Sunday, October 16, 2016

It has been a while, Ole.

Yesterday, my children and I found ourselves at my alma mater homecoming parade.

I choose this as my alma mater, although I did not graduate from the college, my heart never left.

My roommate, best friend, the other half of my brain was in town for our graduating class 10 year anniversary. Had she not been, I likely wouldn't have gone at all. I love her something fierce though, and gladly snatched the opportunity for much of the day together.

It was the first time I've visited in a few years. It was fun, and sad, and nostalgic, and contemplative.

I was nervous to go, because most everyone I knew from there knew me back when... back when I was young, in love, starting a life story with my former husband. They watched our relationship grow and blossom and be challenged and solidify. They all knew me back then.

Over the course of two years, I developed friendships there. One friendship in particular, with my aforementioned roomie bestie, has remained strong and really been cultivated over the last 14 years. As it usually goes, most dissipated to merely Facebook type friendships with occasional check ins and comments. I still consider these friends to be friends, but not close friends. It doesn't mean I don't value them, of course.

I knew that seeing my bestie would be wonderful. She's stuck by me through better and worse, longer now than my former husband did, and long enough to be family. But, I didn't know what to expect from seeing anyone else I knew.

I wasn't really a part of Augie long enough to leave a lasting mark, and I certainly don't believe I was very memorable or important to most people beyond my bestie, a camp friend, and one professor. When I saw people I knew, my inclination was to shy away because I was pretty sure they didn't know me well enough or like me enough to really have a conversation. It's okay, though, because I had my kids along to supervise.

As I sat and listened to people catch up with one another later in the day, while I pushed all three kids on swings, I felt myself retreat inwardly. Here were my classmates living their dreams and pursuing their careers and making something out of themselves and their degrees and had all sorts of accomplishments and stuff to talk about and compare.

And then there was me. The one who left after two years to pursue a social work degree that I used for a while. The one who had a fairy tale love story and three children whose life turn a psychotic thriller type turn, and now lives day to day usually, her main aspiration and goal to raise good children and provide them with a home and some sort of consistency. 

I felt inadequate, by no fault of anyone's except my own inner demons.

After talking with a trusted friend, I realized that my three children are a huge accomplishment and while they're not a career accomplishment or any great material reward or something, they're happy, thriving, and filled with the joy and love of the Lord.

So there's that.

Sometimes, I wish I had stayed there. I wish I had been a part of the last two years with my class and had those lasting friendships many do.

But, I won't play the what-if game.

I'm blessed as I am and my worth isn't defined by the two years at my alma mater, the things I did or did not accomplish because of or inspire of my degree, or what people remember of me or whether they remember me at all.

Really though, it was a good day. It was filled with laughter, smiles, some hugs, new memories, renewed and new friendships, and the beginning of sparked interest in my oldest child toward pursuing academic dreams in his future.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A place of my own

I have my very own bedroom.

I haven't had my very own bedroom since the spring of 2006.

It happened last Sunday, after a month or so of meditation.

Prior to this, I had been sharing the larger of our two bedrooms with my nearly 2.5 year-old daughter.

I actually began sharing a room with her in January of 2015, when we moved into transitional housing straight out of the homeless shelter.

Prior to that, I spent two months sharing a bedroom with my two sons while we roomed with a friend at her apartment.

Before that, I spent 9 years or so sharing a room, and a bed, with my former husband.

My daughter doesn't sleep very well. She never has slept more than a few hours at a time for me, and I have been so perpetually exhausted for years now that sometimes I think I'm crazy.  She sleeps okay for other people. It's been a combination, I assume, of recurrent ear infections, tonsils, adenoids, teething (she's still missing two of her two-year molars), and knowing I'm near. I'm a cruddy sleeper, quiet noises wake me, so listening to her cry at night is overwhelming. I have not been one to pick her up and coddle her when she cries at night, but I think part of it is that she would cry and I would even just voice from my bed "it's okay, babe, go back to sleep." Who knows.

Regardless of why, I thought it might be worth a shot to combine her room with her brothers room, and pray for the best.

It's been going well. She still wakes up sometimes, but not every 40 minutes to two hours. The boys stay in their beds quietly because she's in there, so the middle child hasn't been wandering out eight times before he falls asleep. I'm praying these things continue or improve. 

It's nice to be able to go to bed and turn on the light whatever time I want to, or turn it on first thing in the morning and not worry about waking anyone. It's nice to have my own closet and not have to share space. It's nice to not have toys to step on, or other people throwing clothes on my floor. I can decorate for just me. I could read in bed if I wanted, or not wake anyone if I cough.

I have still been sleeping like crud. I think it's partially because it's a new room, new light, new noise, new temperature, and because my body is so used to waking up multiple times a night. It will take some adjustment. I'm holding onto faith soon we will all be sleeping well, though.

Last night, I had a few nightmares. It's not really a big deal, but irritating. However, I was going to make my bed a bit ago and I remembered them.  Then, I remembered the 9 or so years where I had a roommate to share them with.

Suddenly, I realized, sitting on my bed, that my new room, while exciting and deserved, feels a bit lonely and sad at the same time.

It seems silly. But, I realized that in 2005, I was engaged and planning my forever, which included a roommate for life.

And now, the bed and the room contain just one person. Just me.

It's empowering on some levels, to know I stood up for myself and worked so hard to be in this room, alone. But it is also currently weighted reminder that my life dreams and plans were shattered and remade.

It will take some getting used to.

And my bed is still not made.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ripping Bandaids

I've had some heartbreaks in my life.  I say this not to be dramatic, or for sympathy.  It's just fact.  Now, these heartbreaks, in some ways, define who I am as an individual.  They help develop the capacity for love and loss in my heart.  While many times, I wish that they had never happened, I know that they are my testimony.

This weekend is another milestone or anniversary-filled weekend.  I look back, and five years ago, I was losing my second baby, early on in pregnancy.  Two years ago, I was a bit terrified, knowing my then-husband was driving to my hometown to bring my children and I back to our current town, after I had fled for a few days in fear and confusion, spending them largely trying to decode mysteries and lies in our lives.  

The memories of these dates came rushing back to me this evening, as I made the drive home from taking my children to see their grandparents.

This weekend, this year, was filled with my former husband's family.  It nearly completes the first visits with each of his siblings or parents in over year (or more in some cases).  

A month and a half ago, I spent a few hours at his mother's house.  His mom has been a second mom to me for about 15 years now, but I hadn't been to her house since before he disappeared from our lives.  I hadn't been to the house I spent countless hours, days, weekends, and weeks at in over two years.  Her house was where he first told me that he wanted me to be his wife some day, that he wanted to have children with me, grow old together, and hopefully die together at the same time in a poetic Romeo & Juliet-esque finale (meaning simply at the same time or minutes apart).  We spent many holidays there together.  The house itself is jam-packed with memories that shaped who I was individually, but also who we were as a couple.  

As I drove there that day, I prayed repeatedly that God would give me strength, peace, and grace, and that I wouldn't be reduced to a blubbering ball of tears.  He answered my prayers and I didn't cry at all until the drive home.

Fast forward to this weekend, where his youngest brother, who I met when he wasn't even a teenager, who became one of my dearest friends very early on, his wife, and their infant son came to visit.  I hadn't seen them in over a year at all, since a family gathering I felt completely out of place at the summer before.  I was excited and anxious at the prospect of the three of them here, in our new home, for the first time.  I didn't want it to be awkward or silent or feel like there was a giant chasm in our relationship.  

We had a good time over lunch, watching our children laugh and play, and reminiscing some and talking about life now.  We exchanged multiple hugs, and when they left, I didn't cry at all.  I felt at peace, and I was so relieved.  

His twin brother is married to one of my dearest friends, and they live nearby.  (He was at our place also when the youngest brother was here.)  They've been around before, during, and after my life crumbled, and they've never wavered.  We see them regularly and my children adore them, as do I.  We were blessed to be able to have an afternoon adventure with them at the science center, which the children talked about the rest of the evening.  The science center and their baby cousin.  It was a good day.

Today, the children and I were journeying to my former-husband's father and step-mother's house about an hour away.  Up until today, I hadn't been there in nearly two years.  The last time we went was Thanksgiving in 2014.  He had shown up late, angry, and bitter, and the drive there was wretched, as was the drive home.  Knowing this and feeling some of the residual emotions still lingering, the prospect of going back there today, without him, was uneasy.  But, in my heart, I felt I needed to.

As I was preparing myself for the adventure today, I told a friend that it's sort of like ripping another band-aid off my heart.

The wounds that were left when our marriage crumbled were deep, intense, gaping holes.  I remembered him vividly telling me that no matter what happened, I would always be a part of his family, not only because of the kids, but because they loved me.  I tried to believe him, but always was weary of the truth, because so many of the things that he had told me in that period were blatant lies.    

While I have been in contact with the majority of his family this entire time, I hadn't gone back to his parents homes, and I hadn't seen most of them much at all, because, for all of us, it was painful.  We may not have spoken it, but it was true.  He ripped all our hearts up a bit, and seeing each other was a vivid reminder of that- the life and lives he helped create and then abandoned.  There are always questions, but most of the time they are unspoken, because we know we do not understand or have the answers.  

I have ripped nearly all of the band-aids off, in regard to his family, the other half of my family.  

Some of it remained constant, and some things have changed.

I think the changed have helped me, honestly.

There were slight differences at his mom's house.  New photos of my kids on the fridge, the basement looking completely different from it was the years I spent hanging out in it.

His youngest brother and his wife have a son.  They visited us here, our new apartment where he has never set foot.

His dad and step-mom have new furniture.  I know that sounds trivial and silly, but it wasn't like walking into a big time machine, and the newness of it helped me ease back into the walls.

I mustered up the courage to see these people all again, without him, in new circumstances, a year or more later from the times that were very meaningful in this journey.  I am so glad I did.

Because I realized, for once, he was right.  He didn't lie when he said his family would embrace me as their own, and that they wouldn't shut me out.  I haven't been replaced, and my children and I are loved and welcomed.  They still hug me and tell me they love me, and of course they do the same for my children.  Yes, there's still pain and awkward pauses, but they don't sever us like they could.  Yes, we still wonder, and yes, I still cry.  I may cry each and every time.  I don't know that it will ever be a completely pain-free experience, though I pray that it will.

 I cried today when I left his dad's house.  I realized in the moment they were hugging me that he was right about his family.  

I ripped the band-aids, and the wounds have healed.  Yes, they've scarred over some, but they're no longer gaping.   Things are definitely not the same, but they're not terrible.  In the pain we all feel, we still feel joy and blessings.  Each of the times I ripped the band-aid off, I have been told that his family hopes to see us again soon, and that they are proud of me and my children.  

I think... I think I am proud of us, too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

And there he goes...

Today arrived too quickly.  I willed time to slow down, but as always, it pressed on.

And as it goes, so did my first baby... Right through the doors of the elementary school and into kindergarten.

For the past couple weeks, he has been fluctuating between extremely excited and quite terrified.  He was very nervous at the meet and greet and wouldn't even talk to his teacher.  Yesterday, we talked about what today would be like, and after, he didn't want much to do with me until bedtime prayer.

We prayed over today, asking for bravery, peace, and excitement.  We prayed for him, his siblings, his momma, his teacher, and his friends.

This morning, he woke up peacefully.  I let him choose which shirt he wanted to wear for his first day of Kindergarten.  He had breakfast quietly while telling me he wasn't sure he wanted to go after all.  I reminded him that if he needed it, I would "share my brave," though quite honestly, I was feeling a lack of bravery myself and spent the morning trying to quell any emotions except excitement because I didn't want to trigger any negative emotions within him.

I asked if we could take pictures of him with his backpack.  He asked why, and I said "because this is an important day that we will want to remember forever, the day you were very brave, and started your new journey at school."  He agreed to do it, and started getting super excited.  I could hardly keep him still or focused while we stood out front of our apartments taking photos.

He began chattering about his new backpack from his Grandma and how he couldn't wait to show his teacher.  He told me he would give her a hug when he got to school.

We loaded the van up and dropped his back-pack clothed siblings off at daycare.  His sister went on like nothing was unusual, but his brother refused to leave the van.  He had a very tearfilled drop off, knowing he was going to be in a new room at daycare and his big brother wasn't going to be there at all.

Then, together, my first baby, the boy who made me mommy, my blue-eyed son and I went to elementary school.  While I thought that the excessive amount of other children and parents and commotion would make him anxious and scared, it didn't.  He got sad when we had to drive by the school and park a few blocks away, thinking we wouldn't get there in time.

We walked, hand in hand, to the school.  He had a moment where he was nervous, and he said, "Mom, will you tell me a joke?"  I gave him a quick interrupting cow, and he laughed hysterically, and all was well.  We took a photo together to commemorate this walk together, just us, on our first day of school.

When we arrived at the school, he remembered exactly where the blue door was, and he took the lead to walking us there, still holding hands.  We found his line, and he saw his teacher.  He shrieked her name, went running, and did what he said he would- he gave her a huge hug.  Then he showed her his backpack and his new school shoes and told her he was really happy to see her.  She hugged him back and beamed a huge smile at me as we remembered the scared little boy from just a over a week ago.

One of his friends from daycare showed up right behind us, and he hugged her and he shared his brave with her, as she was nervous too.  I couldn't help but just smile and hug him over and over and tell him how proud I was of him.

He kept asking why he was going to kindergarten.  I would tell him "because you're so smart, you've graduated preschool, and since you're five, you start the new school adventure."  Each time, he would just grin at me.

We stood there talking a while longer, before the bell rang.  I hugged him close, kissed him, and he said he loved me.  I told him I loved him so much and was so very proud of him.  We took one last photo together before he went in, and he walked bouncily in line to the doors, turning around every couple steps to look back, wave, at me, and smile.

And then the was gone.

I miss him so much already.  It's funny, because I've spent countless days without him. Although, this is the first time I've really left him with people I don't really know, who aren't my coworkers, friends, or family.  It's a scary new world out there for a momma trying to let go and let her baby boy grow up.

I didn't cry at all until now.  Now, I sit here, huge tears rolling down my face and splattering my shirt.

God answered our prayers, and he was strong, excited, and brave. I am so very thankful.

But my heart aches anyway.

I'm a little angry, too, that his dad is missing out on it all, by his own choice.  I'm sad for my kindergartner who misses his dad, and his dad who doesn't really embrace what he's missing. His lack of interest and absence is always felt, but days like today it stings a little sharper and cuts a little deeper.  It makes us stronger and braver though, I suppose.

But it's going to be okay.  God's got this.  Just like always.

I can't wait until 2:45 when I see him leaving the blue doors, running toward me, for another hug. I cannot wait to hear about his day and all of the things they did at school.  I can't wait to see his grin, and have him with me again.  And then, tomorrow, we start it all over.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

To Ollie Bear for his 4th birthday

Dear Ollie Bear, 

Tonight, as I chase you back into your room for the third time, you are a bubbling ball of three-year-old energy.

In the morning, you'll be a groggy, pint-sized four-year-old.

I know I say it all too often, but I can hardly believe it is happening.  How did I blink so many times that another year has gone by?  It hurts my heart to see the days passing so quickly, knowing that I haven't savored enough moments to last my lifetime, and taking those that have gone by for granted more often than I dare to admit.

I am sorry, Ollie Bear, for letting time pass us by so quickly.   I wish I could pause it and we could stay here just a little longer.

Dear boy, you are such a complex combination of gentle spirit, fire-cracker temper, detail oriented dirt magnet of a lad.  You are intense, but soft.  You are quiet, and so boisterous.  You are calm, and you are ferocious.  You have so many facets, and I know we haven't discovered most of them yet.

You have a vivid imagination that never ceases to surprise and amuse me.  Just the other night, you told me that your shirt transformed into a new shirt, when I asked what happened to the clothes you were wearing.  I laughed so hard.

You know so many things, and you try so hard to understand what you don't know.  I love the intrigue in your spirit and the thirst in your mind.

I love your laughter, and I hope that I will never forget what it sounded like in these early years.  I can hear it so clearly in my mind now that it causes tears to trickle, because it causes my heart to swell with so much joy.

Another thing I really love about you, is that even when you're mad at someone, me included, you almost always will big bear hugs, and you don't stay mad when you are squeezed super tight. I hope you never lose that.

You're at that awkward stage where you're "little-big," wanting so badly to be a big boy, but still so very small.  I pray you'll stay small a little longer in some ways, like how you're usually up for a cuddle, no matter when or where, but progress to big in others (I wouldn't mind you being out of diapers every moment of the day, but I promise I will try to change them at night without frustration knowing full-well someday I'll miss that side of little, too).

Buddy, I promise that I will continue to work on my patience and grace, and trying to spend time with just you, even if it's in minute fragments here and there.  I never want you to feel forgotten or overlooked "in the middle" of your siblings and in the chaos of our lives.  

I pray you will always feel loved, and you'll never feel alone. I pray you know your worth, not only to me and those who love you, but to God.  I pray that you'll never feel unworthy of anyone's affection, knowing that in the years to come, you may struggle due to the events in your toddler-hood.  I pray that you always love learning, creating, laughing, hugging, reading, and dancing.  I pray you give yourself grace and moments to breathe because of your intense spirit.

I pray you know how much your siblings love you, and how you are best friend to both of them, even when you're not getting along.  

As much as I wish you could stay little for a while longer, I am so excited to see what great things God has in store for you.  He has a plan for you, and while I don't know what it is, it excites me to my core.

Collin Liam, you're a treasure.  You are mine, and I'm so blessed that I am yours.

All my Love,
Momma Bear