A heart big enough

You know those flashbacks you get from the photo sites? The ones that will sporadically email or alert you with a little message, “Flashback: Here’s what you were doing last year on this date.”

Super fun. Maybe, for some. But for me, I keep getting them at inopportune times. And for some reason, they always pick this day four years ago. This day four years ago was filled with photos of my then 18-month-old son, now my angel in Heaven.

This day four years ago, we were vacationing on the beach with a little man who was finally free of oxygen tanks and tubes, healthy enough to travel, who was learning to roll over, and feeling the sand in his toes for the very first time.

This day four years ago I was navigating a new normal of first time parenting, loving and caring for a child recently discharged after ten months in NICU, and walking a fine line of over-protecting, and keeping a fragile, near-infant-blossoming-toddler safe, happy, and healthy.

Four years ago today.

Today, here I am, raising a new, tiny human, who I never could have imagined in my most wild predictions would have been a part of my world. A new little man in my life. Not my first born. Not mine by birth or blood. But mine, all the same.

Today, I am loving this little man with a heart I never thought would be whole again. 

Today, my broken heart, torn by the loss of my first born, is growing every day with a love I never knew was possible. A love that has taken every day to nurture and grow since this little man was placed in my care. A love that is not easy, nor natural even, but takes immeasurable strength, patience, and gratitude to accomplish.

A love, that this heart – this broken, battered, and beaten heart – is big enough to hold. Because of my angel in Heaven, and because of my angel on Earth.

Call it what you want

History or legend, fact or fiction, there are millions of stories written in books, told through generations, shared through song, that help solidify beliefs in a higher being and an afterlife.

I read or hear or watch people’s journeys with faith, and to be honest, I often judge. Every person’s belief system is their own, and truly a choice and feeling only oneself can truly know and understand. But when those who choose to make their faith public or make statements about others based solely on religious doctrine, I cringe with distaste.

Call it God, call it faith, call it what you want, but in the end, it’s all the same.

We all want, yearn, need to know that there is more than this. This life, this path we are navigating, this journey full of treaturous obstacles and endless heartbreak just has to lead to something more. This just can’t be all there is.

I have a very good friend who has a very dear mom. They are a source of support and compassion for countless people, and they have a faith that rarely wavers and always leads them to treat others with kindness, follow their hearts, and live their lives with passion and adventure.

They have a saying when it comes to decision-making, and they’ve shared it with me many times when I’ve reached a crossroads or felt my pain had become insufferable.

“This is not a dress rehearsal,” they tell me. We get one chance, one life, one shot. So do it big, make it grand, give it everything and regret nothing.

While I truly appreciate the sentiment, and totally agree with the YOLO craze, I fear my sweet angel in Heaven has me believing something different.

Maybe this is the dress rehearsal. Maybe my sweet angel, your sweet angels, all our beautiful departed loved ones are looking at us from above and laughing, while eating ice cream for breakfast and Oreos for dinner, saying things like, “Good effort, Mommy! You can slip and fall, and make mistakes, and do it a thousand times over. I will still be here, waiting for you, loving you, no matter what.”

So, I will keep practicing. I will keep falling and I will continue failing. I will get bumps and bruises on my already sore and burdened heart.

But that’s ok. Because this is my dress rehearsal. And I’m nowhere near opening night.

How can I not be?

I am a neurotic parent. I worry about everything. I take the phrase ‘helicopter mom’ to a whole new level. I am a psychotic, overbearing, strict, insane parent. How can I not be?

I’ve been trying to figure out another way since the day I was blessed with my second child. He is a beautiful, healthy, smart, and independent three-year-old. And I am driving myself absolutely nuts trying to be the perfect parent.

I push him to use manners, because I want a polite child. I encourage him to dress himself, brush his own teeth, use the potty, even if he is not quite ready, because I want him to learn independence. Yet, I get angry when he disobeys. Sometimes I raise my voice and sometimes I lose my temper. I am a strict and often unforgiving parent. How can I not be?

I want him to understand that life isn’t always fair. That we all have to do things we don’t want to do. I want to teach him all the tough lessons, so he doesn’t have to learn them any other way, or from anyone else. But sometimes, I feel like I am too tough. How can I not be?

He tests me. He pushes and I push back. He is learning to fit into our little world, with an insecurity and fear I know I will never understand. He is a determined child. He has never know stability and he has only experienced abandonment. I will never leave him. But I am terrified of him leaving me. How can I not be?

I am a lucky parent. I have had two beautiful boys, one I carried, and one who was gifted to me. They will never be brothers on Earth. I will always be sad for that fact. How can I not be?

I am exhausted. Half of me grieves while the other half parents. I am in constant turmoil over trying to appreciate my blessings while grasping to understand my tragedies. I dream of an easier life. I want to become stronger from these challenges, but oftentimes I am just angry, and tired, and scared. How can I not be?

I want to be better. I want to know that what I am doing is right, and just, and good. I want my boys to appreciate the mother I am trying to be. I don’t want to be this person full of self doubt. How can I not be?

I am the mother of a son on Earth and a son in Heaven. I have an angel to guide me and a child to help me learn the way. I may falter, and I may fail, but at the end of every day, I am a loving mother trying her best. And I am happy. How can I not be?

 

 

No one would know

I am the proud mother of a sweet angel in Heaven, taken from me two years ago at only three years old. I am the busy mother of a three-year-old angel on Earth, gifted to me from the Heavens through foster care.

No one would know, just by looking at me.

I am in constant turmoil over the grief I feel and the joy life gives. I treasure every moment of this beautiful life while simultaneously hating every moment I have to continue living it without my baby.

No one would know, unless they ask.

I still cry, every day in the car, when I’m alone. I feel like balancing grief and parenthood is an impossible task. But I know my grief is selfish, because my dear sweet angel is happy and safe and waiting for me in his beautiful paradise. And parenting, though exhausting and terrifying, is the only job in my life worth the amount of effort it requires. So I balance, because I choose this life.

No one would know, if I didn’t share.

I am a mess. But I am a solid, strong, confident, and beautiful mess.

No one has to know.

Help me

I want to be the mama I was to you.

I want to be loving, patient, sweet and kind. I want to love unconditionally, laugh in every moment, appreciate each test for the strength it teaches me, and know every moment, though sometimes tiresome or frustrating, is an absolute and beautiful blessing.

Please, sweet angel, guide me through this new path in motherhood. Show me that I don’t need to fear every tumble, every scrape, every tear. Tell me, somehow, that it will all be ok, and not every minute I must worry about protecting this child from every.single.thing.

How is it possible, that after losing you, I can be a mother without fear? Please, my dear, show me how.

For you, I never questioned one thought, one decision, one moment. I treasured every second, every breath, every touch. But now, it is so hard not to feel the fear, and the anxiety, and the weight of this overwhelming and impossible feat of properly raising a tiny human.

It feels like I’m doing it all wrong. I’m short-tempered and tired, frustrated and blunt. I raise my voice and I’m stern, I frown and I point.

Never, ever, was I this way with you. Never did I raise my voice and never did I scold. I gently corrected and nurtured with guidance.

It’s so much harder this time around. So, please, my sweet angel, guide me.

Help me be the mama I was to you.

 

The little things

I find myself getting caught up in the stress of every day life. I forgot how hard it is to balance parenting, work, marriage, a home…and grief.

The days can pass by so quickly when the morning consists of rising early, feeding and clothing a toddler, trying to get to preschool with no tears and happy goodbyes. The days are packed with meetings and urgency, one more important task than the last, and people who need ‘this’ yesterday and want ‘that’ ASAP. Then the evenings take a slower pace with family dinner, bath time, and a bedtime story. But in the blink of an eye, another day has passed, and I’m left alone in the quiet darkness, with just the memory of my baby lost, while my other sleeps soundly in the next room.

And while I use these evenings to reflect on that one missed deadline, the form I forgot to sign, the load of laundry I put off a day, these things will make no difference in my long term happiness nor that of my family. But I’d rather think of all the little things I need to do, or didn’t do, than be overcome with the agony of missing my sweet angel in Heaven.

Because I love my beautiful, stressful, busy, hectic, and fast-paced life. And I love that I was blessed with a job that stimulates my mind and pushes my skills. And I am joyful every minute I get to parent in the unique and wonderful way that I have been blessed with children. And I am thankful I get to walk this Earth knowing my angel is right beside me.

But it is still so hard missing him. And that does not go away no matter how many responsibilities I undertake, no matter how many others I care for, no matter how full I pack my schedule. Missing him, and that hurt in my heart, never goes away and it never gets better.

So, tonight, I’m going to try to focus on the little things. But not the laundry, or the deadlines, or the school forms. I’m going to focus on the memories. The little ones that only he and I shared. And that should get me through tonight.

Let the wonderful in

Holidays can be hard. Holidays are hard. This time of year is work. Juggling commitments, forcing cheer, being without my baby. The most wonderful time of the year can be the worst.

Unless, you let the wonderful in. Take a deep breath, get a good lung-full of wintery air, and let the wonderful in.

Yes, this time of year reminds me of the sickest days, the longest hospital stays, the roughest road I’ve ever traveled. But if I look around, it reminds me of all the good, too.

Angels are everywhere this time of year. They represent that most perfect part of this season. That those who leave us are never really gone. They’re in our hearts, on our minds, and hovering right next to us during every meal, on every drive, with every step.

And my sweet angel is making mommy’s world so wonderful in every way. He’s helping me see that life is full of wonderful. All I have to do is be patient, kind, and open enough to let the wonderful in.

The hardest thing

For everyone grieving, everyone struggling, everyone surviving, there’s usually one thing that’s harder to do than anything else. One time of day where you can’t help but cry. One day of year when getting out of bed just isn’t an option. One memory that will always bring that tightness to your tummy, and slowly close your lungs.

There are a lot of hard things when you’re a grieving mother, living without your baby. There are a lot of ‘firsts’ you miss, a lot of days you dread, a lot of ‘what ifs’ that roll around your mind.

But for me, the hardest thing, from the day I lost him and every day since, has been driving. Driving alone, without my baby in the backseat. No handing sippy cups over the seat. No hearing “mom, mom, mom” from behind me. No silly laughter when I sing too loud or off key. Just me. Me alone.

But what I’m realizing on this journey of parenting an angel in Heaven, is that the hardest thing can become the most comforting.

I still cry when I’m in the car. But now I choose to take this time and talk to him. And I know with every ounce of my heart and soul, that no matter my destination, no matter how fast I’m going, or what is on my mind, my sweet baby is listening.

I tell him all the good stuff. I tell him all the exciting and wonderful things that Mommy is doing here on Earth while he plays in Heaven. I tell him how much I miss him every minute and how much I still, and will always, love him.

I talk to him, and that eases the burden of the emptiness. I don’t like driving, or being in the car alone. But it’s getting just a little easier knowing my baby is with me, even if there’s no carseat behind me. And having him there, in any way I can get him, helps make it just a little less hard.

Because once you’ve mastered the hardest thing, everything else is just gravy.

 

Keeping score

I’ve noticed this a lot lately, and maybe it’s because I know now much more than I used to, that life is a constant battle, but we’re often in situations that seem to conclude in winning or losing.

I have a theory that one of the keys to a successful marriage is not ‘keeping score.’ I could sit and make a very long list of all that I do. My husband could do the same. And if we sat down and compared those lists, all we would end up with would be a list of trivialities, hurt feelings, and a probably some mutual disrespect and lack of appreciation for one another.

Because relationships are not about what you do for the other person. Yes, they require a wh0le lot of compromise and sacrifice, but to me, they are more about working toward a common goal, supporting one another through triumphs and tragedy, and having a companion to share the beauty of this existence.

So, I have made a conscious effort not to keep score. And it’s terribly hard. I’ve realized I think a lot about how much I do, how much I give, the tasks on my plate, what doesn’t get accomplished if I choose to ignore it, and why I shouldn’t have to handle certain things. And this translates into so many other aspects of my life and relationships.

I’ve noticed a constant scorekeeping in those around me. I overhear conversations where two people are comparing how one’s day had to be worse than the other’s. One person’s to-do list is pages longer than the other’s. One’s ex-husband is much more a monster than the other’s. One worked ten more hours that week than another. Someone always does more, has it worse, is scoring higher in this impossible game we call life.

I don’t know if this trend is a lack of empathy, a chronic sense of entitlement, or people just not caring anymore about anything but themselves. But I think there’s a message here. If we are good people, who work to have solid, healthy, mutual relationships, we are winning. Period.

I caused tears

I made someone cry today.

I don’t feel entirely responsible, and I don’t have guilt about the situation, but I am feeling a little ashamed that words I spoke evoked such a negative reaction in another human.

I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit since it occurred, replaying it in my mind, wondering if I should have handled it differently, and trying my hardest to put my empathetic skills to use to know how she may have been feeling during the exchange.

It was in a professional setting, and while I have certainly shed my share of tears at work, this was, from my perspective, a little dramatic, and slightly unnecessary. I know some of us have less control over our emotions than others, and I also know that sometimes our personal lives will interfere with our professional ones, but I also think that sometimes, we just need to get our $#!+ together.

I know first hand how difficult it is balancing a career and a family and health issues and life. It’s hard. And I try to be sympathetic to everyone’s stuff. Because everyone certainly has their stuff. But I also know what really hard stuff is.

I’ve survived child loss. Yes, I cry and whine about it. But surviving without my son is hard. And sometimes, when I’m in a situation, especially now, when I really do feel like, for the first time in a really long time, I’m finally getting it figured out, when people around me expect sympathy for stupid crap…they’re just not gonna get it from me.

My world – including my work, my home, my social circles, and my family – is a drama-free zone. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone interfere with that.