Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hate

It seems that the current political climate has brought out the worst in us. Everywhere I turn, I hear stories of hate. 
 
In 5th grade, I was riding the bus home from school as I always did. A neighborhood boy chucked a penny at my head and told me that I should take it because my people were used to taking money from others.  Money that did not belong to them. I rubbed the place on my scalp where the penny hit and I felt tears well up in my eyes. What was he talking about? I knew I was different because I didn’t celebrate Christmas like the other kids on my block, but did different mean bad? And why was he so angry? I never understood it. I still don’t.

My mother was born in Brooklyn but raised in a small town in Pennsylvania. One year, while working her way through college and a department store, someone noticed her name tag and figured out (correctly) that she was Jewish. They asked her where she was hiding her horns. She was aghast. Her what? The customer was not being mean. Not at all. She just heard that Jewish people had horns and wanted to know where hers were. I think she also asked if she had a tail.

Ask any minority for a story of ignorance and hate and you will find they have more than one to tell.

When my non-Jewish husband and I first started to date, I told him early on that Judaism was a part of me. It is as much a part of me as my skin and bones.  He asked if I wanted him to convert to my religion. I replied that it was not necessary, unless he wanted to be Jewish. I can live in a house and a family that shares different views, as long as I am still free to have mine.

Why does ignorance breed hate? Why can’t we all get along? Am I na├»ve to think that a world in which we embrace our differences is a better world than one in which we are afraid to send our children to school or afraid to be out alone walking at night?

I have a young daughter. I do not want anyone to ever throw pennies at her. I do not want anyone to ask her where she is hiding her horns or her tail. I do not want anyone to dislike her right away simply because she has different religious beliefs as those around her. Or because she was adopted. Or because of this thing or that thing.  I want her to be proud of who she is. I am proud of her every day, because she is true to herself. It's easy to be when you are on the brink of turning 4!

I want a world that is safe for her. I worry more and more that what I want for her is quickly slipping away. That scares me so much more than I can say.

Let’s learn to love more and hate less. Wouldn’t we all be better off that way?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Sound of Silence

One of the first things I noticed when we came home from the hospital after Allie died was the silence. It was so quiet. Even though we had friends and family stopping by to take care of us and tend to our every need, the house was so quiet and still. The empty sounds of a baby NOT crying was almost too much for me to stand. I remember being so angry at the silence.

Since the day we brought Miranda home, there has been very little silence. She is a child who likes to make her presence known and she does it with both grace and gusto.

This past Saturday was my birthday. It was a wonderful day filled with gymnastics lessons for Miranda in the morning followed by lunch, just the three of us. Then I dropped Miranda at my mom's house and Gary and I got prepared to go to the movies and dinner.

When we got home, the house was so quiet. This was only the second time ever that we were home at night without our daughter. I could not help but notice how different the silence was.

The silence before Miranda was sad and empty and filled with grief.

The silence now is just peace and quiet.

There is a big difference.

My heart will never forget the different kinds of silence. My head won't either. 

Allie takes up a chunk of my soul that has a lot of happiness, but is also cloaked in sadness. Who would she be right now? How many times would she have slept at Grammy's house?  What would she look like? What would her hobbies be?

Miranda takes up a different chunk of my soul and what is not happiness is anxiety, worry, and fear.  Am I doing this right, am I doing that right, am I going to mess this child up forever??

Being a parent is not easy. Being a parent to a child who only lives in your heart is tough. Being a parent to an almost four-year-old with limitless energy, an active imagination and the desire to want to play all the time is also not easy. However, parenting a living child is very rewarding.  Parenting a child that is not here with you is just...silent.

Sometimes I still hate the sound of that silence. More and more, though, I am still healing and learning to just enjoy the sound of silence.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Birthday Dinner

My brother’s birthday is New Year’s Day. He surprised my parents by arriving a month early. He surprised them eight months earlier by even coming into existence. He was the baby they had not really planned for in a marriage that was heading towards the end. However, my brother was ready to be born on his own timeline and there was not much anyone could do about that.

Jeff is seven years my junior and so I am very protective of him. Sometimes I feel more like a mother to him than a sister.  

I have another brother, too. Dan is only two years younger than me and for much of our childhood, we were thick as thieves. We did not want another sibling, not that anyone asked us. Having a baby around was a nuisance and took a lot of the attention away from us. So not cool.

Eventually, we found our rhythm. The boys fought a lot, like brothers do, but they also became very close. When our parents did in fact divorce, we knew that we had to stick together, even though we were so young.

I was already in college during much of Jeff’s formative years and was so shocked when I came home for visits to see how much he had grown. In my mind, he was my baby brother, but in reality, he was taller, stronger and smarter than I could ever be.

The inevitable divorce of my parents left many scars. However, one thing that my mom tried to do was have certain traditions that we did without fail. Birthday Dinner was one of those traditions.

Every year, without fail, we would have “Birthday Dinner” for Jeff. Since his birthday is also a national holiday and everyone is off from school/work, it was an easy excuse to get together one last time before the new year started.

Jeff went to school out of state. He was almost always home for New Year’s, but if he wasn’t, we still had a dinner in his honor.

When Jeff got married, he lived in yet another state for some time. Birthday dinner was still there.

When Jeff and his new wife quit their jobs and traveled around the world, they did not always make it back home.  Birthday dinner still happened. They would Skype from Thailand or Bulgaria or Turkey and we would do our best to catch up and celebrate Jeff’s birthday.

Now Jeff has a family of his own. They are living mere minutes from me. We see each other often and he is as involved in my family’s life as I am in his. My daughter explodes with excitement when she sees him walk into a room and his daughter and newborn son both love to spend time with all of us.

We rarely miss birthday dinner. Dan and his wife and their two daughters, Jeff and his family, my husband, daughter and me…and our mom, cooking away all day to make sure birthday dinner would be perfect. She is the thread that weaves us all together. She is responsible for us all being not just family, but also friends.

My birthday is this weekend. We will be gathering for my own birthday dinner. I can hardly wait. 

A few of us from this year!

Monday, January 9, 2017

We Remember

This past Friday, heaven gained another angel.

I only met this sweet girl once, back in August of last year. She was just three months old. It never dawned on me as I cooed at her and made silly faces that I would never see her again.

She lived in Canada so it's not like I thought I would see her often. But her mom and dad and her older sister were not against road trips and I knew the would make the trip to PA at least once a year or once other year.

We met because there is a group of us that have lost our babies and connected as a way to stay sane / share stories / commiserate / yell / laugh / brag...and the list goes on.

Miss Chelsea died before she even had her first birthday. She spent more time in SickKids (comparable to our CHOP) than she did in her nursery at home. She had a genetic disease that no matter how hard she tried to fight (and fight she did), she simply could not win.

Her mom and dad and sister knew that the end was coming. Originally, they had hope and optimism but as the days turned to weeks and then months, they had to face the inevitable.

Burying a child is unnatural. Everyone in our group has done it. Burying two children is barbaric.

Chelsea's mom and dad had to say hello and goodbye to their first daughter, too. They did not get the time they had with Chelsea and I am not sure if that is a blessing or a curse. Do you want it to be fast and quick or do you want it to be slow and drawn-out? There is no correct answer.

This couple, who has been though thick and thin, have created and delivered three precious daughters. They are now raising one.

What am I to do with that?

I wrote a blog about Chelsea's story at the end of last year. As a group, a support group, we found comfort in collecting stuffed unicorns and taking pictures of them and posting them on our shared Facebook page. 

Individually, we are all floundering. Canada is simply too far for many of us to go and so we have to pay our respects from afar. We wanted to send flowers and trinkets and buckets of whatever we could to make our feelings known, but in the end, we are doing something that is right for her and right for us. 

I will never get used to death. I will never accept that sometimes "it is what it is" or "it's better this way". There is a family grieving the saddest possible grief for the second time in under a decade. There is a sister who now has a big sister and a baby sister in heaven. There are aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends who were robbed of the chance to get to know, really know, both girls.

So. Not. Fair.

The takeaway from all of this mess? Love hard. Love often. Love with your whole heart. I am not embarrassed to pick up my daughter in the middle of a store and shower her with kisses. I am not worried about putting her in time out or taking away a favorite toy for a day or night if it will teach her discipline and respect. I am not afraid to speak my first daughter's name and share with the world how much I loved her (and still do!).

Fly high, sweet unicorn Chelsea. Tell your sister and all her many friends that we love them all so and we might just see them again some day. 

We can't do it all, but we can remember. And we remember you all.

Our Chelsea-corn at the local comic book store

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Strong

Over the course of my life, people have called me strong. While I am touched that some may think I am strong, I fear that deep down, people will see that I really am only doing the best I can. I do not deserve the accolades.

My dad left when I was in the fourth grade. He wanted to make a better life for his kids (so he claimed) and he packed his bags and moved out. My mom was used to being a single mom because my dad was absent a lot, but she was not used to him being gone all the time and leaving her with no money and no support. She raised us pretty much without him. That is strength.

When the lawyers asked me which parent I wanted to live with and asked for testimony about both my mom and my dad, I said and did what I had to do. That is survival, not strength.

My first child was stillborn. One day she was kicking me hard from the inside out and the next day…nothing.  The hospital confirmed our worst fears and I delivered my beautiful daughter to a very quiet room with no sound but my own crying. I survived the ordeal for my husband and our loved ones, but not because I had any real desire to live. I had no strength left. 

When I stood in the courtroom and the judge asked me if I would love and treat my adopted daughter as if I had given birth to her, I almost laughed. Of course I would. She was ours. She was mine. That is not strength, it is just fact.

When I found out that the baby that was the recipient of my daughter’s crib and changing table had died of SIDS, I was paralyzed with fear.  How can I live in a world where such tragedy happens? I did not feel strong.

When I learned that the mother of my best friend had lymphoma, I cried. When I heard that the mother of another close friend had breast cancer, I wailed. That is not strength.

I feel weak. I feel sad. So very sad.

I also feel the urge to be a better person, a stronger person, a healthier person so that I am around to make sure the ones I love can lean on me when they need. Is that strength? If so, then maybe I am onto something.

I cannot determine what is strong any more than I can control what happens in this world. I can control how I react to the things in my life, though, and I can be as strong as only I can be.

It does not matter how strong other people think I am – it only matters how strong I think I can be.

Learning to Love Yourself No Matter What

One of the problems with being a writer is that I use words as therapy. By writing my thoughts and feelings, I can often make sense of the w...