Sunday, May 14, 2017

Seven years past Italy

My first Mother's Day after Anna died Brad and I went to Italy.   He still had flight benefits to fly standby for free at the time, and I just wanted to escape.  It had only been 5 months.  So off we went, and it was beautiful, everything we all imagine Italy to be.  Having been before, this time we went south from Rome to Sorrento, Capri and beyond.  Took in the stark beauty of the ocean against the dramatic cliffs, my favorite little old men with their canes and caps trolling terraced olive groves, the haughtiness of Capri regulars against we lowly tourists.   Pizza, pasta, lattes.
We pulled our suitcases over cobbled streets, hauled them up staircases when the hotel had no elevator, arranged ferries and busses and found our way through quintessential Italian coastal towns.   We must have interacted with and passed by at least 3,000 people.  How is it then, that no one acknowledged our very guts copiously hanging from our open torsos?   How is it no one saw our shredded hearts?   Noticed the tears that threatened to pour virtually every moment?   For when I look at those pictures, it's all I see.   Broken people.  Moving and pretending and persevering for the sake of the other.  
When talking to other parents of recent child loss about the decision to go Italy for Mother's Day, we always say "You're still going to be miserable, but you're miserable in Italy", as if that somehow makes it more bearable.  It doesn't, but the laughter we so often get from them is high praise, when laughter is the very antithesis to their being at that stage.

Which brings me to today.   Seven years later.   I'm filled with my two incredible living children and as contented as I'd imagined I'd be long before infertility and infant death entered my world.  And I am the  very definition of amazed that this is so.   With 100% certainty I can tell you that seven years ago I could not would not have imagined a Mother's Day with virtually no feelings of sadness or grief.  (Though the act of writing this is bringing some up.)   For years I needed the sadness.  I wanted it.  It was how I proved to myself and others that she still matters.  Now I can own her existence as matter of factly as I can my living children.  

This weekend is filled with happiness and gratitude and glorying in the un-promised result of our clinging to this vision.   To be sure, our family is the picture of getting what you wanted in a way you never could have imagined.  We eschewed donor egg and now have the most amazing little blue eyed blonde of another woman's genetic material, whom I could not possibly cherish or love more fiercely.  We have a darling, precocious son with dancing brown eyes, born of another couple whom I desperately hope will become an interactive part of our extended family over the years.   And I have a dead daughter with my hair, my nose, who makes herself known to me at 11:26 every so often, AM or PM.   Or at some random actual time of the day on a clock with the wrong time, reading 11:26.   A girl I think of every single day, often several times a day.   A girl with whom I keep at a safe distance from my psyche often times, the same way I keep God.  If I were to step into their presence too much, go and actually spend time with them, well, my constructed functioning world would crumble.  And I've spent so much time amongst the rubble these last years, I just choose not to right now.  

Today I get to enjoy the culmination of our journey.  My three children.  My beautiful daughter of soul and spirit involved in her own journey to which I am not privy on this plane, my sassy strong-willed moody funny introspective dramatic precious girl, and my bright outside-loving climbing talking happy curly-haired son.

I am a lucky woman indeed.  Luck.  Ha!  Let me rephrase.  I am a woman who recognizes this life is not guaranteed.    I am a woman who gutted through and survived horrible scenes and experiences and still held the vision of this life.  I am a woman rejoicing.  I am a woman victorious!  I am a Mommy.

Happy Mother's Day to me, to you, and to all the women with mama hearts whose children are not here, whether taken or not yet created…. you are all on my heart today.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Cheese and crackers

Tonight I cut my son's hair...

… all Brittany Spears 2007 meltdown style.   

As in, I feel like my cheese might actually be sliding off my cracker.   Just enough so that I notice but no one else might be clueing in just yet.  For the record his hair is unruly with some curl and waves and we agreed at dinner it was getting long.  So while he was once more playing with a teeny stream of running water and dirty dishes in the sink after dinner, I just…started cutting.  Only the right side, the front and a snip or two at the nape of his neck.  The left side is largely untouched and there's a great tuft of curl on top to the back.  He's 18 months old.  My time to do such things without repercussion from him is limited.  It looks pretty terrible.  But whatever, it'll grow back, right?  The thing that's kind of scary is how detached from it I feel.  

There's also a round dent in the drywall of my bedroom from driving my heel into it this morning.  I figured that was a better choice than getting physical with or around my children, whom I'd just left in the room across the hall because I JUST COULDN'T EVEN.   Not for one more second could I sanely  handle the 12th whine/cry/tattle/scream in less than 5 minutes due to a 18 month old testing his interaction skills and a 4 1/2 year old who doesn't appreciate his style (and who is recovering from the flu, so admittedly not at the top of her patience game).   We'd only been up for the day for some 30 minutes at this point, mind you.  

December into early January was not so hot for me.  Grief, loneliness, isolation, illness (not me, the other three).  Things started looking up and feeling do-able again roughly mid-late January and we were looking forward to going to Arizona for a week to visit my folks.  Sunshine, some serious outdoor time for my gross motor savant of a son, some unadulterated grandma attention for my girl, and some girlfriend time back in Tucson sans children for me.  And then, the day before we were to leave…Influenza A stole our vacation.  Not me, the other three.   Which meant once again I was the one to single parent the kids while my husband was sick as well as care for him, then carry the lion's share of managing a sick 18 month old while still keeping life going for his big sister after hubby returned to work (until sister too succumbed).   Is it bad that I kind of kept hoping I would get it just so I could stay in bed all day and he would have to man the kids?   I can't be alone there, right?   All that said it could have been worse because Brad was home to help with the kids two more days than he otherwise would have been if we hadn't had vacation scheduled.  So in some respects, hey, I got lucky!!

But it was 11 full days of being inside with sick beings, leaving the house only to go to three doctor appointments (two with the kids) and transport my daughter to preschool 3 of those 11 days.   11 winter days no less, when you're not going to let your snotty coughing flu-ed up kid go outside in the cold and wind despite desperation for fresh air and change of scenery.  So today, with health by and large returned to said sickies, I got a babysitter from 9:00-2:00.  OUTTA here, baby!   

Gym.  Walk/run/backward walk 2 miles.  Good!  No reflection of my previous running years, but a start nonetheless.   Mahi Mahi tacos at the gym's cafe - mmmm.   
Time to Be.  
Uh-oh.  
Confronted by utter lack of girlfriends or social community.  By desire to be part of a group of girls from ECFE (but not, in some part because I'm a tough take?) or a particular set of preschool moms (they all live in the same neighborhood and included me at one point, but…).   I miss graduate school.  I miss having a flock of women to laugh with, talk to, collude, bitch, celebrate and mourn with.  I did not expect motherhood to be so very isolating.  Is it current culture?  Is it me?  Is it lack of effort or that I'm truly an odd duck?  Do I turn people off, or do they not quite know what to do with me?  Make of me?  

I came across this book yesterday, Women Are Scary by Melanie Dale.  I bought the ebook (on sale for $1.99!) but have only had a chance to read the online excerpt last night.  That alone brought some solace and (thank god) much-needed laughter!   I love my kids, but more and more I see that the life I've created is all about my kids.  (Which for a long time was fine, no doubt about it.  Welcome, even.)  The Me part of my life is all but nonexistent.  The friend part of that Me?  Cue the sound of wind through the barren trees.  

"We drive our cars into garages and close the doors behind us, and we can go days and weeks without interacting with the neighbors unless we’re intentional about making friends."  You called it, Melanie.  Oft occurring even in warmer seasons but in Minnesota winters?  Fuggedaboudit.

"Moms are everywhere, and most of us are a little bit lonely and starved for adult conversation. If you work outside of the home, you may spend time with other adults professionally, but you still need other moms to talk to. Stay-at-home moms just need people to talk to, period."  Sooo validating.  

"I want someone who cackles and speaks truth and is either a total geek or glad I am. I want a mama who will tell me what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear. And through all that scary intensity, I want her to love me."  
Yes.  Yes, please.  

And this…the attempts to connect that fizzle or straight up bomb.  This is a version of what I fear happened with the key preschool mom within the aforementioned neighborhood group.  She and her daughter came over one day and during the course of talking about doing things alone (she would never camp alone - I loved it, she would never eat alone in a restaurant -no problem here), I brought up Anna in the "oh man, I cried in public all the time.  Went to the Galleria in my pj's.  Pretty much don't care what anyone thinks after that" genre.  And somewhere in there, in my rambling or unconscious rising emotional intensity that seems to accompany Anna despite myself, I think I lost her. Somewhere I think she decided I wasn't her flavor.  So this little tidbit from Melanie's book was balm to my soul.

"Have you ever tried to befriend another mom only to have it die an awkward little death?  Just me? My kids were all born on different continents, so my strikeouts usually go something like this:
Me: Hi, I’m Melanie. I’m new here. Have you been coming here long?
Other Mom:   Oh, hi, I’m OM. Yeah, we’ve been doing this for a while (indicates many other friends nearby ).
Me: Oh, cool. Which kids are yours?
 OM: Penelope over there. Who are your kids?
Me: Those three over there.
OM: Are they all three yours?
Me: Yep!
OM: I mean, are they all your own?
Me: Uh-huh. I own them all.
OM: I mean, are they your real kids?
Me: Yes. They are all real. No blow-up dolls in the bunch.
OM: The two oldest are yours and where’s the youngest one from?
Me:  Two of them are adopted and one was created in a lab.
OM: Um . . .
Me: The oldest one, with hair identical to mine, is adopted from Latvia and our newest child, oldest and newest, haha.  The middle child, with blond hair and blue eyes who looks nothing like me, is biologically related to me. The youngest one is adopted from Ethiopia.
OM: Ohhhhh. My brother-in-law went on a mission trip onetime . . . ohhhh . . . I forget where . . . Nicaragua.
Me: Okay, well, it was really nice to meet you!"

Yep.  That about covers it!   

And now it is late and I must go to bed.  Thanks for letting me journal here.  Any mamas who might want to be my friend after stumbling across this?  Comment away.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Who Am I, Again?

Here I am, on a balcony of a lovely posh hotel on - literally on- the San Francisco Bay, my first real Mamacation since having living children.  That's four years, people!  Anyone who knew me in my previous life knows mama loves to travel solo.  No schedule, able to do whatever feels right and good with no restrictions other than those I create or that might be thrust upon me by my choices of what I'm doing and where I am.  Weather, traffic…sometimes those can be frustrating but because there's no one I'm disappointing by not keeping a schedule or nowhere I have to particularly be, they turn into opportunities for reflection and self-awareness.

But what I love most about my solo vacays?  Rumination.  Space to think and time to simmer in feelings.  Let things roll through my body and psyche, room to connect with who I am within this world but more importantly, get a sliver of who I am outside of it.  A schoolteacher friend of mine declares herself a "Summer of Soul" every year.  I love that.

I have found that soul gets no time when the body it inhabits is a parent.   As in, zero.

So.  After being granted the gift of not having to travel to Hawaii to finalize our son's adoption, but therein missing a forced vacation badly needed, my truly wonderful husband gave his blessing on my getting the hell outta Dodge for a few days.  We've done it before where I've had a night or two at a hotel in the Twin Cities, sometimes just 10 minutes from home.  But this is the first Getting Away.

And it feels goooooood.

But here's the thing.  I sat this morning with my croissant and freshly squeezed OJ, fresh fruit and organic yogurt and decadent good-stuff coffee overlooking the mystery that is fog and sunlight in San Francisco…and though I felt peaceful, I also felt nothing.  Moreover, I thought nothing.  At home I crave time to be able to do just this - blog, write pages and experiences about our coming to family, "if only I had the time."  I ache for the opportunity to just sit and take in the world around me.  Notice it, notice me.   Except what I notice this morning is...emptiness.

Wtf?!  Has motherhood really wiped the Me out of me?   I've been aware of constant fatigue, feeling not only no energy to do anything extra just for me but barely keeping the basics of family home life going because omg at least one of my kids seems to still be awake after nine o'clock 6/7 nights/week so who has time to replenish when the house is still ravaged from their existence?  (See?  That run-on sentence alone does a good job communicating life's perceived pace lately.)  Just getting fundamentals in order to function the next day with any semblance of sanity takes all I have to give.  Meal-Clean-UpDishesSweepingLaundryPicking-up is all I do in my 'free time'.  During the day it's pack and prep for whatever is on the agenda, meals, and on an exceptional day actually spending time playing with my children.   Oh, but mostly it's addressing the very nearly constant needs of my two adorable children.  Which if it's not them asking for something of me it's monitoring their activities for safety and appropriateness lest one of them be choking or setting themselves up to choke, strangle or otherwise die or really screw up the day by needing medical attention.  Or be getting into something that inevitably creates more work for me, be it re-rolling the tissue paper, putting back all the tupperware or pantry items or pots-n-pans, returning plastic foods to their bucket, chewing on the cheap plastic jewelry or hair accessories Cate has left on the floor (all Matt).  In Cate's circumstance, cutting anything possible into tiny pieces (lately it's been Barbie hair, anything paper, even the thin plastic wrapping around new Bounty paper towel rolls), taking apart random things I'd never even considered could come apart, trying to open medications, sucking on toothpaste tubes (had my first poison control call two days ago)…in the last week it's like she's shifted gears into a whole new unexpected level of child endangerment.  I thought we were basically done childproofing for her!  Not so, this mama learns.

I look back on this and realize herein is the problem.   Even on my vacation, my MAMAcation, I'm thinking about them.  Reliving my days and experiences, frustrations, joys and fears for them.  At dinner last night with a good friend largely all we talked about was motherhood.  It's become my whole life.  My whole self.  
Not for a moment does gratitude for motherhood escape me.  The curse of suffering infertility and dead children is fearing you can't, shouldn't, complain about getting what you complained you didn't have for so many years.  I'm so grateful for my kids.  They light me up in so many ways.  And the truth is, they drain me too.

This is a tired conversation.  Well known, well worn, that of balancing motherhood with self.  But it's the conversation I'm drowning in.

I guess I hope that at some point over the next 2 1/2 days, wisps of the Me that stands on the other side of the bay waving in glee over the adventure of being here finds its way into my day.  And that my Soul finds it's way into my awareness and says hello.  I miss them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Toddlers have no PC button

What do you do?

Last week, leaving the pediatrician's office we enter the elevator to find one lone woman traveling our way, down to the first floor.  As the door closes, Cate pipes up "Why is your tummy so big?!"

Oh dear god.

In a wild attempt to deflect the offense and maybe give this poor woman sense of "yeah, so there!" I interjected with "Daddy has a big tummy too, lots of people have big tummies."  My husband, thankfully, was not there to hear me say this and I would like to think I wouldn't have if he HAD been there, but actually I totally might have.  Just to make it less pointedly awful.  Which would've just made the situation come home with me, but still...knee jerk response.   Also, I didn't want to say "Catherine, no, she doesn't!" because well, she was obese.  And what does it teach my kid to deny what's plainly obvious?

Hoping Cate would take that line of conversation and run with it, she then says with certainty, a little bit of disdain, and a lot of drama, "Your tummy's WAY bigger!"

Scotty, beam me up.

Thankfully there were no stops to other floors and the door opened just a few seconds later while the woman was saying something like "I've had lots of practice!" (god love her) and I skedaddled the three of us out of there while mouthing an exaggerated 'I'm sorry!' to this poor fellow human being just taking an innocent elevator ride until she got stabbed by a 3 year old where it hurts.

It would hurt me at least.

So this situation then begs the question.  What do you do?  Teachable moment, right?   I'm supposed to teach her that there are times to think things and say them.  Times to think things, and keep them in your head.   Because sometimes the things you say can hurt someone's feelings.
Except I'd also like her to learn no one can hurt her feelings without her permission, she can decide if she wants to feel hurt or not when someone is mean or says something innocently enough but could be hurtful just the same.  So I tell her that things she says could hurt someone's feelings, but that she doesn't need to be hurt by things others say?  A conflicting message, to say the least.
And, more immediate in this situation, I don't necessarily want to bring forth the notion of negative body image, that fat is something to be ashamed of and not spoken of aloud.

So seriously.  Input on what you've done in similar situation or thoughts in general are welcome!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Anna Stensruds that live(d)

So I did something yesterday.

I frequently find myself plugging into Google, searching, searching for something my heart knows I'll never find but my mind says "It's GOT to be there somewhere!  She has to be somewhere..."  Often I'll look to see if there's any news on my ex-husband - like if he's been convicted of anything yet, any legal trouble he might be having, that sort of snarky business - or people from my first marriage life that I don't have contact with anymore.  More frequently than is good for me, I look for Emily's birthmother.  Just to see if I can find out anything, maybe see a picture of Emily, discover just a snippet of what her life is like.  But no...those darn people who have protected their privacy so well by not creating Facebook pages or whatnot drive me bonkers.  This is how stalking is DONE these days!

But yesterday I plugged in Anna's name.  We didn't have a public memorial service for her.  We never wrote an obituary.  What was I expecting to find?  Maybe a birth/death announcement through a government or hospital based source?  Maybe someone took it upon themselves to write up something for the local paper?  Something.  Something that said "she was here".

I did indeed find some Anna Stensruds...but not mine.  There's one out there that made me blanch.  Some girl who Twitters by OhsnapitsAnna18 and writes things like "I might be a slut but I'm the slut your boyfriend wants".  Ugh.  I don't want my girl's name associated anywhere near her, capisce?
Most are Nordic women, no surprise I suppose.  But then there was this,

"Mrs. Anna Stensrud, daughter of Knute and Martha (Stamperstugen) Broughton, was born on May 12, 1873, in Westerheim Township, Lyon County, Minnesota, and passed away at the Clarkfield Care Center on January 17, 1969, at 8:30 p.m. at the age of 95 years.

She was baptized and confirmed in the St. Lucas Lutheran Church and was a lifetime member of the church and the Ladies Aid.

On November 16, 1893, she was united in marriage to Oscar J. Stensrud by the Rev. Knute Thorsteinson and to this union were born eight children.

They lived most of their married life in Westerheim Township except for a short time when they resided in Cottonwood. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Stensrud lived with her daughter, Mrs. Albert Pesek and a few years at the homes of her sons, Orvin and Marvin Stensrud. The last few years were spent at the Clarkfield Care Center.

She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, two daughters, one sister and three brothers.

She leaves to mourn her passing, two daughters: Miss Maybelle Stensrud of Phoenix, Arizona, and Nettie (Mrs. Albert Pesek) of Taunton, Minnesota; and four sons: John of Cottonwood, Carl of Clarkfield, Orvin of Wood Lake, and Marvin of Minneota; 15 grandchildren; 43 great grandchildren; and a host of friends and relatives."

Ninety-five years old.  Married to the same man for 76 years.  Lived her whole life in Minnesota.  Forty-three great grandchildren.  Granted she married into the name but no matter.   Forty three.  Great grandchildren.   Now that's a life, my friends.

If only.

If only...