Wake Up Call

She is okay now.  She is okay now.  She is okay now.

I have to keep reminding myself of this.  I catch myself taking a lot of deep, cleansing breaths.  My left eye has started to twitch every once in a while.  Nausea comes and goes in waves, and it feels like something is pushing on my chest, forcing all of the air out of my lungs.  My nerves are raw and exposed, but I am eerily calm.  I may or may not look it on the outside, but my head is a mess.

You see, yesterday, for almost one full hour, I believed that my oldest child was dead.

On Saturday morning, just after 3 a.m., Sheepdog and I got the phone call that no parent ever wants to get.  The voice on the other end said that Kid A had been found, unresponsive, in her dorm hallway and she had been taken by ambulance to the hospital.  She said we should get there as quickly as possible, but could offer no additional information.

We woke Kid B and asked her to sleep in our bed in case the boys got up in the middle of the night, and we assured her that we would call as soon as we had news.  We drove down silently to Grady Memorial in Atlanta.  Sheepdog and I held hands.  Phone calls to the hospital during the cold, long trip resulted in the confirmation that she was there, but they would tell us nothing else.

Nothing at all.

My imagination went to all of the very bad places.  I thought of all of the risky choices I had made in college.  All of the insane, dumb, moronic stuff I had done.  All of the times I sat around with my friends, recounting the bits and pieces from the night before, wondering how we managed to survive the night.  It was crazy.  We were so stupid.  We were so lucky.  How did we get so lucky?  How did we get out, relatively unscathed?

I felt I was getting my answer now.  In my mind I heard a nagging whisper, “Pay up.  Nobody rides for free.”  Was Kid A going to be my price?

Unresponsive.  Unresponsive.  Unresponsive.

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We found the emergency department, cleared security, and went straight to the front desk.  We were quickly directed to ambulance triage.  I rounded the corner and saw Kid A sitting up on a gurney.  I went from zero to sixty, or sixty to zero (I’m not quite sure which) in an instant.  Thankfully, my worst-case-scenario had only happened in my head.

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I have never hugged someone so vehemently in my life.

The doctor reassured us that she would be fine, and later she was discharged.  We drove her back to school and tucked her in with instructions to sleep and hydrate, even though my first instinct was to bring her back home with us and smother her with love and over-parenting.  But I am learning that I can not protect my kids from all of the things.  Sometimes they need to feel a pinch.

“A hard lesson to learn!  I’m sure it will be something you will work out with her and a good lesson was learned without tragic results,” said my mother-in-law.

“Is the lesson ‘Don’t Have Kids?'” I replied.  “I seem to have learned that one a little too late. They’re likely going to be the death of me.”

“Hopefully the gravity of it will scare her,” is what one sister said.  Hopefully.

And, hopefully, this experience will encourage her make better choices.  I hope that she tells her friends about it, too, and that they realize that none of them are invincible.  I realize the hypocrisy of this advice coming from me, but my job as a parent is to advise and guide my kids to be better than me.  Do better.  Behave better.  Make the world a better place.

Pretty please with sugar on top, because Sheepdog and I don’t think we can take another wake up call like that one, and we still have four more kids to go after this one.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Firstborn

Today is Kid A’s NINETEENTH birthday, but I’ve been incorrectly telling people for about six months now that she was going to turn 20 this year, and who can believe where the time has gone, and I’m too young to have a kid that old, and wasn’t she just a little baby a minute ago, and …(insert Charlie Brown teacher voice).  But I stand corrected, as she is not 20 yet.  And I can totally believe that she is 19.  Just not 20.  So, we’re good.

She was born in a blizzard.  Well, not actually in a blizzard, but in a hospital during a blizzard.  Although, the wife of a co-worker delivered one day before and she almost did have her baby in the snow as she was being taken to the hospital on a snowmobile (I am a little bit jealous of that super cool birth story).

I was overdue by five days and I was ready to evict my tenant.  When the oxytocin kicked in, I tried to rip the side rails off of my hospital bed.  Sheepdog hung out with me early on during the slow part of labor, but he seemed kind of bored, so I sent him home to have lunch and a beer and to shovel the driveway.  It’s what I wanted to be doing if I hadn’t been otherwise occupied.  Then he almost missed her actual birth.  He literally ran into the delivery room while nurses were putting his paper hospital costume on him.  He rounded the corner and burst into the room and BAM! he got a full frontal view of leg spread with a side of crowning baby head and extra sauce.  Welcome to fatherhood, pal.  That’s probably gonna leave a mark.

Kid A was, of course, perfect in every way.  She was the first grandchild on both sides of the family, so she had no shortage of doting fans.  And I was extremely enthusiastic to try my luck at parenting a human being, so I was very excited that she let me practice with her.  If she was a boy, I wanted to name her Speed McCoy.  Fortunately, that did not happen.

Hi there.  I'm your mommy.  It's very nice to meet you.

Hi there. I’m your mommy. It’s very nice to meet you.  I truly thought you were going to be a boy, so I’m sorry about all of the blue sailboats on your nursery wall.

Thus began almost two decades of me coming up with crazy ideas and theories and names and opinions, and (usually and very luckily) fate intervening when I’ve gone too far.  Kid A was my introduction to this insane, exhausting, fulfilling, scary, take-your-breath-away experience called parenthood.  She is smart and beautiful and funny and makes me so very proud, even when she is giving me gray hair and making me talk to myself.  She is driven and passionate and so very strong.  I am very proud and lucky that she is my firstborn.

Happy 19th Birthday, Kid A.  Sorry for all of the bad haircuts.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Come What May

It was a cold, gray, January day.  All of the other kids were in school as it was a Thursday, but Kid A had checked herself out early.  It was her 18th birthday, so she could do that now.  She climbed into her newly-leased electric car and turned on her iPod.  The passionate and emotional voices of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spilled from the sound system.  The words blasted her ears and bombarded her heart.  The song lasted the exact length of time it took her to drive from parking lot to parking lot.  She took it as a sign, like a cardinal at the window or unexplained feathers.

Sheepdog and I arrived together.  We held hands as we walked into the waiting room.  I noticed a giant eel slithering inside a 75-gallon fish tank before I even saw Kid A in the corner.  The building smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and burning things.  We all hugged and walked over to meet with her guy.  She gave him a piece of paper that had been folded and unfolded and looked at so many times that it had the worn feel of soft leather.  They spoke to one another in the language of creative people.  Then he scanned her paper into the computer and pulled it up on the big screen.  A lone sob escaped from my throat before I could pull it back.

Seeing his familiar handwriting up there, larger than life, I was caught completely off guard.  But seeing it a few hours later, permanently inked onto the slight wrist of my oldest child, it actually felt good.  After all she had seen and experienced and lived through the past few years, it felt right.  Well, as right as a tattoo can possibly be.

"I will love you until my dying day."

“I will love you until my dying day.”

His life story will always be a part of hers.  He left his mark on her heart.  Now his handwriting is marked on her forever as well.

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Today is the first anniversary of Braden’s death.  One whole year has gone by.  An entire year of holidays, and birthdays, and Mondays.  One whole year passed of experiences, and change, and growth.  One whole year of the regular and mundane too.  One whole year of memories made without Braden.  I feel like that is one of the worst parts.

I have thought of him so much over the past year.  Sometimes I think of him intentionally, like when I plant flowers in his memory.  I talk to him as I’m doing the work, updating him with new funny stories as well as the regular day-to-day stuff that’s been going on.  And when these plants inevitably die, I think of him again because I know he is playing a twisted joke on me.  All of my other plants thrive.  It’s just the ones that I tell him are “his” that end up brown and crispy.  I like to think that Braden enjoys our conversations so much that he is just making sure that I’ll keep checking in with him.  So I guess I’ll keep buying him new plants.  And I’m good with that.

Other times he pops into my consciousness accidentally, like when I recently came across the milk shake recipe for cancer patients that I used to make for him when his stomach could tolerate them.  It was made with protein powder and coffee and chocolate sauce and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  It always made me so happy when he would finish one, because he was losing so much weight and what else packs on the pounds but the best ice cream on the planet?  I also find him popping into my head when I’m listening to music in the car, wondering if he got to hear that really great song before he died.  Or was he around for that game?  Or did he get to see that movie?  Or look at that blood moon?  As more and more time passes, the answer is almost always ‘no.’  Not while he was here with us on earth.

So, to officially and reverently mark the passage of one whole year without Braden, Sheepdog and the kids and I went on a short hike up the Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain this past Sunday.  When we reached the top, we found some rocks off the beaten path and we sat together as a family.  We overlooked the valley below and Sheepdog said some nice words and reminded us that Braden is happy and healthy now and we shouldn’t ask for anything more than that.  He also reminded us to be thankful for our own health and happiness and to make each day mean something.  Some of us spoke about happy memories and fun times with Braden.  Some of us weren’t able to speak at all.

There was a placard up by the Indian Seats that said mountaintops are considered sacred by Native Americans because they bring us closer to Father Sky.  I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt closer to my God and to Braden that day.  It was sacred and it was good.  Well, as good as it can be when somebody is taken away before we are ready for it.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… come what may.

Mama’s Got This

Sheepdog and I had just finished playing a fantastic game of hide and seek late last night, when a text came in from Kid A.  A friend had alerted her that somebody just “hit” our driveway with shaving cream.

I like to refer to myself as "highly procreative" rather than "a slut," but to each his own.

I like to refer to myself as “highly procreative” rather than “a slut,” but to each his own.  D-minus for creativity, Class of 2015.

Ah, Junior/ Senior Wars.  A time when high school kids can play lighthearted pranks upon members of the opposing class.  A little toilet paper here, some shaving cream there.  Some call it a rite of passage.  Some call it fun and funny.

I call it stupid and a ginormous pain in my ass, especially when I am hosing off my driveway in my pajamas at 1 a.m.

The police department calls it vandalism, especially if it escalates.  Shit just got real, yo.  On your permanent record.

There are always going to be fartknockers who wreck it for everybody else.

Sheepdog and I do not condone Junior/ Senior War activity and we do not allow our kids to participate.  But I was alerted via Facebook that some juniors’ houses in the neighborhood got TP’d the night before, so I took precautionary protective measures in anticipation of my senior getting a little something-something, just because.  Cutting down the two river birch trees from the front yard a few years ago wasn’t going to be enough.  I tapped into my Jersey Girl/ Boardwalk Empire roots and asked myself, What would 3-Pops do?  But, since the answer to that question likely involved a baseball bat and some knee caps (not really my style), I decided to go a more technologically advanced route.

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If you mess with her cubs, you had better be prepared to hear from the Mama Tiger (Swiger, like tiger).

I love a good penis on the garage door as much as the next girl, but I am a little concerned that all of your penises (and there were many) look like cacti.  If you were drawing from memory, you might want to get that checked by a doctor, Picasso.

I love a good penis on the garage door as much as the next girl, but I am a little concerned that all of your penises (and there were many) look like cacti.  If you were drawing from memory, you might want to get that checked by a doctor, Picasso.

An apology would be nice, but I won’t hold my breath.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

All Are Punnish’ed

I was talking to a mom at the baseball field last weekend.  Her son is on Kid D’s team, the Padres.  She also has a daughter in 5th grade and another son in high school.  He is 16.  We were bonding over the scourge of parenting teenagers.  Because that crapfest is more complex than a Gordian knot.

Gordius was the King of the capital city of ancient Phyrigia (located in the Ankara Province of Turkey).  He tied an intricate knot and prophesied that whoever untied it would become the ruler of Asia.  According to ancient tradition (and Wikipedia), Alexander the Great simply walked over and lopped that thing off with his sword.  And guess who was King of Asia from 331 – 323 BC?

Way to think outside the box, ATG!

Way to think outside the box, ATG!

As far as I can tell, one of the big hurdles with kids seems to revolve around one central theme… honesty.  Even the best of them are inclined toward half-truths and omissions.  “It is easier to get forgiveness than permission” is the song of their people.  There are various degrees of lies being told and sundry ‘failed-to-mentions’ which they are failing to mention.  And there does not always seem to be sound reasoning for the lack of candor.  One of my kids lied the other day about taking a shower.  To what end, you dummy?  I just don’t get it.

So, when you kids get caught – oh, and you will get caught – whether it is for throwing a party at your house when your parents go out of town for the weekend, or for picking your boyfriend up before school even though it has been explicitly prohibited because of the very unsafe left turn out of his neighborhood, or for wearing yoga pants out in public even after your father has said very clearly and with very little exception, “NO YOGA PANTS TO SCHOOL,” we, as your parents, have to come up with suitable and effective penances in order to deter this bad habit.

Sheepdog and I over the years have employed penalties that run the standard gamut from ‘go to your room’ to ‘give up your phone.’  We have explained that lying begets more lying, it does no one – the liar or the person being lied to – any good, and, most importantly, it hurts your heart by causing guilt.  It has proven most effective with our kids when there is a retributive theory of justice (the punishment fits the crime), but also when the punishment is tailored to the offender.  I once heard a story from a mom who kept a pile of bricks in her backyard, which she would make her very logical son move from one location to the next for absolutely no purpose whatsoever, whenever he deserved punishment.  Another mom made her daughter hold a sign up at a busy neighborhood intersection that said “I disrespected my parents by twerking at a school dance.”  Now that’s hardcore.  But was it actually effective with those particular kids?  That is the ultimate question when it comes to punishments.

Recently, Kid A was making some bad choices.  Sheepdog and I sat her down and yelled had a discussion with her about the behaviors we wanted her to adjust.  As incentive for her prompt alterations, we decided that she, an 18-year-old girl who has been driving her own car for two years, had to ride the dreaded bus to school.  Dun dun dun!

Who says parenting can't be fun?

Who says parenting can’t be fun?

Shortly after I texted Sheepdog, Kid A sent me a message that her boyfriend had just broken up with her.  It was not a huge surprise given recent events, but she was still sad about it.

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And now she’s all mad at me.  Whatever.  I’m just sitting here, trying to cut my way through this giant knot.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

Six Months

Hey, B.

Just checking in…

I’m sure you have lots and lots going on right now.  I figure that you are still going through an orientation kind of period, where you get to learn about all of the amazing options available to you in the afterlife.  Kid A likes to remind us about the things you planned to do after you were done being sick.  Did you learn to speak Arabic yet?  For some reason, the thought of that always makes me giggle.  السرطان لا يزال يمص حتى ولو يمكنك التحدث باللغة العربية الآن.  In case you haven’t gotten around to learning it yet (like me with my Pimsleur Spanish lessons), that says “Cancer still sucks even though you can now speak Arabic.”  At least according to Google Translate it does.  I sure hope I didn’t just write something offensive.

I talk to or text with your mom and dad now and then, and I also see their posts on Facebook.  They miss you something fierce.  Everybody does.  And your brothers and sisters are still figuring everything out, too.  Hell, I can’t even say this silly little prayer to you without crying.  And now I just said “hell” in a prayer.  I am not very good at this, dammit.

I loved, loved, loved when you gave us a tour of “your spots” when we drove through Washington, D.C. this summer.  We don’t normally even drive through the city (we go around), so I knew something was up.  And then Sheepdog got turned around in the same exact place that I got turned around when I was driving to my 25th high school reunion just a few weeks earlier.  Once was “whatever,” but twice couldn’t have been just coincidence.  Then I looked back from my seat and saw Kid A happy-crying as she whispered, “Braden is here.”

Thank you for that.  It was amazing.

Dear God,  That's a very important Kid you've got up there.  Please make sure he is adjusting okay... sometimes he like to play tough.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

Dear God, That’s a very important Kid you’ve got up there. Please make sure he is adjusting okay… sometimes he likes to play the tough guy.  Maybe you could give him some extra hugs or something.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

I worry about Kid A sometimes.  She still marks your symbol on her wrist every single day.  Then she traces “Come What May” in your handwriting over top of it.  She wants to get it tattooed, but I am making her wait until she turns 18 to do that.  Sheepdog offered to take her across state lines to Alabama (mostly because he is also campaigning for a new tattoo… you remember the biohazard one he wanted you to get because of all of the chemo?) but I put my foot down.  Yes, I am still a rule follower.  And yes, I am still putting my foot down about stuff.  Tattoos are FOREVER.  But I guess that you will be with her forever too, so I get it.

Over all, she has been handling everything pretty well.  She has the distractions of her senior year to keep her busy.  We hardly see her at home.  But I worry about her most when the busy stops.  And every once in a while she will say something that gives me pause.

Like when she said, “I am afraid to get close to anybody because the people I love die.”

And honestly, I didn’t know what to say back.  Because – technically – she is right.  You died.  Everybody dies.  Some die later and some die sooner, but we all die.  It is one of those yin/yang facts of life.  Yet, we can’t guard ourselves so closely that we never let anyone in, either.  So, I hugged her and let her cry about you and I reminded her that she can’t let fear dictate her choices in life.  We keep encouraging her to do more counseling and therapy.  And she has been trying hard to do fun things and meet new people this year, so I think she is going to be okay.  But I will continue to keep an eye on her just in case.

And maybe you can keep doing your surprise drop-ins, too.  In between your Arabic lessons, of course.

I miss you, Kid.

xo

Braden’s Memorial – Part One

Before Braden passed away last week he was doing the unthinkable… planning parts of his own memorial service.  He wanted to make some of the decisions so that no one else would have to.  He said it felt surreal, but he did it with an unbelievable calmness and sense of purpose.  I am still amazed.

When he asked Kid A and I to speak, we both yelled out “F*ck” in unison.  Now, I sometimes curse like an Eagles fan in a sports bar, but Kid A is not really the type, so it was kind of sweet that we both had the exact same reaction to his request.  Nevertheless, we told Braden that we were honored that he wanted us to do it and we would try our very best.

Last week was a whirlwind of tears and heartbreak and sadness for all of us.  My biggest concern was that neither Kid A nor myself would be able to make words come out of our mouths that would be loud or coherent enough to be heard over our crying.  And it is less than glamorous to have snot bubbles when you are speaking in front of a bunch of people.  But we still wanted to say something meaningful that gave honor to Braden’s memory, so we tried to make a plan.

Little did I know that Kid A’s plan involved practicing full stage makeup on the morning of the service for her part as the wolf in her ballet studio’s production of Peter and the Wolf, which is happening next weekend.  Two hours before we were leaving she came out of her room looking like this:

What are YOU wearing to the memorial service?

Fortunately, the black makeup all washed off.  When we got to the service we tried not to talk to anybody who might set us off crying.  We tried not to look at the happy pictures of Braden on the screen or leaning on the easel.  We didn’t read the Fitzgerald quote about courage on the back of the memory card that was perfectly suited for Braden.  But we listened as the guitarist played the music he loved.  And we sat in the high school auditorium seats and smiled and cried along with everyone else as his Grandad, Walt, his godmother, Lisa, and his friends, Jared, Emily, and Chris all spoke beautifully and from their hearts.  And then we stood up and walked to the podium together.

Kid A broke the tension by telling everyone that when Braden asked her to speak, she said, “F, no!”  Yes, my daughter pseudo-cursed at her ex-boyfriend’s memorial service and I could not have been more proud.  It was charming and fitting and Braden surely laughed a big belly laugh when he heard it.  Then she read a short passage that she wrote about Braden going off to college.  It was incredibly perfect for his memorial service, even though she wrote it months before he was diagnosed.  She was calm and composed and she got through the whole thing.  I asked her if it would be okay if I shared it here because it is so beautiful, and she said yes…

There once was a bird, brown – the color of hickory wood and milk
chocolate and worn leather, with wings too big for its body. It sang songs at
early hours of the morning and late at night, but never after sunrise, when
the other birds would join in. This brown bird liked to feel like it was the
only one up in the trees, the only one on the block, the only one on the
whole earth, when it sang.
It lived in the branches that rattled against our bedroom window
come summer nights, storms crashing through the sky like clockwork and
gone as quickly as they appeared. We would wake up every time it began to
sing, and though it wasn’t the prettiest birdsong we’d heard by any means,
something about what it projected had meaning, and we all knew we were
meant to listen. The brown bird sang to us about love and loss and
heartache and missing and empathy and pure joy, and about excitement
and fear and safety and comfort and family and friendship.
His big wings would have made another bird look out of proportion,
but they suited the brown bird just fine. He wouldn’t have been himself
without them, because besides singing, that bird loved to fly. He’d be gone
for days at a time, and the sticky summer air was empty without his song.
The night before a long trip, he would sing to us about all the places he’d be
going, and about how he was really just biding time in the branches outside
our window. Soon he’d leave for good. The next morning, a flash of
caramel in the waking sky would be our goodbye.
One spring, the brown bird sang for us one last time. The song wasn’t
sad, but it brought tears to our eyes. We had that bird on borrowed time,
and he had taught us about life, but we couldn’t hold him back any longer.
We listened to him sing through the night, and when the sun came up he
held a final note and was off.
We all loved that brown bird, and he loved us, but his wings were too
big for his body and they were made that way so he could fly away.
 

Then it was my turn to speak, so I wiped away my snot bubbles and held on to the podium with both hands.  Next time, I will share with you what I said to honor Braden.  Until then,

Wish me luck for tomorrow…