Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On This Day, Your 21st Birthday...

Austin Age 3.

I can remember it like it was yesterday, finding out I was pregnant with my first child. The amount of fear and excitement that ran through me at that moment cannot be matched. The following months as my belly grew and I got to hear
your heart beating and feel your kicks and flips and hiccups, I fell in love with you. In those months it was just you and me. I didn't have to share you. Your tiny bumps and turns were just for me. I would sometimes poke you back and tell you how excited I was to meet you. But I was also scared. I knew that the moment you arrived, our lives would be forever changed. We'd be in charge of another life. A tiny and innocent and vulnerable little life. How terrifying that was to imagine.
That day, 21 years ago today, when I finally was able to find out IT'S A BOY! I could not be happier. Then they placed you on my chest and I saw your little face for the first time. All the fear, all the doubt, just went away. Your little cry, your teeny tiny little fingers and toes. Gramma counted them right away! You had 10 of each! The amount of love I had instantly for my little 6lb 10oz baby boy, was bigger than any universe. I already loved you to the moon and back.

For the past 21 years I have done everything I possibly could do, to make sure you always knew you are loved. To make sure that you knew I always have your back. I know, especially in the early years, I screwed up sometimes. I maybe yelled too much, or spanked you more than I should have. I know there were times I was so angry, I probably scared you. Or maybe I wasn't always 100% present in the times you needed me to be. I wasn't the perfect mom. I screwed up. I didn't do everything right by you. I didn't do everything right, but I did the best I could. Always. I hope you know I cherished your sweet face and your laughter. I cherished your little car sounds when you raced your Hot Wheels around the floors. I loved watching you use your imagination when you built your Chevy Fiary. Or when you would get up early on the weekends to watch NASCAR or Monster Trucks.  Or when we would watch Nick Jr. and play JJ the Jungle Jukebox.  Please know all of those memories and the million others memories, big and small, are pieces of my heart that you own.
I'm looking at you now, a man on his own. Working and making a life for yourself. Your manly voice, your facial hair, your tall stature and broad shoulders. But I want you to know, I still only hear your little voice of 3 years old. I still only see your little tiny face and big brown eyes. I see your toothless smiles. I will always see you as my little Punkinseed. I was there for all of your firsts. I never missed a single moment. Not one. I walked you into your first day of school and when you wouldn't let go of my hand, I wish now that I hadn't pulled it away. I wish I had kept hold just a few moments more. Because it wasn't too many years later, walking into your first day of school that you were too big to hold my hand anymore. If I had known that day, that it was the last time I would ever hold your hand, or carry you, or get to read you a bedtime story and tuck you in. Or if I had known it was the last time you'd sit on my lap or kiss me good-night, I would have insisted on making those moments last a bit longer. I would have been less in a hurry and more in that moment with you.

I look at new parents now, with little ones who remind me of you. And I see the mom's losing their patience and being
a little bit too harsh or ignoring them when they're trying to show them their latest trick. And it brings me back to when you were that age. I want to go up to those mom's and tell them, please know, this time with your child goes quicker than quick. You will blink and suddenly they will be 21 years old and you WILL regret all these moments where you should have done  better. Where you should have paid attention or listened more. It goes so fast.
It went too fast.

Here I am on your birthday and all I can think about is how much I love you. And how I wish I could make
you small again. So I could have a do over.  It's not because I'm not proud of the man you've become, because I could not be more proud of you. I wish I could make you small again because that selfish side of me wants that time back with you. I don't want to share you. I want to hear your little voice again. I want to spend more time with you, I want to see all your tricks again. I want to hold you one more time on my lap and read you your favorite book and hear about your day. I want to see you in your little Nascar hat sitting on Papa's lap talking about trucks. I want to see your sweet little bald head and your tiny little feet.

But at the same time, I want to see you now, as the man that you are. Seeing you laugh. Knowing you are happy and healthy and loved. Seeing you make things with your hands and talk about the things that make you happy. I am proud of you. You have grown so much in the last 21 years and I am happy to have been able to be a part of that. You are one of the best human beings I know. Your heart is giant, your compassion is great. I hope you know how much joy you bring to me. How, whenever I see you it makes my whole day. I hope you know that when you feel like the world is against you, when you feel like you are being kicked in the teeth, I am here.

First birthday!
Happy birthday Punkinseed. You make me so proud. It has been such a joy and privilege to be your mom and to raise you. Thank you for the countless times you have given me grace to
make mistakes as your mom. I hope you know I would take them all back and fix them if I could. But since I cannot do that, I want to be in this moment with you and celebrate all your successes, big and small. I want you to know that there is simply nothing I wouldn't do for you, if it is in my power to do it. I want you to know I am your biggest fan, I hope you know I am.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

On The Eve

We are told to lean on God in times of pain, or worry or stress. There are several passages in the Bible about it, my favorite is Psalm 18:2. And it's true, we should. I have wept many times in the lap of Jesus wrapped in his arms. The way to get through grief is in everyone's mouths when you tell them someone close to you died.

"It will be okay."

"It will get easier."   

                                                            "Just take one day at a time."

                                  "Be strong"

What no one tells you though, is even if you take it one day at a time, the pain doesn’t subside, it just gets easier to compartmentalize. It gets easier to choke back tears and smile when your entire body is really only wanting to convulse in tears and heart break. No one tells you the truth. The truth that losing someone you have deeply loved your entire life, that losing your hero is one of the most tragic pains you will ever feel. Losing a parent. It’s not for the weak of heart.

Here I sit on the eve of the 1 yr anniversary of that horrible 11:00pm phone call that shattered my world forever. That phone call everyone knows will come one day, but you are just never ready for it to actually be your turn to pick it up. Hearing my mom’s broken voice as she choked out the words, “dad is gone.” will forever be etched into my memories. Knowing full well no matter how much it was hurting me, no matter how much I would suffer over the next several days as we made arrangements and ordered the programs and looked through pictures, no matter how much I was hurting, I knew that my mom would be in a pain that is so intense and so deep, she would feel like drowning in it.

Telling the kids was hard. I could barely get the words out. Seeing the silent tears and hearing the audible sobs, knowing they had lost their beloved Papa. Those are sounds you can never unhear. I don’t really remember much after that until we pulled up at my mom and dad’s house. When I faced that front door, knowing as soon as I walked through it, I would instantly feel his absence from this earth, from our lives for good. The finality of it all. It was never going to be the same. Nothing would ever be the same again.

I walked through that front door and wrapped my arms around my mom and sobbed with her for a few moments. In those moments I remember just wanting nothing more than to hear it was all a bad misunderstanding. He was really going to be okay and would be walking through the door at any moment. But the stark reality of it was, that was never going to happen. I know that he had left the house that night to hang out with some of his friends, and he would never return. He was gone. Just gone. And none of us got to say good-bye. We never got to make sure he knew how important he was to us.

I always made sure to hug him and tell him I loved him before we parted ways, but in those moments you wonder… did he really know? Did he know how much he was loved? Did he know how much we needed him? How much I depended on him to be my North Star? He was the man who helped guide all of my most important life decisions along with the ones that may have seemed meaningless, but I always sought his wisdom. Now, I would never be able to pick up the phone again and ask his opinions or his advice. Now I would never get those text messages again that told me where he was at the moment, usually waiting on mom someplace. I would never hear his laugh or look into his eyes. I would never be able to wrap my arms around him again and tell him I love him.

I think about all the things we no longer have because he’s gone. But I also think about all the things we do have because he was in our lives. We have our inside jokes and all the things he said or did that made us laugh so hard. We have the memories of camping and fishing and swimming. Of playing Croquet and watching him so he didn’t cheat! I have the mental photographs of him in his police uniform and I can still hear his squeaky leather duty belt that held his gun and handcuffs and radio. I can still smell his Old Spice cologne and his KIWI shoe polish. I can see him in the kitchen making waffles on the morning after Thanksgiving alongside my daughter as he taught her how to make eggs. I can hear his voice as he read The Night Before Christmas. I can see him cutting the ham (that he more than likely was trying a new recipe for) at Easter dinner and teasing me because his batch of Grandma’s rolls came out better than mine. WAY better. I can see him sitting outside barbecuing and enjoying a cold beer. Reminiscing about the Coast Guard days with my uncle Gary. Or retelling his favorite childhood stories, about his old dog Major or the days of hell-raising he did with his best buddies. He loved to tell stories and I loved to listen. We also have memories of him singing along to his favorite songs. I got my love of music from him, at least I like to think so. I knew all the oldies, all the old country, Hank, George, Merle, Waylon and even Patsy. I knew them all and could sing along with him. He was also the only other person I knew besides me that would break out in songs when someone would say something that reminded us of a line from a song. I also remember all the lessons he taught me, all the times he was patient and calm, but stern.

I miss him every single day without fail. He is never far from my thoughts. I try to picture his face, and listen for his voice. I try to live my life in a way that would hopefully make him proud. Because there was nothing that meant more to me than to know he was proud of me. I like to picture him in Heaven with my grandparents and his brother Pat. I know he is up there looking down on us. Especially mom. I know he watches her to make sure she’s okay. The love he had for her was something you only read about in books. He looked at her with such love and it was obvious he was happy just being in her presence.

What I have learned in this year is that the pain of losing my daddy runs deep and it has knocked the wind out of me. I have learned that my grief is valid and it’s okay to still cry at the drop of a hat, a year later. Because I do. Even if I have to sneak away to the bathroom at work, or behind sunglasses in the car, it’s okay to cry and miss him. It’s okay to feel it and walk myself through that grief in any way I need to. It’s okay. I have also learned that I am strong. That my role in this family has changed. I had to walk through some ugly and not so fun stuff with my mom, like getting paperwork in order and seeing her make plans for when she passes. She made sure I knew what to do and what her wishes were. It was hard, and normally I would shy away from it, push it away, but I faced it head on with her. We got each other through the roughest few months and continue to pull each other through the really hard days. I’ve learned how to care for my mom and have spent every Sunday with her for the past year, which has made us closer than ever. I have learned how strong SHE is and have watched her walk through her grief and make no apologies for it. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of us.

I don’t know what this next year will bring us. I just know my daddy will not be far from my thoughts and heart. I know we will get through it as a family and be stronger for it.