Lucky 13

The rest of the world was preparing for Christmas. I woke on the sofa in our living room after a night spent binge-watching Netflix the night before. On one side of the sofa was the twinkling of the lights of our Christmas tree, and on the other side was John, also asleep on the loveseat for the same reason as I was.

John.

Our thirteenth anniversary.

And I just stared at him for a while without his knowledge. I never took note of how his hair has started to thin at his hairline just a bit. I could see that the way his eyes have started to crinkle in the periphery when he smiles completely go away when he sleeps. He has Evan’s and Zach’s dark lashes, that curling, dark fringe women buy high-end mascara to achieve.

I found myself doing what I always do at any milestone: reflecting back. What our thirteenth year of marriage has brought us. It was just a few short months ago that I stood there with all of my medical knowledge flooding my brain while the cardiologist told us what he had found. When he said those words to me: “He really should have open-heart surgery, but my colleagues and I just do not think he would have survived long enough to get the blood thinners out of his system first.” He used my husband’s name and “survive” in the same sentence. And more than anything, I was afraid of that combination. For the first time in our marriage, John became a mere mortal like the rest of us and the idea that there will come a time when one of us will die entered my mind. That’s been hard to deal with from that day and beyond.

And the day they told us that some weird symptoms Evan was having were signs of a brain tumor. We each dealt with it in our own way—he with blind optimism and me with incessant tears— but we did it together. We seamlessly kicked into action as a team to get Evan the imaging studies, the appointments with specialists, and anything else we needed. And when Evan wasn’t looking, we held onto each other and we got through it to the news that Evan was fine.

He finished school this year. He belittles that in the face of what I accomplished this year. But it is what he wanted and he did it on his terms. He has spent years taking a class here or there, in the background while I was in the foreground doing something of my own. And he has started and stopped his classes with no complaints and no questions asked, based on what I was doing or had planned. Whenever it just wasn’t in the cards for both of us to be in school at the same time, he was always the one to drop out or put his on hold. He never would let me make that sacrifice.

And my MBA. Oh, John, my MBA. His MBA. The man has tirelessly chauffeured me around from this class and that class, this meeting and that meeting. he has rubbed my back when I studied and my shoulders were holding just too much tension. He has awakened from a dead sleep to run to the nearest 24-hour store when the printer ran out of ink for that big paper that was due in the morning. My favorite was, while I was pulling an all-nighter in preparation for my huge finance final at the end and my financial calculator died, he returned with both the replacement and a box of my favorite chocolates. And wasn’t it him, all of those years ago, who made that now-famous (in this family, anyway) statement to his dean? “My wife is too smart. What can I do to help her get back into school?” He saw in me what my mom once saw, what I had stopped seeing in myself. What I had given up on.

Those were some of the big things. In between, there were a million little things. And our marriage isn’t perfect. He pisses me off at times, breaks my heart at others. And at the end of each year, in the mashup of Christmas, our anniversary, New Years, and my birthday, I always wish for us to have an easier year next year. This year was no different. But the fact remains that we have been together long enough that our lives have become this intricately-woven tapestry, and you simply can no longer tell where his thread ends and mine begins. He understands me, and I understand him. We belong together. We will get through the bad, the trying, and will celebrate the good together. I cannot live without him.

Here’s to another year. And all it brings us.

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These are the Days

16 Days. Of course I type that while I am supposed to be awake putting together a 45-minute multimedia presentation on integrated marketing practices for class tomorrow. My final project for a marketing elective to round out my requirements for the almighty advanced degree. John, in his awesomeness, brewed the strong coffee for me before turning in for the night. And I can’t quit thinking. I can’t quit thinking, not of integrated marketing as I should be, but of the uncertainty of my life right now. Have you ever been in a place where the things you spend your days doing no longer feel like they are what you should be doing? Where you feel like maybe your real life awaits you, if only you can survive this short little interim? That is this place. These are those days.

My views may possibly be skewed. I realize this. There are people who have devoted their entire lives to do what I have done for the past eight years. They keep doing it, content with their contribution to the world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is honorable. I’m not selfless enough. I feel like I have spent the past eight years paying dues to the world, to my being in general. To the spirit of my mother, who died from lung disease. I’ve been a good girl, and I have been good at my job. There are, in all honesty, people who are breathing today because of the work I have done. I have been there to help babies who could not help themselves. I have been there when families have said goodbye to parts of themselves. I have wiped brows of the dying, delivered tough love when necessary, compassion when it was needed. I have put myself and my family last. And now, after all of these years of doing that, I want to do something different, and in my warped mind, I have earned that. Not because I will, in just 16 days, have a piece of paper with my name in beautiful calligraphy saying I have completed some requirement set forth from society, but because I have paid my dues in other ways.

People ask me what it is I want, and I always answer with a “we’ll see” kind of shrug. I love healthcare, am passionate about healthcare. And I want to leave some sort of mark on this industry that is on a higher level than the one I am currently leaving. And I want to do so in a way that allows time for me, time for my family.

Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about my path through higher education as a non-traditional student. Evan was about 2 when I put on a  backpack for the first time since my mom died, which was eight years before that. Evan is 12. I will finish this long road about 2 weeks before the ten-year anniversary of that first time back. And I have thought about it. I have allowed myself the luxury of pondering just sucking it up, reaching deep, and going straight into a Ph.D. program or a JD, even. And then I think of them. Of Evan and Zach, of John. And what I want is no longer about a higher degree or prestige. Now, when I think of what I want, it isn’t grandiose at all. It’s simple stuff. Little things that aren’t luxuries to most, but have been to me in these years where I have tried to do it all.

I want to come home and not have to rush off to class, be able to eat dinner with my family at a normal hour around a table with food we prepared at home. I want to watch a movie with John without worrying about homework I should be doing or, better yet, am actually trying to do with said movie playing in the background. I would love to take the boys to a movie or park on a weeknight for no reason at all. Maybe even go on a weekend hiking trip. Maybe John and I could have a real date once in a while. Or I could read a book that has not a damned thing to do with academics at all. I want to blog more. Maybe I could revamp this one a little bit with all I know about social media marketing and content creation these days. I want to join a gym and be able to go–and not some lame attempt a a resolution where I don’t have the follow-through because, hey, thinking I would even have the time for a workout each day was optimistic at best, even closer to being the world’s dumbest idea. No, I want to actually go. And work on myself a little bit, and not just on cramming my brain with as much knowledge as possible.

It’s so strange to me. When I started this, I thought, “MBA: the CEO’s degree. I’m want to be loaded.” It isn’t about that anymore. It’s about enjoying life and having the means to do so comfortably. There is only one material possession I even want, and it is going to sound worse than it is: that new Mercedes CLA 250. Sounds greedy and ridiculous, right? No, because in reality, it is only about 3K more than I paid for our current car and I bought it used. And the current car is too big for me to feel comfortable driving with my vision issues. So sounds crazy, but really isn’t. But anyway, here I am at the end, and the salary isn’t the thing anymore. The job is, the career is, the comfort is, but the money isn’t. And I am saying this about 2 days before I have an interview for a position that would pay more money than I have seen in my life–about 5 times my current salary. And now I suddenly don’t care. Well, I mean, I care in that there is a minimum I can take. I worked hard and paid a lot of money for my MBA. I can’t just give it away. But money isn’t the key determinant.

So here I am. Sixteen days from the big finish. And it feels like everything in my current life is winding down so I can start the new one. So these are the days. The days of excitement, of anticipation. Of anxiety and uncertainty. Of endings and new beginnings. Of wrapping up and starting anew. Of sheer panic mixed with resolution and calm.

These are the days I have to let go and hope it all works out, that it proves to have been worth it.

And if it does work out, these are the days I get to lean back, prop up my feet, and tell myself that after ten years, I earned every damned bit of it.

Still Alive

One day, I’ll return to writing for my own sake.

In the meantime, this is what is going on right now:

Evan is thriving in middle school. The girls are swarming. It’s bad. Last Thursday, after some really strange symptoms that had been going on sporadically, we were told that they thought he had a brain tumor. More about that experience on another day. I just can’t right now. He is seeing a pediatric neurologist in a few days and we’ll hopefully get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, I am trying not to unravel in my worry by focusing my attention on the fact that the head CT was negative. I am instead focusing on other things: that–for the first time ever–this kid has friends; that girls love him and I actually have to worry about what goes on when he is not supervised with a girl, that he is now wearing small men’s clothes, that he has that goofy ‘stache coming in and his dad is going to have to teach him to shave.

Zach is…Zach. He refuses to have anything to do with a toilet. I am tired of having to buy Pull-Ups. Or worse yet, diapers. He still sleeps in a diaper because Pull-Ups leak too much at bedtime. I would let him feel that discomfort with the idea that it would motivate him, but he just sleeps through it, thus we sleep through it, and we wake in the morning to a child with a rash and blue lips from sleeping in soaked pajamas. I cannot deal with neither the grossness factor or the health risk of that. We encourage. His preschool teachers encourage. We have purchased every toilet-learning device known to man, looking for the magic one. Currently, that is this cushie Prince Lionheart insert that seems so comfy that I wish it would accommodate adults.He has no desire whatsoever. But what is he doing? He is speaking plainly, counting, saying his alphabet, (crudely) writing his name, singing songs. (Please do not mix up the order of he verses of “The Wheels on the Bus”!) In May, this was the child who could literally say nothing that a stranger could understand. So I am not sweating the potty stuff. We’ll get there. He always does, doesn’t he? He’s still my little wonder–smart, cute,  funny, sweet.  He’s just Zachy.

John is making me proud everyday, He has lost over 50 pounds since the fateful day over the summer when a doctor I respect came to me to tell me that he could have died at any second from the blockages in his heart. His BP is down. He is down to only one medication for diabetes, and that dosage even had to be cut in half. His cardiologist cleared him to run at home after he outgrew the mild exercises at cardiac rehab. His cholesterol was actually low at his last check, so his medication for that was cut in half. The beta-blacker was stopped after he exhibited no need for it. He was wearing a size 40 waist in the summer. He is down to a 34, and those are falling off, but we’re holding off on shopping for more, since he’s built up to 2-mile runs daily–any little bit of weight he has left will melt off as his endurance gets back up there. His doctor says he only needs to lose 9 more pounds to be ideal body weight. If he loses 18 more, he will be back down to his post-boot camp weight from his Marine Corps days.

And me? I’m hanging in there. I have–wait, let me count–8 more weeks left of school. I start my capstone next Saturday. My paperwork for graduation is submitted. I am off of work. Blame some little boys who cannot seem to get their dirty laundry in a hamper. I tripped on some dirty clothes and fell down the entire flight of basement stairs on my left leg, with it ricocheting off of each step on the way down. They thought stuff was torn. Instead, I found out that every piece of cartilage in there is inflamed from the trauma. So it has been injections, PT, crutches (for about 5 weeks). I am finally to the walking stage, but only for very short trips and in transit. I cannot stand or walk for long periods at all. (Read: I can limp to my class and sit in a chair, I can walk to the car and get in it, but I can’t do shopping trips, etc.) I’m just hanging in. Also, I remember lamenting on here how I hated undergrad corporate finance. It has nothing on the 600 level.

That’s all.

I’ll be a blogger again one day, I swear,

Not Ready

28809_1470325484751_4630848_nI remember the day like it was yesterday. It was just yesterday, right?

We tell new parents all of the time that they shouldn’t blink, that it will all go way too fast. Evan started middle school a couple of weeks ago. That hit me hard. Not as hard as the day I found myself sobbing in the school gym as he turned and looked at me as he was walking away from me and toward his kindergarten teacher. I remember the clothes he wore: khaki shorts with a brown leather/ orange grosgrain belt coordinated perfectly with his orange polo from Baby Gap. He was small. He was my baby. He still is.

But then we had another one. I wrote countless times how I didn’t think I could ever love another like I love Ev. And I remember kvetching that I couldn’t possibly be pregnant again, that it was a cruel joke with the worst possible timing. I had no idea that the child would completely consume me. That he would become very much a part of my very being. I could tell you I love him, but those words seem so paltry and inadequate. If you cut me, I would hemorrhage Zachary.

So today happened. It’s a day I’ve done before, many years ago. Except Evan was starting kindergarten, not preschool. But somehow, this is worse. This is so much worse. He’s only a year younger than Evan was when he started kindergarten, but still. He really is my baby. And I just watched him. I saw the spark of excitement in his eyes, the amazement that that big yellow school bus was stopping for him this time. I watched his chubby baby fist grasp the rail and climb onto the first step of that bus, guided by his father while I tried to hold it together. That first step, incidentally, was almost waist height on him. The bus driver motioned me onto the bus, smiling in understanding and reminding John that moms just do this while the assistant helped Zach to his seat. And he turned and looked back at me as I blew him a kiss, all smiles and happiness at his new milestone reached. At independence and new days filled with macaroni art and learning to sing new songs. At things that would no longer involve me.

I turned and got off the bus and they pulled away. I turned back to watch him go as my heart splintered. Because I worry that these strangers entrusted with his well-being won’t understand how amazing he is. They don’t know how he almost wasn’t here, that he is a connoisseur of chocolate milk, that “bobberries” are really strawberries and are his favorite fruit,  that he simply must have an Eskimo kiss before his nap. But also because, having done this about 8 years ago, I know. I know that Tomorrow, he will be starting middle school. He’ll have earbuds in his ears and not want to cuddle. He will be too cool for me. I will become Mom, no longer Mommy.A Mom is, after all, different from a Mommy. Moms ensure you do your homework and take care of you when you are sick. Mommies kiss boo-boos to make them better, read bedtime stories, are given the gift of crayon scribbles that may as well be fine art. It will be Tomorrow.I know it from experience.

I’m not ready for Tomorrow. And I know that is where Today leads.

I’m just not ready.
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The Smallest One

393096_10201215393853547_1875360026_nZachary is three whole years old. This happened last month. Remember how he wouldn’t talk? Well, now he doesn’t stop. And it amazes me to hear what he has to say. All of that time he was silent, he was absorbing so much so that now that he is completely verbal, he can show us that he was learning all along. He was listening.

Yesterday, while going to eat at a local restaurant, we were occupying him with some coloring while we waited on our food to come to the table. He asked for a crayon I was holding. I reached out to hand him the one in my hand. “Not that one, Mommy. The blue one!” He was pointing to the blue crayon laying on the table, but John and I had the same reaction: to stare, mouths agape, at this kid. As if to say, “When did he learn his colors???” Well, of course he learned colors because, from the time he was about 3 or 4 months old, I have included the color of everything in my sentences. “Here’s your cup, Zachy. The cup is red!”, or “Look at that tree’s green  leaves!”

And he learned empathy and how to be concerned for others. You could try this one for yourself. All you have to do is act like you have hurt yourself–stub a toe, get a papercut–and he drops what he is doing, stops in his tracks, to come to you and look at you with with those big green eyes and ask if you are okay. It is so cute that, I must admit, I have said “Ouch!” on more than one occasion just to see him in action.

I’m trying to convey how much he has grown and I am struggling here. He is just his own little person. I could spend all day just watching him. He has his own tastes and preferences, sense of humor, ways of doing things. The wobble of toddlerhood has been replaced with confident running, jumping, climbing, playing. For his third birthday, his little green tricycle was replaced with a green bicycle.

The shadows of dimples that were once there on his little cheeks have been replaced with real dimples. We knew they were there. 253495_10201210419249185_1369711929_nWhere Evan was always temperamental and a little introverted, Zach is the opposite. He is rambunctious. A true boys’s boy. He says “Hi” and “Bye” to everyone he sees, which can make leaving a grocery store or any other outing quite the experience. (Oh, there’s a bag boy 5 checkout lanes to whom we didn’t say goodbye! Let’s take care of that now!) When he hear’s a song on the radio he likes, he has complete confidence to just belt it out. Our current favorite is this:

*Note that the radio plays the edited version and since Zach associates all bridges with crossing the Ohio River, his version involves crashing a car into the river, not a bridge. But it is still hilarious to hear him sing it.

And yes, he’s starting preschool in August. And it breaks my heart because it has gone so quickly.

Another Year

On Sunday, Zachary turned two.

Two.

I cannot believe he has been in our lives for two whole years. I should be able to spew some poignant tribute to his wonderous persona. I’m sorry to be failing you in that respect. I simply can’t come up with the words. This past weekend was too much of an emotional roller coaster for me.

It all started with a trip to take the boys to see John’s parents. We haven’t been able to make the trip since Thanksgiving. That alone was enough to induce tears when John’s mom quietly whispered, in a resigned tone, that Zachy just didn’t know her. I felt guilty for keeping the boys from her, though I cannot help it. I gave living down there a try and it just did not work. This is where work and school are. We have a life up here that we simply did not have down there. And then it was Sunday.

Zach’s Birthday.

Also? It was Mother’s Day.

We were so busy traveling the four-hour trip, packing and unpacking the brightly-wrapped and be-ribboned packages fro the car, keeping the boys from tearing up Grandma’s house, well, that I completely forgot. It was May 13th. It was Mother’s Day Weekend. And I completely forgot thatt it was also the day after May 12th.

I forgot Mom’s Birthday. I didn’t take a second to stop and honor her memory, and then I felt even more guilt. For each year since her death, May 12th has been horrendous. Depressing and sad as I wallow in missing my Mom. And I have hated Mother’s Day for the same reason.

I forgot this year. I was wrapped up in Zachary, subconsciously procrastinating the memory of the Motherless Daughter. And as I saw the mother-daughter pairs at Zachy’s birthday party later in the day, I started to cry. And then the thought of my littlest baby growing up…I actually had to remove myself for a few minutes to get myself together. When I emerged, only John, who knows me best, could tell I had been crying. He is also the only one who would not have to ask why.

So I put on my smile: the smile of a mom.  The smile of a host. It started out so …fake. Then it was time.

Dimmed lights. The flicker of a “2” candle. Happy Birthday, Dear Zachary. And I watched my honey-blomde angel relish his homemade red velvet birthday cake, made from scratch by his other Grandma–the one who is still living. I giggled as he squished handfuls into his face. I laughed out loud when we looked at the cake and icing goo between his fingers, exclaiming, “Ewwwwww!”,as he reached out and wiped them on me. We laughed some more when he threw a fit to go outside afterward, and we all chipped in to move his mountain of presents outside to make him happy. And I stood over him, taking photos at the top of his beautiful little head as he opened his gifts that were hand-picked by so many who love him.

For so many years, I have missed my mother while loathing this time of year. And Zachary was born this time of year, over six weeks before his due date. He came into the world in a manner that seemed so serendipitous, but now more than ever, I am questioning that. As a mom, I know that a mother will do anything in her power to ensure her children are taken care of. Does that translate to the beyond as well? Did my mother fix this time of year for me by sending a surprise little boy who looks just like her?

So that night, as Zach went to sleep, I watched over him. My mind flashed back on the little moments that have made up the time since his last birthday. On the day I found out I was pregnant with him. Evan made me love life. And then I got caught up in goals and plans and obligations. Then someone sent me Zachary. I was reminded of the beauty and wonder in the world and of what really, truly mattered in life. And I remembered how to laugh and smile again. There weren’t many who could have done that. John. Evan. Now Zach. And my Mom could’ve. Only them.

I’m not sure what else I have to say here. Not sure how to explain. I know I am failing mmiserably, like I said. So I am going to just stop here after I say one more thing.

I love you, Zachy. I love you, Mom. Happy Birthday to both of you.

Big Blubbery Sobs

So I always have some music playing, and I was actually listening to someone else’s playlist on Spotify and heard this song.

And I had to stop and catch my breath between the big blubbery sobbing I was doing.

Zach is going to be two. Evan will be elevenin September. In a couple years from that, he will be a teenager. God, it has gone so fast. Neck-breakingly, heart-breakingly fast.

My babies. oh, my babies.