5 Years of Love

5 years ago.

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My sister’s first pregnancy was like a stab in the heart.  Not intentionally of course, but it seemed to come so soon after I lost Ben, that I didn’t know how I would handle it.  For the first while, it was okay, she could tell me about her experiences and I could relate them back to my own.  It was exactly what I had always wanted – to share that experience with her.  But then her pregnany continued past 21 weeks and I no longer had any stories to share – she was now travelling the road that I had come off of.  Watching her, glowing in all of her expected mommyhood was harder than I had ever truly thought it would be and while I did my best to put my brave face on, it wasn’t always succesful and there were times where I had to pull away a little.  It was hard and I was terrified that when this baby finally arrived that I would be too jealous of what they had to love him the way that I wanted to.

And then came Thorsten.

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I will never be able to put into words what it felt like when I first held him close to me.  It wasn’t the same love as a parent – my sister and brother-in-law had that beaming from every inch of them – but it was fulfilling in a way that I had never expected.  In that moment I knew that, while there was a Ben-shaped hole in my heart, I didn’t have to fear that there wouldn’t be room for more love; his tiny heart beating healed mine.  With every snuggle or giggle that I’ve shared with him since I have learned that our hearts only get bigger.  When I first heard him call me “Kik”, his voice broke down the wall that I had put up to protect my heart.  He helped my heart prepare for how much I would love Lily and there are times when I see how much he loves her that I’m almost brought to my knees because I’m so thankful that he’s here.  Because of him, when my sister asked me to be in the delivery room when Ollie was born, there wasn’t a moment of hesitancy because I knew that there would only be more love.  I can’t believe that it has been 5 years since that amazing day and a year won’t go by where celebrating his birthday will also feel like celebrating my own.

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Our little family seems to be surrounded by love these days.  A few weeks ago, a friend of ours came to drop off a hammock that we were taking off their hands.  We didn’t especially know what we were going to do with it – our backyard was so overgrown that it actually resembled a jungle.  As he dropped it off, he started looking around and you could see the wheels in his head turning.  Before I knew what was happening, he had planned out how to take down the half-dead trees, pull out the decrepid garden boxes that were just taking up space and extend the patio so that we could actually enjoy our backyard.  Each weekend (and many weeknights) since have been a flurry of shovelling, raking and levelling, but it’s so close to being done that I can taste it.  Out of the goodness of his heart, we could actually begin to see a backyard that we could enjoy spending time in.

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And then, as if we had planned it this way, we got a phone call.  Lily’s early intervention vision worker, Janet, who has been with us since Lily was 8 months old, had nominated Lily to receive a backyard playground from a foundation called Million Dollar Smiles and our family had been chosen! So now all of this backyard work has a purpose because on August 14th, Million Dollar Smiles and a team from the BMO head office, who are sponsering Lily’s playground, will arrive at our house and a huge playstructure will be left behind.  There are zero works for how overwhelmed we are with all of this generosity: from Janet, who thought of Lily in the first place, to the time being put in by Million Dollar Smiles and BMO! A couple of the volunteers from Million Dollar Smiles came to the house last week to drop off the boxes and they stayed for easily half an hour, walking us through what the day would look like, the best place to put the play structure and showing us the modifications that they’re going to make so that it works best for Lily’s needs – they customize each play structure for the specific needs of each child, which is just an extra touch that makes it so meaningful.  I can’t wait until we get to see the finished product!

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Reinventing Mother’s Day

A mom post tonight…

I’ve been struggling with this post for a few days, mostly because I just don’t know which way to take it.  I could start by telling you all that I really am not a fan of mother’s day; not because it’s a hallmark holiday, but because mother’s day is always the start of a bad week for me.  Mother’s day and the anniversary of losing Ben go hand in hand and I’m not sure I will ever be able to separate the two – they just happened too close together.  So, I could tell you that in this week, regardless of what else I’m doing or how I may seem, the only real thought running through my mind is, “Ben should be (insert age here),” and the age keeps getting bigger (it’s 6 this year, I should be the mom of a 6 year old), but the memory of him in my mind stays tiny – because he was tiny and he will never get bigger than the little man who stretched out and still was only as tall as my two hands.  I could tell you that even though my mind keeps telling me not to give into the sadness that creeps up around me during this week, my heart just keeps pulling me there.  I never thought, never ever ever, that I could still feel his loss so sharply this many years later, but maybe that’s part of the grief process when you lose a child – instead of being able to look back and see the great things that did happen in their lives, you only really get to see what was lost, of what they didn’t get to do.

Or I could take this post to Lily and tell you how her smile, her amazing giggle and her constant squirming out of arms to reach for the dog, is the perfect antidote to sadness.  On Sunday, when I was missing Ben and Jess was missing her mom, there was Lily, who instantly made us happy again, who brought us away from the grief and reminded us, just by hearing her blow raspberries, that you have to let go and live in the moment.  Loving Lily has made me whole again, in a way that I wasn’t sure was possible after losing Ben – it is all consuming, but it has also come with it’s share of lessons: you can’t look back, you can’t change the past and you can’t be afraid to move forward just because things are scary.  Beyond being the guidelines of life with Lily, these are also the lessons that have helped me heal from that grief.

So maybe, what I really should be writing about it how once upon a time I really did not like mother’s day, but going forward I think I just need to look at it from a different set of eyes – in our house it won’t be about how great mother’s are but about how lucky we are to be mother’s; how lucky I am to get to be Lily’s momma, who challenges me everyday to be more patient and more understanding, and how lucky I am to be Ben’s momma, to know that (insert number of years) later, a mom’s love doesn’t ever stop.

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So Long, Farewell…

A mom post tonight….

I know that there’s been a higher ratio of Mom:Lily post’s lately and I promise she’ll be back in the writers seat soon, but just one more for now.

This was our first mother’s day – our first, real, mother’s day.  We had a few people celebrate with us last year, as we knew right around the holiday that Lily’s birth parents and Children’s Aid had picked us to be her family, but this was the first year that we got to wake up in the morning, look at her all wrapped up in her black and white blanket made by her cousin Connie, and celebrate being her mother.  It was an amazing feeling.  One that I’ve wanted for such a long time.

(Lily didn’t really make this cookie, but our amazing friend Cathy did and it’s just one of the reasons we love her in our lives)

But this mother’s day, like many others past, is tinged with sadness.  Obviously it was our first mother’s day without Jess’s mom and that was odd.  Just this time last year, we had decided that for future years we would bring both of our Mom’s together for the day so that we never had to choose between them.  Sadly, life chose for us.  Life this year, just in the past few days, also decided that it was time for my Aunt Gail to leave us too.  This has left a hole in me that I haven’t quite figured out how to fill.

I wish that I was a talented enough writer to really explain to you what it was like to grow up in our family.  Many of you know that my mother is one of 17 siblings, which in today’s society, is a huge huge number to wrap your head around.  But beyond the strength of my grandmother to raise such a huge family in less than ideal circumstances, what amazes me most about them is how close they are even with such a huge age difference between them.  We were never the family that only saw each other on holidays, we were constantly in and out of each other’s lives.  I always say that I was raised by The Aunts, the women who were either related by blood or marriage, who set the most amazing example of how to be great mom’s – there are characteristics of each of them that I hope to bring to my own version of motherhood.  I love them all, but at the same time, what’s been breaking my heart is that Gail was mine.  Now, with 16 Aunts and Uncles, it also means that I have a LOT of cousins, and so maybe calling her mine (especially when she had her own son) is a bit selfish but I always felt that it was true.  It was her lap that I would crawl into when we were all sitting around the table talking – I would play with her rings and be amazed that her fingernails were so long and were real.  I loved watching her style her hair or put on her make-up.  I loved going to visit her at work and was so proud that she was my aunt.  When my friend Adrienne and I went out to PEI to visit when we were in university, I was thrilled when she pointed out how alike Gail and I were – that we tapped our fingers and the table the same way, that we both had ridiculous laughs that usually ended in snorting or that we both tried to make people feel at ease by making jokes – usually lighthearted, somewhat inappropriate and often self-deprecating.

Like everything else in life, it’s with a loss that we realize how much we truly loved.  Knowing that she’s not here leaves me feeling empty and not sure how to share that with anyone else.  I know that so many other people are missing her as much I do, or even more, but for now it just feels like my own grief, one that’s not ready to be shared.

Rubber Ball Life

If I have learned one thing in my short but dramatic life, it’s that life really does work like a rubber ball – it bounces up and down between happy things and sad things before you can even realize what’s going on.  I know the mom’s are wishing lately that there would either be a few more happy things or even just that the sad things would be spaced out a little more so they could at least take a breath in between bounces.

I had a new dog.  His name was Otis and he was tiny like me, and funny like me and almost as adorable as me.  Mama C was really sad about Ellie not being around anymore so Mommy decided to surprise her and found a new puppy for us.  Otis came home to us on the Friday night after Ellie went away and we had a really good weekend.  But then by Monday he was really sick and the veterinarian told the mom’s that he had something called Parvo, which is very contagious in puppies and means that they can’t live anymore.  So, the mom’s had to put him down like Ellie, because by the end he was too sick to even move.  The mom’s were surprised at how fast it happened and felt really bad that they weren’t able to do anything else, but knew that it was for the best.  Either way, I miss my friend Otis.  I actually really liked him – he was very gentle with me (after the first day when he used my foot as a chew toy) and he just scampered around the house making everyone laugh.  Poor Otis.

So, that was the sad thing.  The problem was it was just one more sad thing on top of a whole lot of other sad things in a short period.  Between Grandma dying, me having seizures, Ellie dying and then Otis dying, it has been a hard 6 weeks for the mom’s.  Mama C decided that it was time for a little reality break so she’s off on vacation for the next two whole weeks! We’re just waiting for my new cousin, Baby Ollie to be born and then we’ll go to Grandpa’s house in Frankford and spend some downtime just hanging out in his nice house by the water.

But there have been good things happening too! The smiley happy me that made an appearance two weeks ago seems to be sticking around.  All day long I’m just happy to just sit, bounce my feet all around and smile these big huge smiles.  I’m giggling more and now I can’t stop talking.  A lot of the times I’m just playing with different noises but the mom’s have caught me babbling a little bit too.  Everyone who comes over: Janet (my vision worker), my OT Kristin and Kathy and Barb from Surrey Place (Infant Development and Speech and Language) say that it’s like being around an entirely new kid.  They’re amazed at how much I’ve changed in just a few short weeks and they’re so happy that I’m learning new things all of the time.  And I LOVE seeing people.  I’m not even shy a little bit.  This weekend my cousin Alex and her boyfriend Aaron came to visit and I was so happy to just play and smile with them, but it doesn’t seem to matter who’s looking at me, I just want to show them how happy I am.  I don’t really care about toys or stuff, but I love the people in my life so very much.

And it seems to all be because the new medication the doctor’s put me on for my seizures seems to be working so very very well.  I haven’t had a single seizure in almost 3 weeks and my brain is definitly not feeling as fuzzy as it was before.  You can tell just by looking at me that I’m feeling so much better.  The doctor’s were really happy at how well I responded to the medication and were happy that I didn’t have to go onto the other one.  They were even able to give the mom’s a baseline for my development, which made them happy because a) it’s been a long time since anyone has been able to do that and b) they weren’t too far off the mark themselves.  The neurologist says that I’ve developed to about a 4 – 6 month old baby, which at first seems not so good (seeing as I’m 14 months), but is actually pretty amazing, seeing as my brain was pretty much re-set in July.  It’s almost like I have 2 birthday’s to count from.  I have my December birthday which is my actual age, but then I have my brain birthday which is July and would make me 7 months old.  So the mom’s are really really happy with how far I’ve come since I was that little baby in the PICU that wasn’t moving at all, couldn’t see light and couldn’t breathe on her own.  When you put it that way, I’m pretty amazed myself.

 

A True Lady

Once upon a time there was a dog and her name was Ellie.  Ellie and I had one big thing in common – we were both adopted by the mom’s because they knew we were the right fit for their family.   Ellie came to live with the mom’s on the very same day that they moved into our home.  They didn’t really plan on getting her, but as the story goes they saw a picture of her and fell in love – kinda like what happened with me.  So they drove to a far away place called Port Hope and met Ellie in person.  They knew that she was going to come home with them when she followed them all around even though they didn’t have any treats.  And when she got home she fit right in like she had always been there.  She staked out a spot under the tree by the front steps to sleep in the shade, she learned that the mom’s loved her best when she would nuzzle in (they called them her hugs) and most of all, she figured out that if you were sitting on her couch and she looked at you in just the right way, she could get anyone to move and let her get up instead.

But tonight, Ellie is gone.  The mom’s explained that over the summer Ellie hurt her leg and even though they tried to make it better and then give her lots of medicine to stop it from hurting, it was just hurting her too much.  She was having a lot of trouble with the stairs (she fell a few times), when she wanted to get up on her couch she couldn’t because it hurt too much to put weight on her leg, and her shoulder was just so big and swollen that they were just being selfish keeping her with us.  So, tonight I stayed with MeMa and the cat, and the mom’s took Ellie to the vet to say goodbye to her.  They’re both very sad, but Mama C is really really sad – she says that Ellie made her and Mommy a family.  I tried to help by smiling lots and lots today, and I even threw in an extra surprise and really giggled for the first time just so that they knew I loved them and that I’m going to miss my dog Ellie too – she was really good at cleaning my face.

Silent Night

For weeks the mom’s have been telling me all about Christmas.  Mama C especially loves Christmas – she loves the lights, the decorations and the wonderful spirit that fills people for the month of December.  We’ve been listening to christmas carols, reading The Grinch, and watching cheesy movies on tv.  There was someone else who loved Christmas very much, my Grandma and we were really really excited about packing up the car and spending the days with all of Mommy’s family at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  Then, last week before I even really understood what was happening, Mama C told me that Grandma had passed away.  She tried to explain that this meant that Grandma went back to heaven but all I knew is that she wouldn’t be around to spend Christmas with me.  This made me really really sad and made everyone else really sad too, especially Mommy, Grandpa and Uncle Jeff.  Something just doesn’t feel right without Grandma around.  She was a pretty amazing woman: she knew exactly how to hold me, she let me make funny faces at her and was never insulted when I was cranky with her.  She and Grandpa spent a lot of time with me in the hospital over the summer and I really got to know how wonderful she was.  She loved coming to hang out with me and didn’t even mind when my g-tube would open up all over her and made her all messy.  She even learned to bring a change of clothes when we were going to hang out because I always seemed to leak all over her.  I think it was a sign that she loved me very much.

So, now it’s Christmas and we’re all here in her house, remembering how much she loved this time and how much she loved all of us.  It’s hard because we’re sad and we miss her a lot already, but we’re trying to put on our brave faces because we know how much she loved the holiday and how excited she was to have us all here together.  So, for the next few days we’ll be keeping her in our minds and remembering how to keep her in our hearts all year long.  We love you Grandma.