Sort of a big deal

His teacher handed me the note at our conference last week, saying it was a surprise for Rye.

Well, 7-year-old, nothing-gets-past-him Rye was with me, with us, and when our little family got to the car, he wanted to open the envelope.

He did, and I read.

“Dear parents, your child will be honored at a special assembly next Thursday, Nov. 1. Please join us to celebrate your child’s accomplishment. Please do NOT tell your child …”

Er.

Well, having that at the top of the note might have been helpful.

At any rate, we were excited our son was receiving an award, no matter what it was for, which still remained a mystery. I marked our calendar.

Today was Thursday.

Today I was crunched for time, overwhelmed with getting both kids fed, dressed, groomed and to school on time, as well as my morning full-time (paying) job work done before being back at Rye’s school by 9:45 a.m. for the awards assembly. I managed to semi-groom myself, too (I spent 12 minutes – that included a shower. Not even kidding).

The rock star was waiting on the street outside his art gallery and I slowed the car to pick him up.

We walked into the elementary school gym late by five minutes. Kids’ names were being called off and they stood from their position on the floor to be honored. I had no idea what they were being recognized for.

Rye turned around to wave at us. We smiled and waved back, bemused at the goings-on more than anything else.

His name was called. He stood up. He sat back down.

A few minutes later, the principal, who was doing the name calling, said something about having another shot next quarter at perfect attendance if your name hadn’t been called this time.

Oh, perfect attendance, I thought. Well, at least he was recognized for something! Anne Lamott says 80 percent of life is just showing up…

I thought the assembly might be over, but the school principal switched to a different award.

Excellence in P.E.

After a few other students were honored, Rye’s name was called! This time, he got to walk to the front of the gym and be honored with the 10 or so other students who received the Excellence in P.E. award.

Wow, I thought. Cool. I was proud. There’s something about seeing your baby up on stage with an award in his hand.

Rye sat down and the principal moved on to awards in other categories: Music, Computers, Library.

I glanced at the clock, figuring the assembly had to be over then, happy our son had been honored twice(!).

But it wasn’t over.

They saved the best for last.

Every quarter, each teacher gets to pick ONE student from her classroom to receive the Super Citizen Award. This is the student who embodies the ideals of the school; they try hard, they work hard, they listen, they show respect, they’re a good friend, a model student.

The principal talked about the attributes of each student using pronouns before announcing the winner by name.

I watched one mom and her two younger children clap and wave and react how any mom would when her child wins this sort of award. And I smiled. I was happy for that family.

A small handful of other students were honored.

The principal announced the winner in Rye’s class last. This student “is a wonderful example of positive thinking and actions,” the principal said. “He is kind, helpful and always has a nice word for a friend. He has quickly become a positive member of our classroom and school.”

That sounds like my kid, I thought. I kept listening.

This student’s “commitment to follow Shelledy expectations shows he is an honest person,” the principal said. “He is a model for other students to follow. He always completes his work. He listens during directions so he knows what to do, and then gets right to work on a task. He always tries his hardest and his work reflects his dedication to learning.”

Is Rye dedicated to learning? I thought. I hope so.

And then.

“This student is new to our school but has quickly become a bobcat. He is proud when he gets a PAWS and enjoys our school. Congratulations, Rye Stickney.”

I turned to the rock star, mumbled something unintelligible and then quickly looked back toward the front of the gym, where my first baby was walking to the front of the room, where he was getting an award called “Super Citizen.”

For a few minutes, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to turn the water works off.

A dad I’d met at the class Halloween party the day before came up to congratulate us. He said, “Wow, this is a big deal. Some kids go their whole time at Shelledy without ever getting this award. You should be really proud.”

I was. I am. So proud.

So can’t-stop-smiling proud.

Volunteering at my kid’s school: Why?

I’ve started volunteering at my son’s school.

He’s in the second grade at his third new school in a little more than a year and, well, maybe I feel guilty about that or maybe I genuinely want to know his teacher and student teacher and every single classmate he has or maybe I just want another way to be involved in my not-so-little-anymore boy’s life.

Maybe I want to be the cool mom who other kids say, “There’s Rye’s mom!” with a smile on their face. Maybe I want my own kid to think that.

Whatever the reason, I started volunteering at my son’s school and, so far, I don’t love it.

Every Monday, I show up at 3 p.m. to help with whatever task the teacher assigns.

The first week, I finagled a paper cutter in the teacher’s workroom to help make various stacks of oddly-shaped flashcards, which I then wrote “2+3=5″ and similar facts on.

Last week, I helped students learn subtraction facts by flipping flashcards. I got through about five or six students (not my own) before my time was up.

Yesterday, I cut out more math facts from over-sized sheets of laminated construction paper.

As I sat at the small desk at the back of the room, maneuvering the scissors over the slippery laminate, I wondered: Why am I here?

My son’s teacher greeted me, handed me my assignment and then ignored me. My son seemed both happy to see me and horrified that I was in his classroom and might oh-my-God speak to one of his friends, at the same time. My son’s classmates glanced at me awkwardly, unsure who I was, what I was doing there or if I’d be calling them over to practice their math.

My brain ticked off a list of other ways I could be spending that hour: work, laundry, going for a run, unpacking, reading, painting the bedroom, planting flowers, ETC.

I kept cutting. The classroom carried on around me.

I tried to remember the times my own parents visited my elementary-school classroom. There was a year both my mom and my dad led my Girl Scout troop. That was fun. And there was a time or two my dad brought his college actors in to perform a skit from a children’s show he was directing. I also remember, as a really young kid, bringing Halloween sugar cookies to school for my birthday. My mom had made those.

But aside from school programs and other functions, those are the only times I can remember my parents being at school. Certainly, neither volunteered to help the teacher on a weekly basis.

And as a kid? This was fine with me.

So I’ve been struggling lately with how I spend my time, what commitments I’ve made, whether the things I do reflect the priorities I have. If I want more time with my family, why would I take on any community obligations? If I want to be a five-day-a-week runner at this point in my life, why wouldn’t I forgo another commitment to make that happen? If I want to learn to play the guitar, why would I pursue any other extracurricular activities?

It’s a tough line to find, to cross, to sidestep, to hover over. And I’m still working on all the answers.

But for now (for always), I know one thing for sure: Being involved in my kids’ lives is important.

And if being present in my son’s classroom on a regular basis helps communicate that to him, if Anne Lamott is right that 80 percent of life is just showing up, if my son looks back one day and says, “Wow, Mom was at my school a lot, she must have really wanted to be an active participant in my life,” if my son feels he can pursue any interest and his mom will support it …

Well.

Then all the mindless, thankless cutting of flashcards, was worth every second.

Apple trees, an old barn and a home of our own

Outside the office window, I can see our entire backyard.

The old ambulance barn stands tall and strong, on guard, ready to house chickens in the small space on the south side and an art space/recording studio/guesthouse/whatever else we dream up in the main area whose white-washed doors make me feel hope.

The antlers near the barn’s top will stay because apparently if you’re a man, they make you feel like a man.

I’ve stopped looking at pictures of barns on pinterest.com because all the ones I love involve painting the barn red and hanging twinkly lights and having patio furniture and oak dining tables and dinner parties and fancy things that I’ve been told don’t belong in this sort of rustic structure, this barn that literally used to house our town’s ambulance back when the hospital was across the street (the old hospital was long ago turned into an apartment building that right now has Halloween decorations – and an American flag – flanking its entrance), this barn that high school kids each year visit for a backdrop to their senior pictures.

So OK, the barn is the rock star’s. And I’m OK with that.

Across from the barn a ways are the apple trees. I can see these from my office window, too, and they fill me with such a strong spirit of fall, of home, of everything good that I love them already. On our first visit to the house, to see if we might like it enough to make it our home, the kids – as if drawn like magic – found the apple trees on their own. They picked the yellow-green fruit and they came in to show us their find, sweet nectar dripping down the little girl’s chin, her pockets full of more juicy orbs.

I’ve already promised the kids baked apples. The only thing better would be if Grandma were here to make them, like she did for me as a little girl. Eating that sweet dessert in our Wisconsin living room is one of my favorite memories.

Outside my window, I can see the spot where my husband will build a fire pit and a pathway leading up to it. I can see where he wants to build us a garden, where he wants to grow food for our sustenance, where we might add on to the house in the next year or two, where we plan to put a swing set, maybe even a trampoline (shh…). I can see kids walk past the alley behind our house in the center of this small town. I can see the someday fence the rock star wants to build for privacy. I can see our kids playing. I can see a someday dog (well, maybe).

I see my family, in a home of our own.

Inside, we have lots of plans. Ripping up carpet and refinishing hardwood floors. Laying slate in the kitchen. New countertops, a new sink, more functional cabinets, new hardware in the bathroom. Paint. Lots of paint.

But we are here. We are happy.

Is this a forever home? the kids have asked. Maybe, my husband and I say. We hope so, we answer. We’ll at least be here a long time, we figure.

And that’s something, isn’t it? To find a home – a house and a community – where you can really, truly envision living for a long time.

I’m thankful.

These questions so … grown up

The sky was blue this morning, early, when I woke and opened one eye to gaze out over the quilt at the haze of the early-morning light.

My husband lay still beside me, his face turned away, peaceful in the way only early-morning sleep seems to let him be. I turned over, curling my legs into his, closing my eyes, snuggling down.

Yet sleep eluded me.

The rain started sometime after midnight. The rock star got up to close the window. I lay awake picturing the thrift-store desk I’d painted white the evening before getting pelted by raindrops, the water seeping into the drawers, warping the wood. I lay awake wondering just how bad it would be.

I lay awake remembering those yoga breaths the Grand Junction teacher taught me long ago, the three-step inhalations, the three-phase exhalations.

I tried it again, filling my lungs with the sweet night air, a somehow hopeful mix of hay, of cat, of outside, of the incense that marks bedtime for the grown-ups in the trailer.

I tried to turn the other thoughts off.

I looked at the clock, wondering how much longer I had before the little girl cried through the monitor, “Mom! I have to go to the bathroom!” or “Mom! I’m scared!”

I tried to sleep.

I drifted, after awhile, into one of those almost-asleep-but-not-quite restful places.

I dreamed about my family, in a house I don’t know but did in the dream. The place was bright. The kids moved about doing their own thing. The grown-ups worked in the kitchen, baking or writing or music making. I wore an apron and our stove was a shade of brilliant vintage green.

The happiness flowed like a river.

The house that didn’t appraise is now on the market for its appraisal price. The rock star and I have (had) moved on to another, smaller home, on the other side of Aspen Street. It didn’t appraise either, but we were able to make up the difference.

Because of a costly repair uncovered in the home inspection, though, we’re now really thinking hard about what to do.

What do we do?

Do we pay for the costly repair, plus the other work the house needs to make it what we want? Do we go back to the original house that didn’t appraise and hope we get it in the short sale?

Are we meant to find a home somewhere else altogether?

These answers are hard. These questions so … grown-up.

I work at the coffee shop most days until we get that home of our own. The sky has opened up now and raindrops are hitting my jeans, my toes. I am cold.

But my family is waiting for me. My husband is making dinner.

Time to go home, hopeful, peaceful, thankful all the same.

Where she got that dollar

My son once paid my daughter a dollar to go away and leave him alone.

I found the little girl in the workshop (sewing machines, not wood and tools, remember?) turned temporary kids’ room by herself on her bed, clutching her dollar.

The boy and his friends were outside, carefree and clearly up to something. They eyed me as I walked past, looked down and picked at their fingernails when I said, “Where’s your sister?”

I’d been in the house, see, the grown-up house, doing some grown-up chore like making dinner or washing dishes or starting the dryer a second time so those towels might actually dry.

I asked the little girl: “What are you doing in here all by yourself?”

She looked up at me with those eyes big as moons and smiled. “I don’t know, Mom!”

She is 3. Going on 9.

I scooped her up. I stroked her hair. I asked her where she got that dollar.

She told me.

And I freaked.

And the thing is maybe I shouldn’t have been so upset at the older brother. Because the little girl? She didn’t really seem sad. No. She simply seemed like a little kid in a room filled with toys, television and food, unsupervised. I wonder if the possibilities felt endless.

To me, however, this wasn’t cool. This brother’s bribe was blatant snobbery, selfishness. It was mean.

I don’t like mean.

So. We went outside. The older kids were still gathered by the tree house. Their voices hushed. Their gazes shifty.

Calmly, I asked my son, who is 7, where his sister got that dollar.

He pretended to be confused. (And I thought the mantra I’d been repeating since he learned to talk – “Never lie to your mother. She will always find out” – had gotten through. Silly me). He squinted his eyes, he furrowed his brow, he shrugged his shoulders.

“What dollar?”

And that was when my eyes flew out of my head, bouncing over the lawn to the street.

The boy old enough to know better went to timeout. He said he and his friends had just wanted time alone.

I reminded him what to do when he would prefer his sister not tag along. (It’s simple: Tell your mother or stepfather you’d like time alone AND THEY’LL HELP YOU! We’re awesome like that). Then I did one of these: “You will stay in time out. Until I figure out what your consequence should be!”

That’s the worst, right? Mom or Dad thinking about a punishment. Oh, man.

I ultimately decided to take the piggy bank away from Mr. Money Bags (he has a wealthy, generous great-grandmother) and keep it in my possession.

How long?! the boy wanted to know.

For as long as I feel I need to, I said. (Yes, I did that, too! Pulling out all the stops.)

The boy wasn’t happy but knew he hadn’t made a good choice. He is amazingly wise and clever and intuitive and has always been great at understanding faults, mistakes, what’s gone wrong.

He accepted his consequence and I gave him a hug and told him I loved him and all that business parents do because we mean it (and because no matter what our babies think, punishing them is no fun for us either!).

And we all quietly got up to return to our lives.

That’s when my daughter spoke.

“Mom?” she said. “Can I keep the dollar?”

A little piece of everything

The days are still hot, but it is September and the nights are cool and the babies and the love and I all sleep soundly.

Wrapped under blankets of their choosing – a thrift-store, Disney-princess sleeping bag for her and a Target Home velour-like throw for him – they sleep in what Grandpa thought she called a wood shop. I can only imagine the image in his mind. Stacks of logs and sawdust and machines and my babies asleep in the middle of a dirt floor.

Reality involves a workshop that housed sewing machines and books and an old trunk with someone named “Raber”‘s nomenclature on the front. The trunk and the books are still there. So is an old refrigerator with our food now inside and the kids’ beds – their real beds – and their clothes and our cat and the boy’s rock collection and the girl’s plastic kitchen and pretend food (from which, this morning, she made me vanilla soup).

Outside, around back, my love and I fantasize about someday being grown-ups old enough to travel the country for a living. We talk about recording an album in the travel trailer that looks like it should be a miniature keychain on someone’s keyring (my keyring). We lay on the lofted bed and read or work or answer kids’ calls. We drape arms around each other to help us (me) fall asleep. We split the covers; he takes the sheet because a rock star can’t sleep when he’s hot, I use the old quilt soft as my babies’ skin.

I look out the window at the tree in the yard of the $60,000 foreclosed home we thought for a day we wanted. A light shines at night. Outside, the black cats yowl, chasing and pawing each other with their hind legs. When it rains, we smell it through the screen windows, which are always open.

Last week, I dreamed about homes. My yellow house in Dundee was someone else’s (is someone else’s), but I was back, in the dream. Visiting. They’d added on, giving it the space I always wished it’d had. They showed me the work. In one room was all my old stuff I’d left behind. Funny, it wasn’t anything I wanted.

In real life, we have an almost home, here in our new town. We signed papers. We paid for inspections and appraisals and earnest monies and that sort of thing. I asked old employers for W-2s I hadn’t kept. My love even called the IRS for old documents he needed.

We made plans. In my head, I redid the upstairs bathroom. I painted the wainscoting on my daughter’s bedroom walls white, and I debated between lavender or yellow on the top half. I decided to look for an antique lighting fixture for above the dining room table. I’d begun refinishing the 1900 original hardwood floor. I’d decided to buy a new comforter for our bed. I’d searched Pottery Barn online for curtains for the kids.

But the almost home didn’t appraise for the purchase price, which means unless we come up with $22,000 cash in the next three weeks (which is not even a possibility in my imaginary world) or the appraisal is overturned (for which we’ve asked), we’ll stay in the workshop and the travel trailer for … well, I have no idea how long.

And … it’s OK. Because home is where your babies sleep, where your love makes you laugh first thing in the morning, where your heart feels happy.

Home is where you are, where you were, a little piece of everything that’s you and yours.

On our way

The road to new beginnings was cloud-filled and sun-streaked and awe-striking in that sun-setting over mountains or desert or both sort of way.

We moved last weekend to our new home in the new desert, which is a temporary set-up in the backyard of some of the best friends a family could ask for.

We’ve set up shop in a trailer full of vintage with a capital V and a workshop full of everything we really need, minus a bathroom and maybe a kitchen sink. For those needs, we simply go inside. So, yes, there is electricity, which means there are lights, clocks, a microwave, a toaster and even an air conditioner. The trailer, where the rock star and I sleep, has a lofted bed, wood floors, peeling paint that’s perfect and, yes, electricity. So, no, we’re not off the grid – not to any extent. In fact, we’re in the heart of this town. Right where we want to be.

So the road from Utah’s desert to Colorado’s was cloud-filled and beautiful. It was the little girl and I in my car, and the boys in the moving truck. The 3-year-old slept and we kept the windows down and the music up.

When we arrived, we were the only ones there. Our friends were at other friends’ and the boys were about 15 minutes behind us. So my daughter and I marveled at the renovations our friend had done to the workshop and we giggled and smiled about our future. The boys arrived, we shared our happiness and we headed to the moving truck to unload our things.

I paused for a second – maybe 3 seconds – to latch the workshop’s door. And that’s when the road to new beginnings changed from beauty to minor nightmare.

I turned around and the little girl was sprawled in the grass, flat on her stomach, hands over her face. The little boy’s eyes were wide as moons.

“What happened?” I asked.

The little boy stared in disbelief, maybe shock. “I was just pushing the swing … and … ”

I lifted the little girl up, pried her hands from her face and saw the gaping hole in her forehead. It was shaped like a triangle and the blood was gushing. Our friends have a wooden octagonal swing that hangs from their willow tree. Rye had given it a push as he walked past, unaware his little sister was running after him.

It had smacked her in the forehead, above her right eye.

I screamed for the rock star, who got the car keys and a towel and we headed for the hospital in a town we didn’t yet know.

I sat in the back with my little girl who was crying, the towel pressed to her head. My son sat in the front, terrified. My husband drove, as we tried to find the hospital. Please be open late, I thought.

Finally, we found it, and the ER, even in this small community, was open all hours.

She’s going to need stitches, the nurse said. She’s not going to like it.

I know, I said.

There was much screaming and crying – but also a few smiles, some songs and a book while we waited.

All told, we were there about 3 hours. Paige got seven stitches. And she is the bravest little girl I have ever met.

For my part, I will just say this: Holding your child down while someone injects lidocaine into a hole in their head is … awful, among many other adjectives.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. When I closed my eyes, I saw the hole in her head. Around 2 a.m., she woke up crying and the rest of the night she slept on my chest.

That was how we began our first day in our new home.

I’m happy to say the days since then have been increasingly calm. We’re adjusting and happy. We’ve gone as a family to the coffee shop and the local pizza joint. We’ve heard live music (and we’ll hear more tonight when the rock star opens for Willy Tea Taylor and the Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit!). Overall, we’ve been present. We’ve been open. We’ve accepted this part of our lives as this chapter. And we’re excited to see where we end up next, when the trailer and the workshop give way to a new home that maybe finally can truly feel like where we belong.

We’re on our way.

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.