Tag Archives: love

Back to School Blues

Back to school is my favorite time of year. Seriously, Christmas and Halloween have nothing on this most wonderful time of year for me. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and even though I’ve not been to school for many moons I still celebrate in my own small way each year with new pens, markers or and notebooks.

I’ve always looked forward to the back-to-school sales and smell of fresh Crayolas lining the aisles at the stores. But this year, it’s different.

Since Penelope Joy was conceived, I looked forward to September 2018 when she would head to kindergarten. I thought about shopping for her first-day-of-school outfit and picking out her backpack. What would she want on her lunchbox? What sorts of friends would she make? Where would she catch the bus?

Then, Penelope Joy died. And I’ve looked forward to September 2018 with dread and fear rather than joy and excitement, knowing that this would have been my precious girl’s year. For quite some time I’ve been preparing for this day, knowing that I’d be a wreck as friends posted their 5-year-olds’ first day of school pictures and talked about their mixed emotions of joy and sadness as they sent their little ones off to school. I had every intention to stay off of social media for the week before and after Labor Day because my heart cannot handle it.

But now things are different as we prepare to send our rainbow baby off to preschool in September. While it’s not kindergarten, it’s her first school experience — and it’s my first mom experience with school.

We received Dorothy’s supply list in the mail the other day, as well as her child information sheet and request for vaccination records. And it hurt my heart — not just because Dorothy’s growing up (way too fast, I might add) but also because of the shoulda-coulda-wouldas.

I think most of these milestones will always be bittersweet for me — both celebrating my kids’ experiences while internally mourning everything we missed out on with Penelope Joy. I try so hard not to let my grief — my lifelong grief — get in the way of our celebrations and joy. But some milestones are harder than others. Back to school, it seems, is going to be one of them.

So please be gentle with my tender heart as I experience more than the normal I-can’t-believe-my-little-girl-is-going-to-preschool sadness. And know that when I hop briefly on social media to share my shining rainbow’s first-day-of-school picture, it is because I am the proudest mom ever of a child who deserves every bit of pomp and circumstance we can muster for Back to School 2018.

I wonder what she’ll want on her lunchbox …

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Before and After

I was working on an article earlier as a submission to my friend’s nonprofit organization, which seeks to help others heal, find hope and try to be happy again after someone they love dies. She asked me to contribute a piece about grief and, as my story flowed, about living with grief.

As I was looking for photos to share with the story, I came across two family photos. The first one is from 2013 and is the last family photo we ever took with Penelope Joy. The second one is from April this year.

So many striking differences between the two photos — and not just in the amount of hair on Mr. B’s face or the color of my glasses. I don’t think I noticed before quite how much fear and sadness were living behind our eyes in that photo. Mr. B’s eyes, I think, say it best — though my blotchy face and misty eyes give it away as well. We were terrified. We were devastated. We were holding on to a very thin rope of hope. We were, in the instant this photo was taken, preparing to say good-bye.

Sometimes I feel like I have two families: my “before” family and my “after” family. So, in a way, these are my before and after pictures.

It’s not that Penelope Joy isn’t an important part of who we are now — because she’s written into every word of our story. It’s more that who we were then is so entirely different from who we are now — as individuals and together. So much of where we are in life could never have existed in the version of our story where Penelope Joy lives. Who we are now would never be if we didn’t have this very specific “before.” Hobbes and Dorothy wouldn’t be part of our story if our “once upon a time” didn’t start with Penelope Joy’s way-too-short chapter.

I miss that little girl with such fierceness, so much force of heart. Even as I celebrate the life and light Dorothy and Hobbes bring into our tale, I can’t help but think about our before. And how it’s directed our ever-after.

I’ll be sure to share the link to the full story about grief — Grief — once it’s posted on my friend’s site.

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Talking the Talk

When you have two toddlers, it’s hard to find time to talk — really, really talk — with your partner. I mean, Mr. B and I talk. We talk about our days. We talk about our budget. We talk about our weekend plans. But we don’t really talk about The Big Stuff. You know, the stuff we used to talk about pre-kids. Or, really, pre-marriage.

There’s a special kind of conversation that takes place when you’re in the first chapter of a relationship — The Big Stuff. Hopes. Fears. Dreams. Goals. These kinds of conversations are the stuff relationships and new love are made from. The results of these conversations are, to a certain extent, the reason you fall in love with someone.

At least, that’s how it worked for me.

Mr. B and I used to have the most fantastic conversations. Some of this was due to the way we fell in love with each other — online, through late-night conversations via text, chat, email and, sometimes, even phone calls. Working opposite shifts and living in different cities made conversation a crucial building block in our relationship. Looking at us now, I’m certain you’d never believe we once stayed up until 4 a.m. just walking the streets talking. (Shocking, I know! I mean, just yesterday we called it a night and went to bed at 9:30 after I woke up to the sound of Mr. B snoring on the couch next to me.)

Want further proof we used to young and fun once — staying up until all hours, playing dress up and just being plain silly?

All this to say that Mr. B and I have been talking lately — about more than what’s for dinner. But, to be honest, we do talk about that a lot. And breakfast, too. Because breakfast is really important.

Communication can be tough — marriage can be tough. And I think Mr. B and I have had to work at it harder in the last six months than we ever have. (It certainly doesn’t help that I’ve been dealing with mental health issues of my own.) So much about our life together has been about the kids — what’s going on with them, what they’re currently getting into in the other room, what they need — that, not only have we neglected ourselves as individuals, we’ve neglected ourselves as a couple.

We’re working hard to change that. And part of that is talking more. Real, purposeful talking — setting aside time to actually have a conversation with each other that can’t be interrupted by a needy kid (or one who’s so stinkin’ cute we have to drop everything we’re doing and just marvel at our little creation).

Some of the conversations are ugly — because no matter how much I try to work on my emotional intelligence, all of my feelings look like tears. And some of the conversations are really, really beautiful — how life-giving is it to have someone open his soul wide up and share his biggest, pie-in-the-skyiest dream with you?

We talk about how we can do better as partners, as parents. We talk about where we want to be in five weeks, five months and five years. We talk about our next chapter, our next home. We talk about reindeer and children’s books and coffee and hammocks. We talk about what our future together looks like — and what our future as individuals looks like. And, yes, of course we talk about our kids.

As we spend more time talking — and making real conversation a priority — we’re getting better at it. We’re rediscovering that warm feeling we had in the beginning when we were connecting on a different plane. Communication is starting to flow more smoothly and happen more spontaneously. But, like everything, it’s definitely taking practice and a little patience as we dust the rust off.

I can already tell that things between us are starting to click a little better. We’re reconnecting to the “we” we used to be — with the addition of at least one fun new topic to add to our conversations:

The kids

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An Admission — and a Soapbox

I feel like I should start this post by admitting some things about myself — true confessions style. So, here goes:

  • I am a do-it-myself, charge-on-through kinda gal, and I hate asking for help.
  • I have a terrible fear of failure, of disappointing people and of not being “enough” — whatever that even means.
  • I talk a really good game when it comes to “happiness is an inside job” and “choose joy,” but some days I struggle to see the glass half full and recognize all the good I have in my life.

Now that that’s out of the bag, let me get into the real reason for randomly interrupting your social media and blog scrolling today: depression and anxiety.

The other day I shared a post I saw on someone’s social feed: “In my deepest darkest post-partum depression, I would have personally never called a phone number. If John or my doctor never reached out, I would have never even known. It really can be a lonely hole. Watch the people you love and don’t be afraid to speak up.” (Source)

When I shared that — and commented my agreement, it didn’t mean I think suicide call lines are a bad idea — they are so important, and we should have even more resources like this available. What it meant to me was, I personally wouldn’t have called a phone number. On my saddest, darkest of days, I would not have picked up a phone to dial a number to talk to a stranger about what I was feeling. Because … (see bulleted list at the top of this post).

If Mr. B hadn’t talked to me in loving but honest terms about what he was seeing (“You just don’t seem happy anymore.”) or my therapist didn’t encourage me to share my real feelings even though they made me feel like a failure as a mother or my friend didn’t call me to make sure everything was OK when she saw me struggling, I probably never would have even considered post-partum depression (and anxiety) as what was going on with me. I mean, after all, it was several months after Little Man was born — how could it possibly be post-partum depression?

Even now, after writing this post in my head 1,000 times over the last few months, it feels weird to see it in black-and-white. It still feels like I’m going to be judged for it, like it reveals something nasty about my true nature, like there’s something wrong with me. Like maybe, just maybe, I’m not a good mom or wife because some days I feel completely overwhelmed trying to do it all. And, damn it, shouldn’t I just be happy because I get to hold my living, breathing, thriving, beautiful children when so many other moms — myself included — had to bury theirs? Maybe I’m not feeling as hashtag-blessed as I should be?

When Mr. B first started talking to me about it, I admitted that there had been a couple of times I thought to myself “I could just get in the van and drive away from all of this.” I never got as far as trying to figure out where I might go — although a nice, comfy bed and eight hours of sleep may have been at the top of the list. And, no, I didn’t really want to leave my kids or my husband — I honestly, truly love them and the life we’ve built together. It was the cloud of depression talking; it wasn’t me.

So, why am I sharing this? Why now, when I’m starting to feel happier and healthier (at least emotionally) than I have in some time?

#blessedIt’s because we have got to do something about the stigma attached to mental health in this country. I shouldn’t feel like sharing this puts at risk everything I’ve worked so hard my entire life to have — no one should. I want to build a home — a world — for my children where their emotional, physical and spiritual health are all considered important. I want them to feel confident and comfortable enough to admit when they’re struggling. And if the first step to that is admitting that some days I stumble and other days I fall, then that’s what this is.

This is my admission. It is not a call for help or sympathy (although a little empathy always goes a long way), as I’m finding the help that works for me. We all struggle and we all need help sometimes. So check in on your people every now and again. And, for crying out loud, remember to be kind — it’s the most important thing.

(Here’s some more info about post-partum depression in easy-to-ready and -understand terms.)

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When a picture’s more than a picture

We live in an age where people are increasingly over-sharing, over-posting, over-exposed. And — I admit — I’m as guilty as the next person. I am an open book. Too open? Maybe. And, my greatest weakness is posting photos (upon photos … upon photos … upon photos) of my family’s adventures. I’ve heard, more than once, from people in various areas of my life to “put down the camera” and “just enjoy making the memories.”

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And I do that — sometimes. As I vowed to Mr. B in that day we officially joined our lives together in 2012, there are some things I save just for us. But, there’s lots of other stuff I share, quite often.

There are a lot of reasons I take — and share — as many photos as I do.

  • I’m super close to my family — just not geographically. It hurts my heart to know they’re missing out on so much of my kids’ lives (and that my kids are missing out on experiencing the true, crazy joy that makes up their Up North family), so I share lots of photos in hopes that it makes up for a tiny bit of the distance.
    whole family
  • I know, all too well, that there’s going to be a day in your life that you only have pictures left. As I was updating our family photo wall the other day, it struck me — directly in the tear-makers — that I’m regularly going to be changing out our family photos and updating pictures of Little Miss and Mister Mister, but I’ll never have new photos to post of Penelope Joy. All I have of her are the pictures I took in the (way too short) time period of 38 days. And, I’ll tell you what, I should have taken more.

    Family Photo

    Our final family photo with Penelope Joy.

  • I think, perhaps one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard (and read) is that “you should put down the camera and just enjoy making memories.” Here’s the thing — memories aren’t forever. And they certainly aren’t guaranteed. My dad died at 63, having no idea who most of us were. Literally, all he had were pictures — and all we have, now, are pictures. My kids won’t know their Papa except through the stories I share and the photos I show them. Younger onset Alzheimer’s disease stole my dad’s memories — and so much more — from him, and from us. But, I’ll be damned if it’s going to take my pictures.On my wedding day with dad
    So, next time you’re looking at my feed or my page and you think to yourself, “geez, she takes a lot of pictures,” maybe your second thought will be “isn’t it great that she’ll always have those photos to help her treasure those moments.” If that’s not your second thought, I invite you to close that tab and look away — you don’t have to look at them. And you also don’t have to worry if I’m living enough in the moment. Trust me I am. I’m savoring every single, beautiful second.

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My Self — Myself

Mr. B and I were talking last night after Little Miss and Mister Mister went to sleep. We don’t spend a lot of time talking talking. I mean, we talk, but we don’t talk like we used to — you know, before kids, when we used to have time to sit and discuss the big things like dreams and wishes and goals and … well … life.

So, last night we did that. And it was nice. We talked about our life and the chapter we’re in right now and how life is with two (three) kids. And it was a great conversation that ended with some tears, as B.I.G. conversations sometimes do. (My tears, of course, it’s always my tears.)

They weren’t sad tears. They weren’t happy tears. They weren’t mad tears. They were … contemplative … tears, I suppose.

Because as we were talking, I shared with Mr. B how hard things are some days. It is hard balancing it all: work, family, friends, “self-care,” home, responsibilities. Mostly, it’s hard because I feel like I haven’t been myself since before I was pregnant with Penelope Joy.

I really, truly love the chapter of our story we’re living right now. But, if you think about it, I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding since January of 2013. There was a 3-month break between Penelope Joy’s death and when I got pregnant with Dottie Lou. But that was filled with fresh, terrible grief. And now, some days I’m left feeling like my body, myself, has not really been my own for four-and-a-half years.

Now, please don’t get me wrong: I love being a mom (way more than I thought I could). I love being a wife. I love every choice and sacrifice I’ve made that has brought me to where I am right now. I look back with no regrets, and I look forward with no doubts. But, man, this chapter can be hard.

Sitting here, staring at the screen and listening to myself type, I don’t really have a solution — or know if I really need a “solution.” I don’t have any deep thoughts about it. Actually, I don’t really know the point of this post, other than both kids are sleeping and I haven’t really made time to write for a really long time. And, for me, writing is one of the first steps to feeling like myself again — to feeling like I belong to me.

Now, please enjoy this picture of my family or, as Dottie Lou says, “all the silly monkeys.”

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Clean Teeth and Some Memories

I met my new dentist the other day.

I’ve been going to that dentist’s office for 10+ years, but my dentist recently retired and I haven’t had the chance to meet one of the partners who took over the practice. As I was uncomfortably reclined back in the chair, my mouth hanging open and drool — made even more … drooly … by pregnancy — practically flowing out of my mouth, the dental hygienist informed the dentist that I was pregnant.

“Oh, congratulations! Is it your first?”

Then, my mind did what it always does when someone asks me what number kiddo is currently making his home in my ever-expanding belly: raced through all the possible responses.

“Nope, he’s our second.”

“Nope, he’s number 3.” And leave it at that, knowing the next question is how old our other two are.

“Nope, he’s number 3 … but number 1 died, so he’s like number 2. But really number 3.”

It’s exhausting to pretend like Penelope Joy didn’t exist because it makes people uncomfortable to talk about her. I love my children. All three of them. They are all a huge part of who I am as a person and as a mother. They are our family. Dottie Lou is no more important in our life’s story because she is alive, just as Penelope Joy is no more important because she isn’t. And Wink? He’s right up there with them.

Please don’t get me wrong — I know, with my whole heart, that people mean well. No one wants to purposely hurt someone’s feelings or open old wounds or be uncaring when it comes to subjects that cut so deeply.

But to ask me about my kids — ALL of them — doesn’t remind me that Penelope Joy died. Trust me, I remember that every single day all by myself. Instead, it gives me the opportunity to talk about her — to celebrate her life.

I share funny stories about Dottie Lou every day, and daily (or even more often) photos of her have pretty much taken over my social media accounts. Wink even makes his appearance — especially now that he’s making himself known (in size and full-on kicks to my bladder). But I don’t get that with Penelope Joy. There are no new photos to share; there are no new stories. All I have of her is what lives in the past. Her book has been written, and the only place it lives on is in the stories I get to tell every now and again — when she accidentally comes up in conversation.

So, I did what my heart told me to do when Mr. New Dentist asked about my kids: I told the truth.

“He’s number 3. Our first died when she was 38 days old, and our second just celebrated her 2nd birthday.”

There was, as there usually is, an awkward silence and a little stumbling as he found the “right” words to say.

“Oh! You’ll have a boy and a girl! How exciting!”

Yes, but no, I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled (drooly mouth and all) and said (slobbered), “We couldn’t be more excited.”

Because it’s so very true.

 

Family Photo

Photo by The People Picture Company

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