Monday, December 24, 2018

My Year in Review

Some say that when it comes to raising a family, the days are long but the years are short. I am not sure I agree with that sentiment. Everything seems short to me. The days and the years. And they all go by so very fast.

2018 was a whirlwind of activity. Gary and I celebrated our tenth year together. Miranda started kindergarten. I began a new job. I learned to live yet another year without my first daughter

One year ago on this very day, I was working as a freelance writer and having a lot of anxiety about my upcoming surgery. I was five days away from a reduction mammoplasty (which I told virtually no one about) and was freaking out.

Fast forward to today, and I am so proud of my decision. I am no longer suffering from back pain and shoulder grooves and the endless frustration of nothing fitting me right!

One year ago on this very day, I was upset about the weight that I had gained back and was having a lot of negative feelings about my relationship with food.

Fast forward to today, and I am excited to say that I joined Weight Watchers over the summer and am down almost 40 pounds and I am re-learning how to make smart choices and not be on a diet, but rather a lifestyle change. That may mean Chinese buffet for dinner tonight, but then it may also mean lots of water and salads in the days that follow! 

I am exercising again - a few days a week. When I want to run, I run. When I want to just walk, that's what I do. No pressure to do more than feels right for me.

Another year of being a mom to Miranda has been mostly joy (but a little bit of pain). Her fifth year of life brought questions about Judaism and adoption and jaguars and weather patterns. You can guess which ones we were able to answer. She is so inquisitive and so sassy and so much a part of both Gary and me that she takes my breath away. 

At the nail salon the other day, the technician asked if she looked like her daddy since she does not really look like me. She replied that she thinks she looks like both of us, but people get confused since she has straight hair and I have curly hair. Bless her heart.

Allie had curly hair. A whole mess of it. I have no way of knowing if it would still be curly now; mine went through phases when I was growing up. I sure wish I got to see even one of her phases or stages.

We added two kittens to our household this year, and it's hard to remember a time without them! They are silly and playful and make everything extra exciting. We are super happy they came into our lives.

From snows days to dance recitals to gymnastics class, we tried to experience it all this year. And we did!

My job at Laurel House has changed us all, for the better. I have started to teach Miranda about the joys of volunteering, and I have come to appreciate what it's like to work outside the home again. I have made solid relationships and learned so much. I know now more than ever that your home is supposed to be a safe place - a sanctuary, almost - and I will do everything I can to make sure anyone who wants that safe haven gets it. No matter what.

My job also put me in the direct path of someone who lost a child this year. Her agony is so familiar to me. It's like a dress I used to wear. Some days I feel like I have nothing to offer her, but other days, I feel like I am at that job just to help her navigate the choppy waters of grief. I am not sure which one of us helps which more. 

All in all, it's been a good year. There were more smiles than tears. Lots of happy memories at the beach and on dry land as well.

A few short weeks after the new year rolls in, I will turn 45 years old. Which is middle age. I could not wait for 18...21...30...heck, even 40! But 45 is stumping me a bit. I am curious as to how I will deal with that.

So that's it. 2018 in review. Some of it I would do again. Some of it I would take a pass.

In that respect, I guess it's not so different from any other year, huh?

Merry everything and happy new year!!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Giving Thanks

I can't turn on my computer, phone, or tv without seeing a list of things that people are thankful for this time of year. 

I have many many things to be thankful for, and not just because Thanksgiving is later this week. But hey, if people want the list now, then now they shall get it.

I am thankful for my family and friends. Duh. Of course I am thankful for them. But if I want people to read my words, I need to find a way to make my list different from the rest. So here goes.

I am thankful for my sense of humor that allows me to get through the darkest of days. I am also thankful that Miranda recently said I was the funniest person she knows. Even funnier than her uncles. That is a major win.

I am thankful for the Weight Watchers app which has taught me (AGAIN) how to eat properly and take care of myself with correct nutrition and has assisted me with becoming the person I want to be.

I am thankful for the people that listen to my stories and want to hear about both of my daughters.

I am thankful that Miranda is enjoying kindergarten and has such a passion for learning. I am also so glad that her teacher just invited me to come in during Hanukkah to teach her class about the holiday and hand out dreidels.

I am thankful that we joined a synagogue this year and that Miranda sees it as a safe place where she can learn and sing and be free. 

I am thankful for the way my husband looks at me.

I am thankful that I found a job this year that is way more than a "job". WAY more.

I am thankful for each and every butterfly that I see that reminds me of Allie.

I am thankful for our two new kitty cats which have brought such joy and light into our home. (I am not as thankful for vet bills and kitty litter).

I am thankful for people sharing their stories and lives with me. What an honor.

I am thankful that I am so loved.

Take a few moments this week to think about what matters most to you. Then give thanks. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

First snow!

Visiting Allie's Creek

Monday, October 29, 2018

Am Yisrael Chai

Translated into English, "Am Yisrael Chai" means "The people of Israel live." The expression has been on a loop in my head since Saturday's massacre in Pittsburgh.

I have been to Israel the same amount of times that I have been to Pittsburgh. Once. And both were in college. That was over twenty years ago.

It was roughly that time in my life when I stopped being a member of a synagogue. I remember finding a local synagogue in West Chester for the High Holidays and every once and a while, I remember coming home and attending services with my mom. The synagogue always represented a safe place for me. A familiar place. A place of comfort.

As I got older and was busy finding my way in this world, my religion felt secondary to me. I still believed and had faith, and I still followed the traditions and rituals that I grew up with. It pretty much ended there, though.

When Gary and I got married, it was important to me that a rabbi perform the ceremony. We were fortunate enough to find a wonderful one. When Miranda was converted to Judaism, we were able to reach out to the synagogue I attended growing up, and they took care of all the details for us. Same for her baby naming. We were not members, but we were a part of the community, and they welcomed us in whatever capacity we desired. 

Two months ago, I joined the synagogue for the first time as an adult. My whole family joined, and we enrolled Miranda in Hebrew School. She has been attending classes every Sunday, and she loves it. She comes home chanting Hebrew songs and telling me all about the Torah. She loves to learn, and to her, Hebrew school is no different than her elementary school. Aside from the fact that it's on the weekend.

Last Saturday, when a gunman entered that shul in Pittsburg and angrily took eleven lives and wounded at least six others, he destroyed the solitude of what a synagogue means to so many people. He took our calm and our innocence. But he did not take our faith.

So many people that I have spoken to in the last 48 hours or so feel stronger than ever that we must come together and stop the madness. We must band together and show up and believe that something like this will never be allowed to happen again. The people of Israel live.

Yesterday, we went to Hebrew school. We hugged each other a little bit more. There were tears in many of our eyes. We were aware of the increased police presence in the parking lot and in the building itself. But we showed up. And we will continue to show up. 

I am proud to be Jewish. I am proud to be raising my daughter in the only religion and faith that I have ever known. I am glad to be a member of a synagogue again, and I feel privileged that I have a safe place to go. To believe. To pray.

The Jews that I know are not quitters. That's not about to start now.

The people of Israel live. The people of this land live. And as long as we live, we will remember. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Party of Four

To the untrained eye, we look like a family of three. A mom, a dad, and beautiful little girl. To see us out and about, one would never know that we are always missing one.

This past weekend, we had formal family pictures taken. This was the third time ever since Gary and I have been together. The first was when we first brought Miranda home from the hospital. She was a few weeks old, and I remember that she peed all over the photographer. We had our "Allie" bear with us, and the pictures came out beautifully.

The next session was shortly after the courts officially declared Miranda "ours." We did not include Allie in that session as it was really just about her younger sister.

The last session was on Saturday. We all gathered at a local park, and my mom and brothers and their families were there as well. The rain had stopped a few hours prior, and the sun was peeking out just enough from behind the clouds. We have a family friend who is a photographer, and he and his terrific wife gifted my mom this session for her birthday a few years ago. It took us a while, but we all finally made it to picture day.

I was adamant that I wanted Allie in the picture somehow. This was a snapshot of my side of the family, and I wanted both of my girls in it.

We knew the Allie bear would not look right. I wore a bracelet with a butterfly charm. I thought maybe that was enough.

Gary, on the other hand, went right to our front yard and pulled out the large blue butterfly that we have hanging out there year round. 

We carried that butterfly though the park, and we proudly placed it where it needed to be in the pictures as a symbol of our first born. It calmed me to have her there. 

I will never know if Allie would have been all smiles at the photo shoot or if she would have have been nervous or anxious or not all smiles. I will never get to dress her in an outfit that matches ours, and I will never get to look at the proofs and think about how much she looks like Gary or me. All I have is a butterfly from the Ocean City boardwalk that resides in our front yard. I am not sure that's enough. And yet it has to be.

Miranda came home from school a few weeks ago with an assignment to fill in the members of her family for a family tree. I agonized over what to do. Do I add Allie and have Miranda explain why there is a sister on the form, but not one in the second grade? Do I add Allie with a note that she has wings? Do I add Allie and then ask for a parent-teacher conference?

In the end, I decided not to add Allie. That does not mean she is not a part of our family. It simply means that when Miranda is old enough to understand and explain her sister, she will. I did not feel it was fair to put that burden on her now, at five years old.

There is so much about parenting after loss that we are still learning. There is so much about living after loss that is still new to us, and we are seven years removed from it.  Does time make it better? No. Does time make it easier? No. Does time give me perspective and distance enough to step back and see what is best for my family and me? Sometimes.

We are and will always be a Party of Four. Even if we are the only ones who know it. 

And so, here we are. We are thrilled with how the pictures came out. I am so pleased that we are all represented. 

In the end, it all worked out.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Inevitable Meltdown

It had all been going so well. Miranda acclimated to all the new changes of this year like a CHAMP! New school? Check. Bus routine? Check? New gymnastics class? Check. Kindergarten enrichment classes at her daycare? Check. 

It's been a whirlwind few weeks of activities, and changes and my daughter has blown me away with her adaptability and resiliency. We attended an Ice Cream Social at her school on Friday night, and before I knew what was happening, she was in line to do the limbo with a bunch of kids she did not know. She was laughing and sweating and having a great time.

Yesterday was her first day of Hebrew school. It's different than when I was growing up. We were all in the sanctuary singing songs and Gary leaned over to ask Miranda a question. With her eyes shut and her hands in the air, she shushed him because she was busy feeling the music. At one point, I thought she might ditch the zookeeper idea and consider rabbinical college!

Today we woke up, had breakfast, talked a bit about our weekend, and when it was time, we walked outside to the bus stop. We chatted with the neighbor kids and commented on the cooler temps. All was good.

Slowly the bus pulled up. One of the girls in Miranda's class rushed ahead to be first in line. Miranda had already told this girl that she wanted to be the first on the bus. The other girl, also five, either did not hear her or did not care. As soon as she jumped in front of Miranda, my daughter burst into tears.

So there I am, standing in my gym clothes and a ponytail, THIS close to being able to go for a walk, when my kid COMPLETELY BREAKS DOWN. Giant tears start streaming down her face. The other kids get on the bus. Miranda throws herself into my arms and will not get on the bus. She is crying and whining, and the cars are getting impatient waiting, and the kids are staring and wondering what is going on.  I am fiercely trying to bargain and beg with a temperamental kindergartner to just sit on the darn bus and go to school, and I will make sure that the next time she takes the bus, she will be first in line.

I finally boarded the bus myself and got her into a seat. I heard the bus driver yell, "Run mom!" and I leaped off the bus, waved to the yellow blur as it pulled away, popped in my earbuds and went for a walk. I was sad and angry and frustrated and most of all, I felt like a failure.

Did I let my daughter down? Have I not given her the skills to deal with what happens when she does not get her way? Have a failed her? 

One mile in, I started to calm down. "She's 5", I kept repeating in my head. She has had dozens of changes in the past month. She is doing great, all things considered. This behavior was just a blip. I hope.

She will be home in an hour.  I just found this picture on my phone. I do not know how my camera got turned on in the struggle. Sigh.

I am sharing all of these details because it's real life. We are not all kitty cats and rainbows. 

Nobody is.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Wheels on the Bus

The first time Miranda rode on a school bus was several years ago. We went to Longwood Gardens with some friends, and we had to park at an auxiliary lot and take a bus to the actual venue. Miranda and her friend Sammy shared a seat, as the anxious parents stared in disbelief. No car seats, no seat belts, no fear. They loved the bus more than anything that day.

The next time Miranda rode a bus was last summer. Her camp had weekly field trips in which buses were needed. Often, Gary and I heard more about the bus and who she sat with, then the actual field trip.

Fast forward this past summer, when she had field trips and swim lessons, so she was on the bus twice a week. 

The day before school started this year, all of the parents and students in Kindergarten got to experience a trial bus ride. Miranda has pretty much become a bus expert.

Today, Miranda took the bus to kindergarten for the first time. She will only ride it on the days she is not in daycare, and today was one of those days.

She barely made it into her seat before I started to cry.

Gary must have expected that I was going to lose it as he stayed home this morning to help me put her on this bus.

It's one thing to know she is going to take the bus to school. It's quite another to let your baby climb those steps, pick a seat, wave goodbye, and then just be gone.

When I was pregnant with Allie, I would see the big yellow bus drive by, and I would get so excited that she would one day be on that bus. When Allie died, the same bus would taunt me from the street, driving right by our house as there was no child to be picked up or dropped off.

Today that changed.

Today it all came rushing back.

Today I am sad. And happy. And relieved. And grateful. And pretty much every other emotion, too.

It's hard to be a parent. It's especially hard to be a parent after loss. You get smacked in the face with old memories and hopes as you are literally in the middle of making new ones.

I am so proud of Miranda. I am also so proud of me. I let her get on that bus. I encouraged her, even. I think what makes me a good mom is putting Miranda's needs first, even at the expense of my own needs sometimes.

The key is to also make sure my needs are met. I went for a long walk after the bus pulled away. I logged on and did some work. Now I am writing. And at 12:02, I will be standing on that curb, jumping up and down, waiting to see my baby as she gets off the bus. Then we have the rest of the day to play.

Sounds like a pretty good day if you ask me.

Waiting for the bus

Away she goes!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Wishes For Everyone

Miranda, like any five-year-old, makes wishes all the time. She whispers her dreams when we throw a penny into a fountain or when she blows on a dandelion freshly plucked from the grass.

Up until recently, her wishes have been for a "real live unicorn" and "a pet jaguar." In the last few weeks, her wishes have changed.

Now my daughter wishes for Allie to come back to life. She thinks if Allie was here with us, she would like Miranda the best. She's probably right.

Lately, she also wishes for all the people that have died to come back to life and to never again die.

At five, she is just as comfortable talking about death as she is life.

Honestly, she talks about her sister more than we do. Today she wanted to go to her creek to bring her a fresh flower. The other day she asked me what grade she would be in this year if she were here. She also asks me often when we are celebrating her birthday.

I wish I had two daughters starting school next week. Not just one.

I wish I had two daughters sitting in the tub right now. Not just one.

By definition, a wish is to feel or express a strong desire or hope for something that is not easily attainable; want something that cannot or probably will not happen.

Well you can guess what I think about that!

And yet, it's ok to wish. It's good to dream. I think it's healthy to want something that's unattainable. It's a good lesson. I just wish that lesson was not at the expense of my first child.

A rainbow baby was born to a friend of mine a few short days ago. I was miles away when I heard the news, and yet I broke down in tears. Happy tears. Tears of relief. To have a rainbow baby is so so sweet. I am thrilled my friend will be able to experience that joy.

I am going to take this opportunity to wish for a few things that I think can come true. An easy transition to kindergarten for Miranda and her friends next week. A happy and joyous start to the school year for all the kids. More rainbow babies for the moms and dads that so desperately want them.  Blessed memories of the babies that wear wings. 

Maybe some wishes can come true after all. But so help me if I wake up to a real live unicorn in my house tomorrow!!

My Year in Review

Some say that when it comes to raising a family, the days are long but the years are short. I am not sure I agree with that sentiment. Every...