Happy birthday, sweet girl

Dear Paige,

Yesterday, you turned 3.

Today, you climbed under the covers next to me like you do every morning once the sun is up and you know I won’t send you back to your own bed. You snuggled in, curling your legs into my tummy, digging your feet into my skin, as if that gets you even closer.

You laid there with your big eyes open, just looking at me, like usual. I steal glances at you sometimes, at your soft, milky skin, at those eyelashes, those shiny eyes. I think how much I love you, even when it’s 6 a.m.

After a few minutes today, your little voice woke me.

“Mom? Am I still 3?”

I smiled, through the sleep. “Yeah, baby, you’re 3. There’s no going back now.”

The past two days have been emotional. I’ve found myself looking at old pictures, baby pictures of my babies who are no longer babies. It’s the ultimate cliche, but where does the time go? How do we all grow up so fast? How do we slow it down?

You came into my life two weeks early, sweet girl, amidst a series of events that are barely even believable. On your brother’s fourth birthday, our cat was attacked by a neighbor’s dog. I hopped a chain link fence to try to save her. Somehow, I freed her from the dog’s jaws, climbed back over the fence with my dying cat and put her gently in the passenger seat of my car.

At the emergency vet, I must have been a sight to see. Full-term pregnant woman with cat blood on her shirt, under her nails, everywhere.

Rye’s birthday party was that afternoon, and that night, at 3 a.m., I knew you were about to make your entrance. That wasn’t just any back pain that woke me up.

That morning, May 18, 2009, the cat had to be transported from one vet to another and your brother, bless him, started throwing up. Grandma drove in from out of town to watch him, so I could go to the hospital and have a baby.

So I could have you.

I can’t believe that was three years ago.

I can’t believe the little girl you have become. I can’t believe how amazing you are.

Three going on at least six, you are wise beyond your years. You are kind and empathetic and concerned and vivacious and full of life and so, so smart.

You are busy all the time.

You love purses, bags, anything you can put other things in. You go shopping to buy us bananas, ice cream and Dora Band-Aids.

This week, in the car, you took a pad of sticky notes and wrote directions on them. Scribbles that told us which way to turn to get to the store or home. “You go south and then left. OK, Mom?” You lined up those sticky notes on your car door. You gave each of the rest of us one of our own.

You text people. You talk on the phone. You admonish your babies (“I am so disappointed in you. Listen to me.”)

You tell stories – creative, imaginative stories. You sing songs. You know every word to many of Kyle’s songs. Last week, at his show, you sang unabashedly along, dancing, in your own innocent world. Two women at the table behind me said, “She is so cute! How does she know all the words?!”

You are precociously adorable.

You are a chatterbox who loves making us happy. Lately, you ask for a long pony, rather than one pulled into a bun. You like your toenails painted like mine. You like to run and tumble with your brother. You like to play guitars with Kyle.

You like to help with everything.

Lately, you have make-believe friends. Their names are foreign-sounding: “Doh-dio, Wishka and Boopie.” Your imagination is unstoppable.

You are unstoppable, strong, brave.

I am so proud of you.

You make me remember how much hope there is in the world, how much promise there is of what’s to come, how good we all have it already. With you, we can conquer anything.

Your smile rights every wrong (or at least lessens the blow). That laugh is infectious. Those eyes light up the dark.

What a wild ride, raising you.

Happy birthday, baby.

I love you so much. Forever.

Mom

Today, you are 7

Dear Rye,

Today, you are 7.

Holy, moly, cow. You are 7.

At 1:59 a.m. seven years ago, you finally entered this world. I was 25 and naive. Giving birth was nothing I could have prepared for. I remember saying, in the early hours of the morning on your birth day long ago, that I’d rather run two marathons back to back then ever do that again.

Ha. I was nothing if I wasn’t dramatic.

But I was in love. With a sweet baby boy. And you were instantly worth every second of pain, every millisecond of effort. I’d had a baby.

And you were the most beautiful, most precious thing I’d ever seen.

My life changed forever that day. Of course it did. I cannot imagine who I would be without you.

In as many ways as you are still my beautiful baby who needs his mom, you are also my too-grown-up adolescent with his own opinions, his own sense of humor, his own style and his own fears.

You are amazing.

You are sensitive and passionate and quiet and determined. You are still figuring this world out (me, too), and you handle yourself with a quiet serenity I wish I had. You think before you speak and I am so proud of the mature child you have become.

The changes you’ve handled so far in your life have been many. And while I wish our path would have been easier, I cannot tell you how proud I am of you for waking up every morning, getting dressed and getting on with this life with your head held high, with that quiet look in your eye that tells me, “Mom, we’re going to be OK.”

I know you carry a lot on the inside. I know you worry. I know sometimes your feelings get hurt. I know sometimes the anger burns.

But listen to me, babe: We are OK. Our path now is paved. And we’re headed up to the hills where the skies are clear and the air is crisp and where little boys can worry a little less about the weight of the grown-up world and just be … little boys.

Over the years, as I’ve tucked you in and said goodnight, I’ve whispered these words to you: “You know how much I love you? You are my sweet, smart, strong, special boy. I’m always here for you. I love you forever.”

And then I say sweet dreams and turn off the light. You used to go straight to sleep. Now, because you’re no longer a baby or a toddler or a preschooler, you use your iPod. You play games and listen to songs I don’t even know. You get up and use the restroom on your own. You come out and put your glass of water by the kitchen sink. You act … grown-up.

There’s no question you are your own thinking, feeling, breathing human being with your own tastes, your own humor, your own style. (Those Baby Gap hoodies I dressed you in as a toddler wouldn’t make the cut anymore. I know.). You have me “do” your hair in the morning before school.

Last night, I read your sister a book that I used to read over and over to little-boy you. You walked in at the part you used to say with me. As I read the lines of “The Apple Pie Tree” I could hear so-much-smaller you saying them with me and almost, I remembered what it was like to have you on my lap instead, to steal kisses on your cheek, to catch a whiff of your hair, to feel what it’s like to have a son to hold onto. That is a memory I will always keep.

Thank you for being sweet, strong, smart, brave, special you.

Happy 7th birthday, baby.

I love you forever, my special boy.

Mom

Where that strength lies

What would we do if we lost our babies?

Last week, we went to Arches where the wind has blown the land into unearth-like formations of red rock. Literal arches of rock paint the sky, as you walk along, feeling small, remembering your place in the world. Liking it all.

We took the kids with us, our beautiful babies, who are now somehow almost 7 and 3 years old, on this first venture ever into the national park just north of our new home.  

It was a 3-mile roundtrip hike to Delicate Arch, that image you’ve seen on postcards and websites and after any Google search for “Moab.” 

The kids can do it. Yes. Let’s go.

And we set off, stopping to look at petroglyphs just off the trail, the little girl and I falling just slightly behind. 

“I can do this myself,” she kept saying, so proud lately of her independence, even though she’s always been this way. She’d smile that confident, wide grin at me, her eyes a reflection of my own, her arms swinging as we walked along.

About a half mile in, the terrain got steeper and the trail a bit more narrow. The terrain was rocky, sort of like gravel back home, only mixed with fine red sand. 

The little girl slipped. 

I lunged to catch her, to stop her from tumbling right over the edge of the trail, which dropped at least 5 or 6 feet to our right. My right arm scooped her up, and she was fine, though we were both on the dirt floor now and my knee was bleeding.

I bit back tears, and I heard my husband say, “What’s going on back here?” as he doubled back to see why we were sitting on the trail instead of walking. 

I tried to tell him, to somehow paint the picture of what had happened, what could have happened, but I knew I couldn’t really articulate it. I knew I couldn’t make him feel that instant pit in my stomach, that sudden shot of adrenaline, that surge of relief, that comfort of her body in my arm, that way I felt all those emotions over about 8 seconds.

It’s in instances like these that I’m reminded of the tale of the woman whose child is trapped under a car. And she simply lifts it up.

Not that I did anything of the sort, not that the little girl was even in real danger, but it’s the split-second reaction of a mother, any mother, any parent, to help her child avoid any physical harm.

So we picked ourselves up and carried on. The little girl rode on my back up the steep Navajo sandstone. Then her stepdad held her around the much more precarious final curve and up to the spectacular arch (she got a ride in his arms all the way back down, too, I might add). 

The drop-offs from the cliff’s edge really were drastic; they really were dangerous. But there was enough room to sit and have a snack and take photos and marvel at the arch away from the edge, without much worry. 

Still, I kept telling her: “Sit down. On your bottom. Right now. Sit.”

Because there’s just no second chances in cases like that.

Back home, there is a woman whose daughter is dying. Dying. The family has chosen in-home hospice care for their little girl as she lives out her last days. 

I’ve been following her story on Facebook. Yesterday’s updates were heartbreakingly sad. 

I don’t even know that family. I just know of them, I know their story. I know they have a second child with the same awful disease their first is dying from.

And I can’t help but wonder how you ever move on. How do you say goodbye to your children? 

I do not pretend to know that answer or where that strength lies, and I pray to the powers of the mighty universe I never have to know that kind of resilience. Please, I do not ever want that kind of strength. 

I guess maybe the answer is courage. You just wake up in the morning because the day comes up whether you want it to or not and you get dressed. And you go on.

And you live, as brave as you can. With hope and faith and the promise of better days, even if the bend is far, far ahead.

Amy Price, I’m asking the universe to pull you through.

Sitting on a thrift store couch

I’ve run this route out our front door down Spanish Valley Road about six times.

I’ve been waking with the day, around 5:45, to pull on my shorts and my shoes and head out. I sleepily slide the iPod on and earbuds in and step out onto the peeling wooden porch. This morning, I tried listening to something different, something old, something I used to love. But Ben Kweller sounded like nothing but noise today, an irritation more than a distraction. I turned it off and went back to the playlist I’ve listened to on every solo morning run since I’ve been here.

There’s something to be said for familiarity.

We are here in this desert, and it’s beautiful. The sunshine is brighter, the air is crisper and more than anything else the landscape is spectacular. I run toward the Manti La Sals to the south. I have this idea that if I could just keep going, I’d reach them. Someday, of course, I would, but I’m training for a half, not a full, and today isn’t the day.

To the west is what I think is called the Moab Rim, which reminds me of the Bookcliffs back in Grand Junction, those searing, ridged rocks that dare you to tackle their steep rise. I climbed them once, one foot in front of the other up that steep, narrow spine. I was 23 and had no idea who I was or what I wanted. My son, my grown-up, sensitive little boy, wants to climb Moab’s version. I looked at them as we drove past, on our way to school, and had no idea where we’d even begin, if there was a trail or if we’d have to make our own or if we’d be foolish to even try that hike.

“Sure, we can, babe,” I said.

And somehow, because he wants to, we’ll figure out how to try.

To the east along the road I run is a Navajo sandstone wall, bubbly with texture. I pass horses and cows and a hodgepodge of modular homes and “ranchettes” with pickup trucks and dogs tied up in front yards.

And those La Sals loom in the background.

One of my favorite things here is the time of day when the light changes, the way the light illuminates only the tops of all these geographic wonders, in the early morning as the sun rises and in the evening, as the sun sets.

We sure don’t have views like this back home.

As I ran today, I thought about that word. Both my husband and I have referred to Omaha as home. I wonder how long we’ll say that.

I’ve been wondering when home starts to feel like where you are, instead of where you were.

How does that transition happen and can we speed it along?

What is the trick to adjusting to a new space with people you don’t know, streets you don’t recognize, routines you don’t have?

I like Moab – for the unparalleled beauty, for the desert heat, for the dry air, for the blonde horse at the house next door, for how much my husband feels connected to this land.

But it doesn’t, yet, feel like home. In the quiet space of my mind, where my truth teller sings, I miss so much about “home.” Not so much the place but the people and the routine.

My son’s former teacher e-mailed a few days ago. Many of the kids have been saying how much they miss Rye, she wrote. I had to turn my attention to something else – to stop from crying right there at my desk in my big, lonely office.

Yet, when I dropped him off at school two days ago, his new school, I smiled as I drove away because he was walking in with a friend. They were talking, and my little boy was smiling.

Change has never been easy. I can be the bravest woman in the world, game face permanently on, and still not be comfortable with everything that’s new. Even if I’m comfortable, I can still be skeptical.

Even if I’m happy (I am), even if I finally have the love I’ve always wanted (I do), even if my beautiful family is always there at the end of every day (they are), I still have that space in my heart that misses home. I miss my friends and my family.

And I long for the day – hopefully not too far off – when I feel peace here. When I feel like I’m home, not just the sense of home I already feel with my husband, but the bigger sense of the word – the all-encompassing, this-is-where-you-belong peace.

Have a great weekend, friends. Check out Ben Gibbard:

“You Remind Me of Home”