big chicken

So, the fear thing, it’s better than it was, for sure. I rarely wake up from nightmares about something happening to him anymore, so that’s definitely progress.

But still…

I will be so exhausted and ready to sleep, but when the lights are out and my head gets settled into the pillow, I see this horrible slideshow of What If’s that makes my heart pound and adrenalin surge.

He yanks his hand from mine and dashes into city traffic..

He lurches from my arms as I carry him past a second floor bannister…

I’m driving with him and an out of control semi is headed my way on a twisty highway…

My eyes fly open.

This is stupid. Everyone is safe in bed.

I turn up the monitor to hear him breathing. He sighs. He’s fine.

There is no crisis here. Go to sleep.

The images flicker on. The Fear says But! But! But!, showing me all these awful things that it wants me to believe are inevitable, and I can almost smile, almost, because the Fear sounds for all the world like a mindless chicken chasing after me going Bock! Bock! Bock! with beady, dumb little chicken eyes.

I try to meditate then, although it usually ends up being more of a visual prayer, because it’s really hard to calm myself enough at that point to slip into the meditative state.

I visualize my woods now, with winter bare branches that are delicate and black against the blue sky. The ground is clean of debris and carpeted in thick, springy apple-green moss. The air is bracingly cool, but the moss is warm because it’s growing up from the living Earth. It feels perfect. I walk barefoot through the trees, relishing that living carpet under me, and reach my spring. It bubbles up, pristine and sparkling, from between clean, smooth, frost-tinged rocks. The water forms a shallow pool and then trickles away down a brookbed lined with grapefruit-sized rocks. I sit on the mossy bank and an angel comes to sit beside me. She smiles. “Take it,” I say. “Please.” I give her my bucket filled with fear, gloppy and viscous like an Uruk-hai’s breakfast. She nods, not grossed out at all, and takes the brimming bucket of filth from me, leaving me to rest on the mossy cushion by the spring.

And it helps, although I still usually have to just read or play iPhone Scrabble until my eyes get tired enough to ignore that damn chicken’s slideshow.

I think next time I will try drop-kicking that clucker off the horizon. I’ll get some satisfaction from hearing it squawk and seeing the feathers pouff with impact, even if it does come back to peck at me.

Stupid fear.

nutritive matter

So, I went to the post office when Rainbow yesterday, as part of our frequent wagon ride/get a cookie at the coffee shop/check the mail/climb on the caboose loop. There is a free book bin that I let him poke around in, mostly so he will leave the shelved library books alone.

He pulled out this manilla envelope that I immediately recognized as a school report card and started running around with it like it was a piece of really great loot. I wrestled gently took it from him and told him it was not a book; it was something important that someone would want back.

As I pulled it from him, this fell out.

I was all, Huh, an angel…? I replaced it and peeked inside the envelope. The report card was for the 2008-2009 school year. I sort of figured no one would want it any more, but I put it up on the shelf of library books just in case.

We went and played on the caboose for a while, and I thought about the little metal angel charm. I thought about putting it in a collage painting. I wondered about the report card and what I would find in it.

I wanted it.

Feeling more than a little weird, I slipped back into the post office. I told Bonnie, the postal worker, that I was just curious about the report card. I looked closer and saw it was from Waco, Texas. I read the name out to her, and she said she didn’t know anyone by that name around here. I took it.

Turns out it’s a report card for a little boy in Catholic school. Oddly, I can’t find his grade on it, but the school was for grades K-8, and it included an graduation angel pin and a little photo. (The angel had broken off of the pin, so it was just a flat angel shape.) Based on the subjects he’s graded on, it looks like he had finished kindergarten. The boy has some learning delays, it seems; his report card has not-so-many S’s for Satisfactory, and then a split between I’s for Improving and N’s for Needs Improving. There was also an appointment sheet for speech therapy at a university. I half-heartedly googled his name, but I guess Texas is a big place, and I’m not going to get all stalkery about a little boy.

I wondered what to make of it. It’s just a random report card, after all.

But you can make of it what you want to. You can let it mean whatever you want it to mean. You SHOULD.

So, okay.

I will.

Does it mean that I’ve graduated from grieving? Can one even graduate? I certainly feel better than I did five years ago. I feel very sure that Ward is happy and bathed in love and joy. I feel very, very blessed with my family and my faith. Yes, I’m prone to outbursts of laughable dumb-assedness and flagrant bitchiness and sleepless, neurotic fretfulness. But whatever. I’m human. I’m mostly nice, most days.

Or does it mean that Wardie has graduated? Is he thrilled that something new is going on for him? Is he one step closer to that gleaming source? Or is he being held in some lucky mama’s arms right now, milky-sweet and blinking at this shiny bright world?

I like to think of my faith like a dense cloud around me, not sharply focused on one particular direction. Just padding me with gentleness when I need it, insulating me with warmth, giving flashes of inspiration at times.

Or maybe it’s an amorphous blob, squishing around and absorbing the nuggets that suit its specialized needs when it comes upon them, and leaving the non-nutritive matter behind.

The teacher’s parting notes:

Way to go! I am so proud of you! Keep up the good work and improvements!

I’ll miss you this summer but I’ll see you next year. Practice and review what we’ve learned this year. You’ve come out of your shyness and talk quite a bit (speech is showing improvement – keep it up!)

Always keep GOD in your heart and be the best that YOU can be!!!

I love you!

still

I’m driving to pick Rainbow up from his two (now three) day a week daycare, on the up-down road that he loves.

(up-down-up-down-WHEEEE!)

I feel that hot tingle, that not-unpleasant shock down my right ear to my jawline that tells me he’s there. Turn off the radio and say Hello.

I’m glad you’re here. What’s going on with you? I’m on my way to pick up Rainbow.

affection and inquiry

Yes, he’s amazing. He’s so fun and sweet and lovable. Such an enormous blessing. I love so much that we have him in our family. I love him.

a wave of love and gratification

(And I get the feeling, not for the first time, that Ward had a hand in this, that he knows Rainbow and loves him, too, and that he not only approved but was around when the plans were laid. I feel like he’s proud. I imagine the two of them hugging, and how they would play together right now: silly, bossy, fearless, adorable little boys. I cry overwhelmed, full-of-the-goodness-of-the-whole-thing tears.)

Is anything going on special with you? I hope you’re doing amazing things.

EXCITEMENT YES YES YES THRILLED YES I AM LAUGHTER

(I laugh, too.)

I love you.

yesterday

I had learned about the serious nature of Sharon’s illness on Sunday evening. My immediate reaction was to want to pack up and fly to her hometown, but Daddy J was at band practice and I was on lil bun duty, so I dazedly got him ready for bed in between talking on the phone and messaging on Facebook.

He got to bed really late for him (after 9:00) which I guess isn’t so terrible considering the time change, but still. Daddy J got home soon thereafter and we started to look at flights.

And then realized that I should probably check in with her husband and/or family before I just arrived and expected to see her. I sent some more messages and went to bed, hoping there would at least be weeks or days left in her life.

I normally take Rainbow to his Discovery Center class on Mondays, but I bagged it yesterday. I was fretful and anxious, and Daddy J very correctly pointed out that I didn’t need any sort of negative experience if I could avoid it. (Last week Rainbow… did not enjoy class.) I had scheduled his doctor appointment at 10:45 so we could go after class, so we had a morning at home and then went for his 2 year checkup.

Suprisingly, As usual, I had to wait a good forty-five minutes before I got called back to the exam room, and then another good twenty minutes before I saw the doctor. Also as usual, I debated whether it’s worth it to keep driving half an hour to get there when there are probably docs closer that I would also like.

BUT, I end up sticking with it because I really like this doctor a lot, and, equally important, the big boys really like him a lot.

The waiting room’s nice, too. Rainbow had a PARTY in there. He was so dang cute, just cracking up and playing with other little kids. It was so sweet to hear other mamas commenting things like, “What a happy little boy,” and “Listen to that laugh!” What a little honey.

His tune abruptly changed when we got called back. The tears and vehement protests began even before we made it to the room. He was blowing kisses at all the nurses and doctors, trying to make them GO AWAY or else effect his own escape.

We made it, though, and I could almost hear everything Dr. Tim said over Rainbow’s wails. Rainbow is healthy as a little horse and smart as a whip.

*smile*

They did check for anemia, which I am slightly concerned about since he won’t really eat meat. He’s also not a veggie fan, at all. It’s kind of down to bananas, cut-up purple grapes, and bits of dried fruit. Also whole fruit spread on his yogurt and wheat germ.

But really, he’s just bursting with health and vigor, so I’m not worried too terribly much. I do think I’ll get some vitamins for him, though. He’s my first who’s not a veggie eater at this age, but I wonder if he’s just prioritizing his food intake for the mass building selections, like dairy stuff. Apparently there’s a lot of mass in his future.

He weighs 34 pounds and 13 ounces and is 38 inches long.

A big boy. Dr. Tim said that at this age we could double his height to estimate his adult height, so that would put him at 6’4″. Dr. Tim emphasized that he would be a BIG, tall man. Just big all around. Which is awesome.

*smile*

We left and drove to Goonie’s house. I had his essential gear in the car since he was spending the night, so Rainbow had a pleasant ride, gazing out the window with Binky in his mouth and Puppy’s ear between his fingers.

I went from Goonie’s house to the town nearest her to get some things for Sharon’s little girls. I wasn’t sure if I’d pack them to take when I visited or send them that day, but I wanted to get treat bags together for both of them. Cousin N gave me a couple of pink belly dancing scarves, which I think they will flip out over, based on how the little girls at craft fair loved them. I went to Sally Beauty and Hastings for treats to add to the scarves.

I do this thing when confronted by grief: I want to take action of some sort. I did it when I found out my dad was sick with cancer. I got up early and made spinach gnocchi from scratch to take to the waiting room at the hospital. Because everyone wants to eat spinach gnocchi in hospital waiting rooms, right?? Yesterday I wanted to assemble the most fun gift bags ever for Sharon’s daughters so that maybe they could take a break for a moment from the fact that their mom was dying.

*heart lurch*

Leaving Hasting, I eyed the Merle Norman store. I never really go in them; they’re sort of intimidatingly girly to me. But I wanted another little something for Sharon, and I thought some fancy hand cream would be nice to rub into her hands. I had had some Merle Norman lotion at one point that I really liked.

I popped in, trying to look casual, and immediately got busted. Hello there! Welcome! Have you been in a Merle Norman before? Where are you from?

Oh, sh*t, we’ve got us a talker.
I tried to hide the panic in my eyes and appear to be captivated by the springtime purse display, but it was futile. I was caught.

She was a really lovely person, and it turned out that we know a bazillion of the same people She used to be on the Habitat board, so we knew all those ladies, and her neighbor is a new member. Her husband had died of a heart attack five years ago, and she knew about Wardie, so we talked about grief some. She said that she normally didn’t work anymore, but was filling in for her daughter, so it was a God Thing that I had walked in.

And I suppose it was, but everything is, right? I was worried and hungry and had to go to the bathroom and wanted to get home to Daddy J and watch some Heroes, so I was quite possibly not the best company. She strongly suggested this book and maybe I’ll give it a shot. It’s Christian-y, but not in a preachy or hypocritical way, more of a gritty and realistic way, she said. I dunno. It sounds like it hits on the anger at God that a lot of grievers apparently feel, and (as I awkwardly tried to explain yesterday) I was never angry at God. Angry at myself, sure, but faith was what comforted and reassured and strengthened me. And I don’t really care so much what the Bible says. I just don’t.

She did share one good nugget, which she said she heard once from a co-worker. She said that a group was sitting around eating and women were discussing eating this or that in order to prolong their lives. (Side note: I try to eat healthfully in order to look and feel better, not so much because I think it will make me live a really long time, although I guess it ups the odds.) Anyway, one woman had been quiet and chimed in at last:

What’s so bad about dying?

Which, yes, of course. It’s a good thing to get to go Home.

The bad part is for the people who get left behind.

I bought at last some fancy, subtly scented hand cream that she said a client calls her “silk pajamas in a tube.” I tried some and it was awfully nice. She gave her blessings to Sharon and I left.

I returned a call to a friend in the parking lot and learned that Sharon won’t be using the stupid hand cream.

I know she’s happy to be Home and that she is so adored there, but, oh, I am so sad for those who got left behind.

ghosses

I walked with Rainbow down to Daddy J’s grandma’s house. It’s mostly emptied out and is pretty messy inside. It makes me very sad to be in it.

In the last months of Great-Grandma’s life, Rainbow was very uncomfortable in it. Grandma was unwell and the atmosphere was, at best, subdued and, at worst, pretty bleak. The last few times he saw her, he was took a long time to warm up to her aged and shrunken appearance, and, a couple of times, he flat-out refused to go in. Halloween was kind of a bad scene; he wouldn’t stop crying and making for the door when I took him in to see her.

Anyway, that made me all the more surprised when he wanted to hang out in her house today. Cousin R was over from Knoxville to pick up some items, but by the time we got down there he was about ready to go. Rainbow, on the other hand, wanted to go upstairs and explore. He wanted to build with the bin of Mega Blocks that she kept behind the sofa for toddlers. He did not want to leave.

We visited outside for a while with Grandma’s neighbor, M, whom we’ve known since the big boys were babies. (Back in the day, we used to live right across the street from Great-Grandma. And before, that, we knew M because she has worked at our alma mater in town for I-don’t-know-how-long.) She had her dog with her, a black Pomeranian named Charlie who was literally almost as wide as he was long, due to excessive fluff and fat. Rainbow was totally smitten with Charlie and buried his face in that black fluffy stuff, giggling.

I had already been feeling reflective and sad about Ward in the last couple of days. Nothing earth-shattering or new, just sad and missing him. I was thinking about how my memories of him are fading; they are moving away from me like little boats on the ocean. Sometimes it seems that all I have left is the feel of his silky blond curls around my fingers, and the amazement I felt that someone so beautiful had come from my body.

Just sad.

I remember how he loved the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. I had been afraid that it might scare him, but he loved it. Afterward, for weeks he’d ask, “Do ya member those green ghosses? They would say ooo-ooo-ooo!” and just crack himself up.

I want to not feel sad about the ghosts. The messy house, soon to be sold, the lives that seem far too short. I want to see the ghosts for what they are: just memories of people who have moved on and are right where they need to be. I want to laugh at the idea of sad or scary ghosts – oooo-ooo-ooo! – and know that the people we love are laughing with us.

***The part Ward loved best was around 6:00, when the ghosts are in the graveyard.

it’s all about the shepherds

This is the time of year when I surprise myself with my emotional responses to the Christmas story.

We are not churchy people. We don’t go to church regularly, although we do have a family religious guy and a church where we feel more at home than any other, about 50 minutes away. We don’t pray before meals (well, except for big ones like Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter) but I have prayed with the big boys plenty in the aftermath of Ward’s accident. I don’t pray with them every night anymore, although I do give them a hug and tell them, “God bless you” before I leave the room. (I do it for friends who spend the night, too.) We have them read the Children’s Bible before Christmas and Easter so they know what the days are about.

I believe in prayer, but think that prayer boils down to being in sync with God’s will. Let my will and God’s will be the same. Let me accept that and trust in it. Give me the strength or awareness or humility or whatever I need in order to be this way about events and people in my life.

I am deeply spiritual. I ask for help daily, I’ve begged for peace often, and I’ve gotten it.

But, the church thing. Sigh. I don’t do well with the whole preaching thing. I don’t want an interpreter of God’s will. I’ll ask Him/Her/Us myself, thanks. And I sure don’t want anyone telling me or my kids that if we don’t do XYZ bad things will happen, because they say so, because they know God better. And I think it’s honestly kind of silly to pick apart words in the Bible to try to find out how God feels about things. I mean, just ask if you’re not sure, you know?

And… I know there might be a church I’d enjoy. Unitarian, maybe? But that would involve a good bit of driving, and I’m just not up for it on a Sunday morning.

Someday I want to have a Sunday morning gathering, where whoever wants to can show up and share what is meaningful to them, in a brief and non-preachy way. Like, we’d all just listen for a minute or so, and atheists or agnostics or whomever would be entirely welcome, because we all have things that are meaningful in our lives. And then hold hands and have a moment of silence, and then devote a good hour or two to a group charity project. I’ve dreamed of this extensively, to be honest. I’d call it Meaningful Mornings and even if it were just me doing it, I would love it.

Maybe someday, when the bun is older.

(Remind me in a year or two or three, if you like.)

I digress.

It’s the time of year when I read the Christmas story and weep. The last few years, it’s been a tidal wave of emotion when I read about the shepherds just doing their jobs and being visited by the angels. Not the nativity scene per se, but the scene of the regular guys being given the promise of great joy by the multitude of the heavenly host. Great tidings! Great tidings! It made me weepy during Bethlehem Marketplace this year, as it did last year, and it made me weep when I saw this:


Great tidings! Great tidings!

It’s the time of year when I question my take-it-or-leave-it approach to church. I want my boys to feel the touch of the Divine that I sometimes do. I want them to know that there is more out there, that there’s a reason for all this, that we’re all connected. That God is real.

I fret that the faith I have grew from all those times my parents took my brother and me to church. They never talked about God or faith, and we didn’t pray at meals, either. Honestly, I think they may have been relieved when I put my foot down as a young teenager and flat out refused to go to church any more. Like, I left the sanctuary and was there waiting for them outside after the service. Pretty much put the kibosh on the whole get-all-dressed-up-and-go-to-church-every-Sunday-morning thing.

But. But. Being witnessed to regularly by other people who believe in God is a powerful thing. Do I have my early churchy years to thank for my current faith? Or is it more of a life experience thing, or an innate thing, that brought me to where I am?

Am I doing them a disservice by not taking them to church every Sunday? Do I need to get over my distaste with certain aspects of it in favor of their happiness?

And I hear, amidst this fretting, a firm, patient voice:

What do you want?

I want them to have faith, like I do.

Then live it.

***edited to add: This has been bugging me, although I know it will probably mean nothing to anyone but myself. But this blog is as personal journal as well as a public blog, so I feel the need to clarify the internal dialogue above. After hearing the question, “What do you want?” I didn’t so much get a response (“Then live it”) as I got a quiet acknowledgement that yes, that *is* what I want, and that I should just live my life how I’m going to live it, because I’m the mama they’ve got, and it’ll all be okay. More of a compassionate awareness of my desire than any call to action, if you follow.

A subtle difference, sure, but I wanted to make that correction.

Comfortable

It’s been a gold star kind of day. The Commodore turned fifteen (fifteen!!) today and we had a small birthday breakfast for him with the closeby family. We also went out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant (Samurai) last night with just our little family, and that was lovely. The Commodore is a big sushi fan, so this was his pick. The best part was hearing the Commodore and Rockinrolla laughing and chatting about teenagery stuff in the backseat on the way there. It’s so tooth-achingly sweet when they talk like that, like they are best friends, like we hope they will be for the rest of their lives.

Daddy J and I strolled with Rainbow to Ward’s playground this afternooon. We do that a lot. Rainbow, in fact, pitches a frothing fit if we’re out on a walk and we don’t go to the playground. Generally, it’s easier for everyone involved if we just give in and take him there, even if we just intended to walk around the block.

Walking around Ward’s statue was a Mexican woman holding up a girl by her armpits and helping her walk. The girl looked off into the distance and held her twisted wrists and hands up to her chest. A man was sitting on a bench around the statue, laughing and chatting with the woman. The thought crossed my mind that the woman and the man were the girl’s more distant relatives, like her aunt and uncle, or babysitters, maybe, rather than her mom and dad, because they were so relaxed and happy. Maybe that sounds stupid; I had this idea that parents of a severely disabled preteen would be stressed out and weary. These people talked with the girl, who responded with an off-center smile (but no speech) and they all seemed very… comfortable. Not exhausted or bitter, just enjoying the nice weather and letting the girl get some practice walking. They just walked around and around Ward’s statue.

Daddy J had brought the GSD, so he sat down (after throwing the frisbee for Wolf a few times) and chatted, in his broken Spanish, with the family while I played with Rainbow on the playground.

Yes, he told me later, they are her parents. She’s eleven. At the age of seven, she choked in a restaurant and they thought she was dying. She didn’t die, but their bright, healthy girl was forever changed after being deprived of oxygen for awhile.

It was so hard to see. I’ve thought so often about how our lives would be different after Ward’s accident if he had lived. It seems a particularly cruel twist of fate to have a child born healthy who, through an accident, is changed into a child who needs round the clock attention and who will never live the adult life you’d dreamed of for him or her. It seems too much to bear.

It makes me feel humble.

What was incredible, though, was how non-bitter these people were. They were chatty, outgoing, and seemed thrilled to have a nice playground to take their kids to. (They had other kids playing on the equipment.)

They were comfortable.

It reminded me of a phrase I hear on our infrequent visits to church: Comfortable Words. Words that are intended to comfort, like, God will not leave you alone when you’re hurting, and Even if it sucks now, it will be tons better at some point soon, just wait.

And also of a prayer that I love. The Prayer of St. Francis made an impression on me when I was newly bereaved, and I still love it. I’m glad I read it again today:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.

It’s the “Let me seek to give comfort rather than receive it” that is so stunning to me. It’s an enormous goal, but it makes so much sense. The seeking to give comfort was a big factor in pulling myself out of my deepest grief. I received tons of comfort (tons!) and it helped me tremendously. But I found that on some of the grimmest, most horrible days, I could get a fix by walking down the street to visit an old lady who lived alone, or by sending a card to someone I met through Chemo Angels, or by trying to give support to another grieving parent.

I’m pretty self- and family-centered now, and I do cut myself some slack. Rainbow is not in preschool or daycare, and it’s just logistically hard to reach out to the community as much as I’d like to. I do feel “comfortable” for the most part (within our family, anyway) and look forward to being “comfortable” within a larger sphere before too long.

It’s a hard goal for grieving parents, being able to comfort others when your life has been ripped apart, but it was a terrifically healing one, for me, anyway. It gave me something to reach toward, and without fail, trying to give comfort actually did give me comfort. It was almost embarrassing: I’d want to tell people that really, REALLY, this act or gift or whatever was more for me than for them, because it actually lightened my leaden, grieving heart. That the act of trying to help someone else was a salve that soothed when nothing else would. That I was so grateful to have the time and ability to do whatever small thing it was.

Understand that I am a selfish and vain person, prone to all kinds of character flaws. I am not nearly as charitable as many, many people I know, including some ladies who volunteer with me for Habitat for Humanity and who recycle their ball gowns instead of buying new ones because that way they can “give more to charity.” Or my friend down the street with three kids at home who dazzles me on Facebook with her frequent fundraising activities. Or my friend who visits a nursing home every week to comfort the residents there. Or a relative who volunteers weekly at a charitable donation service. I’m not there yet.

But I want to be.

God, please just let me be comfortable.

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