed I was now at 9cm.  The baby would be here “soon.”  She broke my water; 20 minutes and nine pushes later, and he was here, with squishy pink cheeks and a big, healthy cry.  He was immediately given to me for kangaroo care, while the OB cleaned up the crime scene and the nurses tried not to slip and fall in the flood from my water breaking (I did tell them they were giving me a complex).

Like with Miles, we planned a drug-free birth.  Good for us, because had we decided to have an epidural, there would have been no time.  In fact, had I waited just a few more minutes (like I’d planned) we would have just popped the kid out in the backseat (my husband was very ready to MacGuyver this baby, if necessary).  The OB’s instructions to me were very clear, should we decide to have more kiddos in the future: “If you think you feel something, head to the hospital, or next time you really will deliver in a parking lot.”  Duly noted.

Once the clean up crew was done, we were left alone for the golden hour.  There’s no feeling in the world like that of snuggling this tiny little miracle; it makes all the labor of, well, labor, completely and utterly worth it.  You know how moms tell you that you’ll totally forget the pain?  Yes, you absolutely do (until you get out of bed the first time).

Around midnight the nurses came back to weigh, measure and swaddle Grant.  We were told the local pizza place would deliver to the hospital, and they were open until 1am.  I instructed my husband to order something enormously supreme, because I was STARVING.  Half an hour later we were enjoying pizza and snuggling with our newborn.  Second-time parents are good at multi-tasking like that.

Miles came to visit early the next morning, and immediately asked “Where’s my baby Grant?!” upon entering the room.  He’s been in love with his baby brother from that very moment, and while we know this could and likely will change many times over the course of growing up, for now we are very, very blessed to see this instant bond in all its sweet glory.

So we’re back in the swing of things.  More nonsense to come, as we talk about our first week at home, our first few outings as a family of four, and things toddlers do in the presence of newborns.  For new, enjoy these:

Sleepy smiles.

Sleepy smiles.

All my boys.

All my boys.

CUTEST.

CUTEST.

Bonus: BEER. Yay!

Bonus: BEER. Yay!