This week is the last time I’ll drop her off at elementary school.
I remember sitting in the parking lot on the first day of kindergarten wondering how the time had gone so fast. What I didn’t realize back then was that time never had any intention of slowing down and how truly precious time would become. That week before school started, we practiced tying her shoes and opening the straw for her juice box. She had a Frozen lunch box she was so proud of and her backpack was almost as big as her. Sometimes she called it a ‘packpack’.
Now her shoes are next to mine by the front door and I always have to look twice to make sure I don’t grab hers because our sizes are almost the same. The closet which once held so many toys is now full of clothes and she loves to watch Friends with me at night. She is now at the age of when I think I can translate the acronyms and slang, it changes to something else. I no longer have to kneel down for our pictures together like we once did because now she is almost as tall as me. She once walked out those school doors saying, “Mommy!”, breaking into an excited run the second she saw me in the sea of parents at school pick up. Now I get a, “Hey mom,” as we walk together to the car. I don’t remember the first night she decided to read a book on her own rather than me read it to her. I don’t remember the first time she picked out her own outfit rather than one I chose one morning. There were a lot of little moments I didn’t catch in the moment – and maybe in hindsight, I might have cried if I had.
The end of this elementary journey is so different from where it started, even though it will start and end on this same playground. Part of me is in disbelief that these years went so fast, but part of me is in awe of what this next stage of parenthood is like. Now I see how funny she is and how quick she can be with her witty responses. Today I read a paper she wrote about the profession she one day hopes to have and her passion behind it. This week she introduced me to a new song I had never heard – and she was right, it was good. All week I have wondered when this almost teen replaced my little kindergartner. The end of elementary school is a a stage of in-between, but with a stark realization that time demands your respect.
This week I will drop off an elementary student and I’ll pick up a middle schooler. I’ll look back at the playground and I’ll wonder how it went so fast while she managed to become so much.
I drove through my old neighborhood a couple months ago on the way back from a friend’s baby shower. I pulled up outside my old house and couldn’t help but park alongside the curb. The fence I had poured hours into staining by myself had been replaced. The pergola I always wanted was on the second story deck, adorned by outdoor strings of lights. The rose bushes I planted with the help of my former mother-in-law still looked so good in the front lawn. I smiled when I looked at the house – it was a better version of what it was when it was mine. It had the upgrades I had dreamed of and they looked as good as I knew they would. Suddenly, the tears fell and I couldn’t stop them – but the tears weren’t sadness or regret, only relief. I loved that house, but as I sat there staring at it from the road, I realized I didn’t miss it. As the tears fell, I realized both my old house and myself had become better versions of ourselves.
When I filed for divorce, I agonized over the decision of keeping the house. I loved the view, the way you could see over the entire town and the sunsets out the west window. I loved the cattle pasture that was behind our fence. It was the house where I brought my babies home and it was in a neighborhood I loved. I thought it would be the front step my kids’ would someday hold the ‘first day of kindergarten’ signs.
Eight years later, as I sat outside my old house, I thought about how I didn’t know it would turn out like this. I thought about the day I drove away, the day I left the plan I had for my life – or the plan I thought I had. I sat there, wishing at age 30 I could have seen what I now know at age 38. I wish I could’ve told my 30-year-old self it was about to get so much better. I wish I could’ve told my younger self that the temporary apartment would turn out to be the perfect steppingstone we needed. My kids didn’t mind going from a house to an apartment, they saw it as an upgrade because we suddenly had a pool. Years later, we still talk about how much we loved the year in that apartment. I loved the view of sunsets back then, but those can’t even compare to how much I love them now.
When I drove home later that day, I was overwhelmed with a new appreciation for getting from there to here. Now it’s laughter in the evenings, a driveway covered in chalk and soccer balls scattered across the yard. There’s a small barn out back and animals I always dreamed of adopting.
The days in between then and now were not always easy. There was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of tears shed. As a single mom, it was terrifying, but it was worth it. If I would’ve stayed, I never would have had what I have now. I said goodbye to my old house that day, something I never took the time to do on the day I moved out. I said goodbye to that place and those years and graciously thanked God for the journey that brought me home.
I was going over notes from a parent dance meeting and I saw his handwriting in the margins. It caught me off guard. It was one of those moments where I realized what he does for us. It was one of those moments where I was reminded why I picked him, why I want his actions to be what our children see.
He had volunteered to go to the mandatory parent meeting as I couldn’t make it that night. He didn’t volunteer because he had the time – his days are booked solid – but he knew this meeting was important. He knows how much his stepdaughter loves to dance. So on that particular day, he went to work early to make sure he could make it to the meeting.
I thought he just went because someone had to be there. I thought I would catch up on the notes from the other moms at another time. But instead, I stared at the notes in his handwriting, notes that showed he actually listened. He showed up. He did it for me, but really he did it for her. He did it because this is the thing she loves to do most and she has poured her heart into it for years. He did it because on that day, she needed to have someone there, so he went. He wasn’t going to let her down, he never does. He doesn’t miss the recitals. He doesn’t miss the competitions. And on this Wednesday night in June, he took notes, and he showed us how much he loves us. He showed up – and he’s been showing up for years.
Tonight I couldn’t stop staring at how beautiful she is. I’m proud of her. The past year was particularly hard, but in her I see growth and change. I see a country that is healing. I believe you can proudly fly this flag and admit we have improvements yet to make. You can also fly this flag and be proud of the brave who have defended her. It’s not one way or the other. That’s the thing about her – she flies for all of us and she flies a little prouder when we try a little harder to stay united. When I look at her, I see sacrifice and heartbreak but I also see a better tomorrow, and wasn’t that what the sacrifice was for? I hope we don’t forget that. Ever. She is beautiful.
It feels surreal, doesn’t it. It’s finally here. Finally.
I graduated 18 years ago. This means I’ve been out of high school for your entire life. “Enjoy these years, they’ll go so fast”, everyone kept saying. Someday you’ll realize why.
The girls in this picture were once 18 and ready to take on the world. We were leaving home and never coming back, at least not anytime soon. We had no idea what our lives had in store. We had no idea it would all go this fast.
I am so proud of you. You are an exceptional human. I’m so sad to see you leave home but the world has big plans for you and you are so ready.
It’s hard to leave these friends, you’ve had them literally your entire life. Here’s a secret about these friends – you’ll have them forever. You can’t make old friends and you’ll realize this more as the years go by. There’s comfort in their familiarity that you won’t find anywhere else. You might drift apart as your lives find their paths, but you find your way back. They’ll forever be some of your greatest friends, regardless of the distance in between.
I want you to realize that so many of the most important people in your life you have yet to meet. I can’t wait for you to meet your college friends. Some of them you’ll feel like you’ve always known. Make the most of your time with them because you’ll all go your separate ways when it’s over. You say with the best of intentions that you’ll see each other soon. Soon will turn into a decade, maybe two. So go to the games with them. When they invite you to their hometown for a three-day weekend, go.
These upcoming years will be amazing. You won’t ever get these years back so I hope you make the most of them. I hope you travel and go to all the places you want to go. Don’t save those trips for someday, because once college is over and the real world begins, it’s not as easy to go take those trips. I hope you watch the sun set and the sun rise from places you’ve always dreamed of going.
I hope you find the spark that lights a fire in you and find a way to fuel your days with that spark – every day. Don’t stress too much on decisions and career paths – you’ll figure it out. Whatever you choose doesn’t have to be forever, but I hope it leads you to what you were always meant to do.
It’s hard to leave home, but you can always come back. (And I hope if you want to, you do.)
I hope you take the time to write your mom a few letters, real letters with words she can hold in her hands. I hope you do the same for your friends. I have a Dr. Martens box from 2003 still sitting in my closet with letters from friends. We didn’t have social media yet and texting was new. Letters require a great deal of effort, thought, and love. Words on paper are the best kind.
I hope you know that nothing is permanent. This is both a blessing and a curse. You can pick a new major and you can choose a new career. You can always move back home and you can always move to wherever your dreams take you. People will come into your life and stay, they’ll come and go, or they’ll go and come back. (Birkenstocks and scrunchies have a way of coming back, too). You’ll realize there’s no coincidences.
Above all else, I hope you know that you are ready, so ready, for this world. Hang on to the dreams you’ve carried with you from the beginning – you’ll need them from time to time. We will be here, cheering you on every step of the way. Don’t forget, it’s going to go fast.
I don’t know how you do your job, but you absolutely love it. You come back year after year – and this year you gave it all you had. I just wanted to tell you I saw it and I appreciated it. How so very lucky we were to have you.
Your job is a thankless one and we all know you aren’t in it for the money, you’re in it because you love it. I’m grateful you do what you do, but this year you amazed me.
We were lucky (so lucky) because we were able to go back to in-person learning. The district said our plan was “fluid” – and they weren’t kidding. The plan kept changing throughout the year and you kept rolling with it, never complaining. The decisions weren’t yours, but you had to face the pushback and you had to face upset parents. You kept going and you kept teaching and they kept learning.
You somehow managed to focus on social distancing and a new level of hand washing while reviewing spelling words. You found a way to teach multiplication in the midst of new seating charts that involved who sat by who at what time, in case you had to help the school nurse figure out contact tracing. You made sure everyone had an individually packed snack, every snack time, and a water bottle to drink from because they couldn’t use the fountains. You made sure they wore their masks and helped them find one when they left it at home. I just don’t know how you did it- but you did it.
I’ll forever be grateful for what you did for my family this year. We were ecstatic when we found out school would resume to in-person learning. Our trip to the store for supplies was the first time I let them go back into a store for months. We were all on cloud nine – we felt one step closer to ‘normal’, whatever that would be. They were beaming on the way home from their first day. I didn’t hear about the new rules or how hard change is, I just heard about how much they loved their teachers and how good it felt to see their friends.
I can’t imagine how exhausting it all must’ve been. The rules and the guidelines and the changes and the unsolicited feedback. The decisions were never decided by you, yet you had to carry them out. You had to be ready for distance-learning on a moment’s notice and have lesson plans ready in case our level changed overnight. You had to deal with distance learning days combined with in-person days and the planning that required. You had to always be ready for the unknown. You took it all in stride and you just kept going because your students needed you, my kids needed you. They needed the ‘normal’ and you gave it to them.
You made this year what it was. You helped us get through it. Thank you for choosing this profession. You made sure they kept working and kept dreaming – and by doing so, you made sure we all did.
Today is your birthday. This year would’ve been a big one – 70. I just can’t picture it. In my mind you’re forever 46.
This weekend we would’ve celebrated you. Our family would’ve driven across the state to surprise you. Your friends would’ve filled a room. Maybe you and mom would’ve taken a trip somewhere this spring to celebrate.
Your granddaughters always ask about you and they bring you up when I least expect it. They wonder about the “what ifs”, too, as they wonder about you. I love when they mention your name. I love when they stop to think about you. I think your grandson might be a southpaw just like you. He shares your frown when he’s deep in thought and it still stops me in my tracks.
We had a lot of memories yet to make. I didn’t know there wouldn’t be enough time to fit it all in. As I sat at your funeral, I had no concept of the moments that wouldn’t be the same without you here. Those moments just sneak up on you over the years, sometimes when you least expect it. I didn’t understand that there would be decades of moments where I would stop and miss you this much.
When we get together with our families, your name is still mentioned in stories we share. Although we don’t see each other often enough, we laugh a lot when we do. When we are at dance recitals and basketball games, I think of how you would be the grandpa holding the bouquet of flowers or cheering the loudest. You wouldn’t have missed a minute of any of it, just like you never missed a minute of mine.
I wish we had more pictures of you. I wish we had more memories of you.
Happy heavenly birthday, dad. For two thirds of my life, missing you has been a constant. It’s just a feeling that is there, always there. It’s the reason I realize how precious the days are and that I had better make them count. Today we are going to miss you even more because the what ifs are harder to ignore.
Your years stopped at 46, but our love for you never did
I’ve never figured out what exactly it is about the holidays that make us miss our loved ones even more, but we do. I don’t know why on Christmas I miss my dad a little more than I do the other days of the year, because there are 364 days of the year where I am very aware he isn’t here. It’s not that we had thousands of Christmas memories together, I can only piece together a few at best. One of my most vivid memories is watching my parents hang Christmas lights. I don’t know why this is the thing that I’ve held on to for so long, but it’s in my mind forever. Each year they started to hang more. One year it became a friendly competition with the neighbors. To ensure a victory, I remember watching my mom flip the ‘on’ switch on a string of battery-operated lights that she had hung on my horse’s neck for the neighbors to see as they pulled into our driveway. Twenty-five years later, I still absolutely love Christmas lights. I love that they require tremendous patience and planning, but people hang them for others. My husband knows how much I love lights and he knows that it’s important to me. Each year, he has added more lights and this year he put up around 25,000 lights. He hates every moment of it. (I mean really hates the process. And the electric bill.) He spends a weekend of his beloved hunting season dedicated to my lights and he says a lot of words that lack Christmas cheer, but he does it anyway. The moment our toddler first saw the lights this year, he squealed in pure joy. It was in that moment that I realized a piece of Christmas with my dad had been brought here to this moment, 25-years later.advertisement
My cousins and I text every holiday about all the things our grandma baked for us (but in reality, we know the conversation is really about how much we miss her.) We send each other pictures of our attempts to replicate her creations, knowing we have no chance of duplicating her pecan pie, but also knowing that’s not the point. We know we aren’t attempting her pastries to match her baking skills, we are trying because it’s our way of keeping her with us. Now that we are in adulthood, we realize the things she made us were never about how well she could bake a pie, it was about the ways she showed us she loved us. She made various things because we all had different favorites. She insisted we would take seconds and thirds and didn’t stop insisting until we finally just did it. My cousins and i would spend half the afternoon in a food coma. Our grandma knew a secret that we didn’t know at the time: as the years would go on, it would become more difficult to get together. Now that we have our own families, our holidays are often spent hundreds of miles apart, but moments with her are still with us when we talk about her.
Maybe it’s the nostalgia, the way I miss that time in my life of being a child. It’s imagining my grandparents’ living room, full of the people I loved most in the world, and that moment of happiness as I listened to their laughter. Twenty-five years later, I can still picture a moment of standing there in my velvet holiday dress taking it all in and knowing it wouldn’t last forever but hoping it would. I can’t remember the gifts my grandparents got me, even though I know it was always something I really wanted, because grandparents have a way of doing that. We lived six hours away from their farm, so when I had a chance to see them, they made it count. I remember a kitchen full of incredible appetizers and desserts with so much laughter and happiness. Every Christmas break, I take my kids to a movie and I think about how my grandma took her family to do the same. I think about how much my grandparents would have loved the great-grandchildren they never got to know. And I wonder if they know how much they are missed.
I never met my husband’s grandmothers, yet every Christmas, I hear so many stories of them. His nana was British and his aunt always brings a beautiful English trifle to Christmas dinner. I love that although I never met these women that were such an important part of his childhood, I sometimes feel as if I know them from these stories at the holidays.
I think maybe we miss them at the holidays because that is when we all stop to take a moment to talk about them. Maybe it’s because as we all gather and the empty seats makes us more aware. But where this is an empty seat, there is a story, and those stories deserve to be told for years to come. Eventually the empty seat is filled with a booster seat and a new little someone to share the memories with.
Every Christmas and New Years Eve, at the end of the night, I walk outside and stare up at the stars. There is something particularly incredible about the December sky, as if the stars sparkle a little more. I love the calmness of it. It reminds me that although there’s now an empty seat, the people I miss might not be that far away. Staring at the stars helps lighten the sadness. I hope we always remember to carry their memories into our Decembers.
As I went to slip on my shoes, I suddenly had to pause…I wasn’t sure which were mine and which were yours. And how did that happen? When did that happen?
I noticed the other day that you were taller than I realized. I’m not sure when that happened either, it’s as if it just suddenly did.
This morning you woke up a nine-year old. Here’s the thing about nine, it’s halfway to adulthood. Halfway. I swear I just brought you home, snuggled in your infant carrier with a nursery full of perfectly folded onesies. And then I blinked.
Your love for everything unicorn and mermaids has evolved into llamas and sloths. I remember one afternoon, standing in your favorite toy store, watching you choose a unicorn and wondering if this would be the last one. I knew your love for unicorns wouldn’t last forever, but I wanted it to last longer because I wanted to keep you little longer.
The thing about nine, is that you seem to have one foot already out the door. You love chokers and Birkenstocks and things that sparkle. You love any outfit I would’ve worn in 1996. Today you have a spelling test, but I know I’ll blink and tomorrow you’ll be asking me to borrow the keys.
Last week I was in our favorite store and as I turned down the aisle you loved to browse, I suddenly realized this would no longer be your aisle of choice. You had outgrown the toys on these shelves, the same toys just last year you had on your Christmas list. I had never realized until that moment that the aisles went in order. The infant aisle didn’t seem that long ago and suddenly there is only one row of toys left.
Every phase of your life I have thought, “This will forever be my favorite.” The incredible thing I didn’t expect, is that I think that at every stage. I remember rocking you to sleep one night, when I first brought you home, thinking I could never love a moment more than this. I thought the same thing when you were two. You had bouncy girls and you loved to rock your baby doll, just as I rocked your newborn sister. I remember thinking it could never get better than this. Now here you are, giving me your recap of your third-grade day, and I don’t think it could ever get better than this. We love the same songs and you reference quotes from Friends at the most perfect times. When I’m standing in the kitchen doing dishes, you often grab a towel and start drying. I have loved to watch you become who you are.
The thing about nine is you are ready to take on the world. You are so matter-of-fact about the things you will be and the things you will do, and there’s something about your perseverance that makes me think you just might do all of those things. You care so deeply about the things you love and what a gift it is for me to see the world from your eyes. I am savoring every second of this. Soon we will have disagreements on the issues we have not yet crossed, but for now I am still one of your favorites. For now, you will teach me fun facts about penguins and talk about funny things at recess. You paint rocks for me and leave me inspirational quotes throughout the house. You seem to leave sparkle wherever you go (both literally and figuratively). You are a big sister extraordinaire. You always let your little brother have what’s left of your treat (even after he has already had his) and you make sure his coat is zipped when we rush out the door.
You are still a little girl who loves sloths but you are also a little girl who has great awareness of others. When you set your mind to helping someone, you make sure it’s done. I love that about you. While I wish I could erase the worry you carry about others, I adore that you care so deeply. I love that even at nine, you know what it’s all about. I notice when you hold the door open for a stranger walking in behind us. I notice when you worry about who might not be invited to someone’s party, so you are sure to invite them to yours. Even at nine, you have this ability to make this world better.
I know how fast it goes; I don’t want to blink or I feel I’ll miss it. One part of motherhood I wasn’t ready for was how bittersweet it all is. I wasn’t ready to not be needed when you started to do your own hair in the mornings or pick out your outfits, but there was also something about seeing you so independent that made my heart just burst.
The thing about nine is that it snuck up on me so much faster than I was ready for but you wear it so well: the confidence, the compassion, and the dreams. I hope you will always take parts of this with you, like how you start dancing at any given time and the way you always remember to look out for others. I hope you always take the sparkle and shine you find in life and share it with the world. I’ll be watching you in awe and I’ll try not to blink.
Tonight, I let him fall asleep as we rocked. Some nights I just don’t want to put him down, so I don’t. I smiled as I stared at his chubby cheeks. He put in a full, hard day of playing today, like toddler boys do. He helped me drop his sisters off at school this morning, crying when he had to hug them goodbye. They are his most favorite of favorites, and rightfully so. He played baseball with his dad tonight, running down the driveway to greet him after work. He is everything and more that I dreamed a little boy would be. He’s funny, just as I had a feeling he might be. He gives the best hugs, the kind that says he means it. He can’t say /k/ or /t/, which is most evident when he chases his “titty tats” around the barn. He loves when I watch Sesame Street with him, and I love it, too. He sleeps exactly like his dad, with his arms stretched out above his head. He looks just like his dad, too, with a smile that can light up a room (when he decides he wants to use it). Tonight, as I stared at him in awe, I couldn’t help but think of you, too.
You were the NICU nurse who greeted me with a smile when I was wheeled into your NICU, next to his warmer. I was terrified, but the moment I met you, I knew he was in the best of hands. My baby couldn’t breathe, but you were helping him find a way. You were calm, and helped me be calm, at the most terrifying time of my life. You explained what the tubes and wires were for and in a way I would understand. You’ve had to explain this a thousand times in your career, but you patiently explained it again, because you knew this was my first time.
The NICU was never in our plan. I thought we would take him home the next day, to his two big sisters that couldn’t wait to meet him. Over our 16 day stay, there was so much I didn’t know and so much I didn’t understand, but you told me again and again, as many times as I needed to hear it.
I was terrified of his tubes, but you talked about him as if you saw him without all of it. You commented on his dimple, something I hadn’t yet noticed. It felt so good to have someone comment on the little things, the things that I had been too distracted to think about. During our first day, his condition worsened. Suddenly he required two chest tubes and a vent. When I saw the chest x-ray of his heart pushed to the wrong side, I felt as if my own heart might break in two. You always took the time to squeeze my hand when my tears didn’t stop. You told me to sit down and keep my feet up, you saw how swollen my feet were. You continuously filled up my water pitcher, as if you didn’t already have enough to do. You showed me how I could put my finger in his palm, to let him know I was right there. When the day came when we finally got to hold him, you cried, too.
You asked me questions about his nursery and about his big sisters. When his big sisters finally got to meet him, you made them feel so welcomed. You asked them about their school day and you remembered the details I had forgotten I had told you. His big sister says she wants to work in a NICU someday and I can see exactly why she was so inspired.
You took the time to explain in detail every aspect of his care. You helped explain the numbers on the screen and what they meant. I saw the tears well up in your eyes when you were finally able to tell me some good news, you knew how desperately I had been waiting to hear it.
I watched you in awe as you took care of my baby and his roommates. I’m not sure I ever saw you sit down, there was never time as you and your team had a full NICU. I saw babies being rushed in from other hospitals and babies being prepped to be flown out to Omaha or Denver. Every baby in your care was loved beyond measure.
September is NICU Awareness month, but honestly, I don’t need a month to make me aware. I think about you in almost everything he does. You were a part of his story for only 16 days, but you were the part that forever changed his story. I think of you when he laughs his deep belly laugh of pure joy. I think of you when he does something for the first time that he had been working hard to figure out. I think of you when he’s acting like a toddler and having pounding-the-floor meltdown and I smile because I know these were the moments I once prayed to have.
Sometimes I still feel like it was all just a dream. The only physical evidence are two little scars where two little chest tubes once were. The NICU days forever changed me – and all of us- in ways words can’t fully describe. Every day, and I mean every day, since we left those double doors for the last time, I have thought about you and your team that helped save his life. Every single day.
I saw the best part of your job and I saw unimaginable heartbreaking moments, too. Somehow you don’t give up. It takes incredible strength and courage to do what you do. You chose a calling that only a select few could ever do and I thank God that you did. The world is so much better with you in it.
I hope you know how important your role was in his life. I hope you know that I will never forget what you did for us. When we say our bedtime prayers, I watch him fold his hands and say, “Help help babies”, because we will continue to pray for our NICU nurses, and all NICU nurses, the rest of our lives. I hope you somehow just know how much you mean to me because I’ll never find the words.
Tonight, the tears form in my eyes as I look at him and I think of you. Thank you, God, for NICU nurses.