You Never Met Your Grandpa

I can’t count the moments of your life where I think to myself, “I wish your grandpa was here to see this.” You never got a chance to meet him. I’ve missed him for two thirds of my life, but I have missed him for all of yours. Until I became a parent, I didn’t truly realize how many memories we had yet to make.

I realize I’ve never taken the time to tell you all about him. To be honest, as the years go by, I start to worry that I’ll forget the details. So I wanted to take a minute to tell you about the man I loved so deeply, whose love surrounds our lives every single day.

He was funny, the kind of funny that never tries to be funny, it was just who he was. He wanted to make others laugh, and he did it very well. I see that in you sometimes. You have this sparkle in your eye and I love how much you love to create laughter and joy. I love that when you describe your friends, humor is one of the first things you mention. It’s important. It will matter in life.

Your grandpa worked hard, really hard, in all that he did. He would expect that from you, too. He used to always tell me to find something I truly loved and if I did that, work would never feel like work. He was right. He worked hard in his career, but he loved it. I never knew if he had a good day or a bad day at work, because when he came home to me and your grandma, he was always so glad to see us. He left his stress at the door.

He was always the optimist and it was contagious. He always saw the good. I see that trait in you, too. I love the way you find a way to focus on the good. It mattered to him to do good – so he did. And so do you. He wanted to help those who might need it and I love the way your heart does, too. You care so much about those around you and I pray that you continue to feel that way for the rest of your life. If we don’t spend our days helping others, what else really matters.

He kept candy in the center console of his car, and he would hand them over on the mornings he drove me to school. It was morning and he was giving me candy. He kept a stash of candy bars in his top desk drawer and he never hesitated to share those with me either. When I would sit in his office, he always made me feel like it was essential for me to be there. He made me feel that I was important, and I hope I make you feel that way, too. On the mornings he drove me to school, we sang the songs he loved at the top of our lungs. You and I sing in the car, too, and I hope you always do. I hope when certain songs come on, they always remind you of a crisp October morning as you drove to school and felt nothing other than absolute love. 

He is the reason I am obsessed with music and therefore, so are you. He loved it and appreciated it more than most and I’ve never met another child who knows more about songwriters or lyric meanings than you. He is the reason I love college football. I love watching you cheer for the teams I love, because I’m cheering for the teams he loved.

He was one of those people that others were just drawn to. He had a smile that lit up a room and he was the one making that room laugh. He was a light, just like you.

When I see you love the things he loved, I see an extension of him. You remind me that he is still here. Sometimes I feel him so strongly that it’s as if he is sitting right next to me. Sometimes I feel him at your big life moments and I am certain he is there. Sometimes I see him on a random Tuesday when you unknowingly stick out your tongue as you focus on your homework. Sometimes I see him in you when you raise one eyebrow, questioning something I have just said. You have this frown I love because it reminds me of him. You are my reminder that he was once here. 

The Teacher Parade

It was cold and grey this morning as we stood in the driveway, waiting. My little girls had been counting down for this moment, giggling as they looked down the road, waiting for the long line of cars to turn our direction. I can’t think of a parade they’ve ever been more excited to see.

It has now been two-and-a-half weeks since I picked my girls up from school and told them the governor closed schools for (at the time) one week. Their response almost caught me off guard. I thought they would eagerly ask about all of the things we might do. There was no applause or cheer, just a quiet sadness followed by questions. “But when will I see my friends? I’m going to miss my teacher, mom.” My heart was torn between gratitude and sadness. I was so thankful they spent their days in a place with people they loved so much, yet I knew this shut down would be much longer than a week. As we pulled out of the school parking lot, the tears streamed down my face. My mind was overcome with worry for the students who relied on school, whether it be for the meals or for a safe, warm place. Seeing the way my own children reacted to the news gave me a new perspective of how vital this place and its people are. If my own were going to miss school this much, what must it be like for others.

So today, as I stood in the driveway, the tears started to form at just the thought of the staff taking the time to spend three hours driving through the community. Three hours. We are part of a huge school. I kept thinking about the other families who were standing on their streets, knowing they were probably as excited as we were. Did the teachers realize just how special this was to so many children? Did they realize that even just a wave from them meant more than any celebrity meet-and-greet we have ever had? 

When we saw the cars finally turn onto our road, the tears started to fall. There were so many more cars than I was expecting, and my daughters were so excited at the thought of finally seeing the teachers they love so much. These teachers had to change the way they have always taught, and they had to do it literally overnight.  These teachers have lesson plans to type and parents to respond to. Now we are past the point of review and they are navigating ways to find new methods to teach new material to students who aren’t on the same playing field. They must figure out who can access online content and who can’t. They have to prep paper packets and decide how to get it to families. They have adjusted their lives to be available for 24 families and not just during school hours. They each have 24 students (give or take a few) which means they have 24 families they are worried about. They are fully aware that the students they love are trying to learn new material on top of the stress in their home lives. They understand that parents have lost jobs – or if they are lucky – trying to work from home or work their shift then come home to help with schoolwork.  They know exactly the way their students absorb the stress from home, they’ve seen it their entire career. Now the students they love are being thrown into a situation like none of us have ever experienced. So, on top of the infinite list of things they needed to get done on this Friday morning, they were spending three hours of time they didn’t have to remind their students how much they love them. I love them so much for it.

The other day, as we were in the midst of something which I can’t even remember, my kindergartner blurted out, “But I didn’t get to show my friends I lost my tooth!” It was completely out of nowhere, but it obviously had been on her mind. While I worried about an incredibly long list of worries I’ve never had to worry about in our pre-pandemic life, this was what she was worried about.  I love that it was important to her and I know for a fact her teacher would’ve made her feel so very special when she shared her news. I love how much she missed her teacher and friends. 

Today the teachers brought us comfort. They brought us the familiarity and safety we miss now more than ever. Today they brought us a hope for a better tomorrow, reminding us there will be a better tomorrow. They brought us all together. Teachers, thank you. We can’t wait to see you soon.

Hey Husband

Hey husband. You spent Valentine’s Day evening cleaning out my shower drain. You lectured me as you carried the culprit clog to the trash, shooting me a look of annoyance. Our Valentine’s Dinner was take-out because we are in the height of flu season and as a household of five, we couldn’t dodge it.

You get me a snack when you stop for gas, even when I say I don’t want one. (That was a mistake you didn’t make twice after a long, big fight. Now you know that when I say I don’t want something, it isn’t true.) You know which gas stations to stop at – the ones that have the crushed ice that I love. When we meet at a restaurant and I’m running late, you order for me and you always just seem to know what I would get.

For 212 Wednesdays (give or take a couple), you’ve rolled our trash can down our driveway, so I don’t have to. You even remember to put in a new bag after you take out the old one. You fix the vacuum (which is related to the same culprit as the drain) and every time you cut the hair out, you swear this will be the last time you do it. We both know it’s not the last time because you’ve done it for years, and I’m glad you do. (Also, just to clarify, I’m forever okay with you fixing the drains, too.) We argue about the dishwasher needing emptied or if it is empty, why there are dishes in the sink if they can go in the dishwasher. We will have this argument forever. You say I have too many clothes and too many shoes – and that might be true. For the rest of my days, I’ll have a pile of clothes laying around somewhere and shoes to trip over which will infuriate you for the rest of your days. There’s laundry in every room and it’s a battle I can’t win. (Never. Going. To win.)

We will forever have the argument where you didn’t know about whatever activity or event I told you about, even though I told you. (I always tell you. Agree to disagree.) You have strong opinions on the thermostat setting and when we leave lights on, just like most dads do.

When I cook something you don’t like, which is more often than I want to admit, you pour some extra ketchup and eat it anyway. You tell me, “It’s not bad,” even when we know it is. (Sometimes it’s so bad.) I love that on the mornings it’s extra cold, you start my car for me. You always tell me I let my tank go too low, followed by a lecture on a fuel pump which I don’t understand. This is another conversation we will have until the end of our days.

We used to tell ourselves we would never let the everyday become our every day. Suddenly we are mid 30s and we did let the everyday become our every day. We have careers and small children and ballet and basketball. We have schedules that keep us so busy we don’t know if we are coming or going. The thing is, at the end of the day, I know my shower drain is going to be fixed. I know when we have a date at a restaurant, it’s for a table of five and three kids’ menus. We tag team as one of us handles two tic-tac-toe games while the other keeps the toddler from throwing crackers at the next table. I know that you hate my Christmas light obsession down to your soul, but every year, you still hang them for me.

At the end of the day, I just want to sit on the couch with you and watch our shows. I love that when you decide to call it a night but I’m still up with paperwork, you turn it to Friends because you know it’s my favorite. I love that I hear you talking to the cat even though you repeatedly swear, “Never again!” when it comes to another indoor pet. We promised each other once upon a time ago that we would give each other our best day in and day out. I didn’t realize back then, that my best meant grocery shopping after a 10-hour work day or re-scheduling my meetings so you don’t have to re-schedule yours. Your best meant scraping ice off my windows in the mornings or coaching basketball even when you barely have spare minutes to give.

Tomorrow morning you will ask me who messed with your thermostat, knowing it was me (since I’m the only other one who can reach it) and I’ll wonder why you even ask a question you know the answer to. Thanks for all the things you do, especially the things you don’t want to do. Love you, husband. Thanks for spending this life with me.

Write Your Kids a Letter

Write your kids a letter. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but with work and school and life it just doesn’t seem to happen. It’s 10 p.m. and I have a long list of things to get done tonight. There’s a sink full of dishes, two more loads of laundry, and bottles that need washed. Tonight, I finally put it all on hold for ten minutes and I wrote my kids a letter.

I’ve always loved letters. I loved the idea that you could put thoughts on paper and then hold those thoughts in your hand. And keep them. Before my oldest was born, I wrote her a letter. I wanted her to know how much I loved her before I ever met her. I didn’t know what to get her that first Christmas. I wanted it to be something she could keep forever, something that would matter someday. So I wrote her a letter.

Over the years, I have tried to write each of my kids a letter at least a couple times a year. Sometimes it is for a special occasion and sometimes it’s just because. My mom was a letter writer. She wrote me a note on a napkin every school morning. She sent me notes in the mail in college, even though e-mail would’ve been easier. She sent me thoughts I could hold, and in a box, I still have every letter she sent. My dad died when I was young. Although he didn’t die suddenly, his cancer was first found due to word-finding difficulty. There was never a letter of advice for a lifetime without him because by the time we realized I wouldn’t have him for all my tomorrows, he could no longer find the words. I wish there was a letter that told me all about my 2nd grade birthday when he took me out to lunch. I remember a few moments from that day, but I wish I could remember more. I wish there was a letter about his dad that I never got to meet. I wish there was more I could’ve known about him, about me, about the places we went. That’s one reason I write my kids letters.

I have so much I want to tell them, teach them. Maybe I write to them for myself as much as I do for them. I never want to forget the way my daughter pronounces lasagna “masagna” or the way they call their lunch boxes “lunch pails”. I never want to forget what they said to their baby brother the moment they first met him in the NICU and all they did for him when we finally got to bring him home. There are so many one-liners that I swear I’ll never forget, but if I don’t write them down, I do forget. Someday I want her to know that one day at preschool pickup, her teacher told me she was a friend to a classmate that had a hard time making friends. I want them to remember our special Monday night dinner dates after ballet and our favorite summer trips to the lake. I want them to remember the days that didn’t go the way we thought they would – and the way we persevered through it. I want my son to know the story of his arrival into this world and the people who helped save him.  I want my kids to know how fiercely proud I am of them. I want them to know how much I love them and I want them to have the words they can hold in their hands.  They don’t yet know I have a pile of letters for them.  Before my oldest started kindergarten, I wrote her a letter (https://myheartbeeps.wordpress.com/2019/08/09/im-not-ready-but-you-are/) which was the first one I ever read to her. She smiled from ear to ear the entire time as I tried to read the words through my tears. Even if she didn’t understand it all, she knew it was just for her, from me.

I volunteer in my daughters’ school lunchroom. I love the way faces light up when kids read lunch notes from their parents. I love the way the kindergartners raise their hands to have the staff come read what a note says, even if it’s the same note every day that says “ I love you , Mom”. We love to hold the words in our hands.

Sometimes I start to write a letter but I never get a chance to finish it. I still file it away, for them to have someday. The feelings I felt or the events of that day are still worth writing about, even if my thoughts got distracted by life and I never get to finish it. Letters take time, whether handwritten or typed. They take a lot of time, which is exactly what also makes us appreciate them. Tomorrow night at this time, I will again have two loads of laundry and a sink full of dishes. Sometimes (actually, all of the time) I feel as if there is nothing to show for the amount of effort I put into the everyday duties of a household. Then I write, and that stands out as something for tonight. The minutes we put into writing, into telling those we love just how much we love them, those minutes will borrow time from today that can be read over and over again for the somedays to come.

Write your kids a letter. Remind them how much you love them and remind them of all the reasons why.

16 Days

Looking at him today, you would never believe his story. The only physical evidence of his time in the NICU are littles scars, one on each side of his chest, where the chest tubes once were. I love those tiny scars on his soft skin. They remind me of where we once were and the people who got him – and got us- through it. It reminds me of how hard he fought and how hard we prayed.

September is NICU Awareness Month. Last September, this had no meaning in my life. I was eight months pregnant and counting down the hours until the end of October. I was trying to decide which of the three Halloween costumes my baby boy would wear first. I was spending my spare time building his big sisters’ Halloween costumes to coordinate with how I would decorate his stroller for my favorite holiday. We were over the moon that a little boy would be joining our family. I knew he would change our lives, but I never could have predicted the way he would change my perspective. He opened my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. This September, being a NICU mom has immeasurable meaning in my life. While this is the month that acknowledges the place I love so deeply, every day of my life over the past ten months has been my “NICU Awareness.”

This was my third pregnancy. When my daughters were born, I had the luxury of taking them home the day after they were born. I was spoiled in spending my time snuggling them in adorable onesies and feeling exhausted during late night feedings. As excited as we were, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this time was going to be different.

I entered the delivery room on a Tuesday morning. It was the week of the World Series. My husband had played college baseball and I remember telling him that night he would be holding his newborn son watching the game. (This was just another example of what I had taken for granted in the past – holding my babies as soon as they arrived.) Before I entered the NICU on that October day, I took so much for granted, as much as I hate to admit it.

As soon as our sweet baby boy was born, he struggled to breathe. He was perfect in every way, full-term and a healthy eight pounds, but he just couldn’t breathe. A NICU team was paged into the delivery room and they wheeled him away to the NICU. My husband followed them as I had to stay behind, a new fear I had never felt before was taking over. This was not the way it was supposed to go.

I was wheeled into the hospital’s Level III NICU. I was confused and overwhelmed, and I didn’t understand what people were saying, but I specifically remember a feeling of calmness the moment I met his NICU nurses. My baby couldn’t breathe, the most basic thing a mom could hope for her child to do, but they were making sure he had a way. At the first shift change, his next nurse told me our daughters were in the same class. I remember that moment being the first time I heard and understood words that were being said to me. She asked me if it would be okay to give him a pacifier. She said she knew I was a speech-pathologist and that I might have a strong opinion about them. I remember crying and nodding yes, I would love for him to have a pacifier. It meant he could do at least one thing like all the other babies. It meant she was asking for my opinion since I was the mom, even though she was the one helping to save his life. It meant she was thinking about a long-term habit, while I couldn’t think past the next minute. Somehow these NICU nurses knew just what to say and how to say it.

During his first 24-hours, my sweet boy’s condition went from bad to worse. He was intubated, had one collapsed lung followed by the other, which resulted in his heart moving to the wrong side of his chest due to air filling spaces it shouldn’t. I remember sitting in my hospital room, staring at his brand-new diaper bag. Everything inside it was new and fresh and ready for our baby boy. He had a beautiful nursery at home with everything I thought he would need. Instead, what he really needed, was a vent to breathe and tubes in his chest and tubes to be fed. He needed the physicians and nurses who knew exactly how to fix him. I needed them, too. During every moment of his care, I knew he was exactly where he needed to be.

I spent 16 days praying as I had never prayed. I watched other babies being wheeled into the NICU and I prayed for them, too. One thing is for sure – there is no fairness in the NICU. I watched the physicians work around the clock. I watched nurses give each and every baby the most diligent and compassionate care I had ever seen. They gave everything they had to the tiniest, most fragile humans who couldn’t convey what hurt or where. I sat next to his warmer, in awe of everything happening around me. This windowless room gave me a front row seat to witness miracles collaborating with science. I never wanted to be there, but once I was, I couldn’t imagine going back to the life before I knew all of this. During those 16 days, our baby was their baby, too. His story is not just our story, it is their story, too.

The moment we received the news we would be taking our baby boy home, I let out a sob. I had waited 16 days to see him without tubes and cords and machines. I had waited for the moment I could load him in his car seat. I had waited his entire life to take him home, but now everything would be forever different. He had two big sisters who could not wait to have their baby brother home. My mind could never go back to the pre-NICU days, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. This perspective is deeper. When we carried our baby out those NICU doors, I promised myself I would never forget what the men and women behind those double doors did for us. When you leave the NICU, it doesn’t leave you.

It has been ten months since we left the NICU. I think of the NICU staff literally every day of his life. I sometimes hear the beeping of the machines in my dreams or I wake up in the night just to look at him to remind myself he is here, not there. I think of the babies I saw, wondering where they are now and how they are now. I think of one baby girl in particular, every time I see an elephant, as I know that was the theme of her nursery – the nursery she never got to spend a night in. I think of her when I take milestone pictures. I will think of her at his birthday parties, my heart wishing there was a place setting for her there, too.  At her funeral, I watched the way the NICU staff filled the pews, having given her extraordinary care for months and a profound love I only wish every baby could have. The NICU made my heart feel deeper. Within the NICU, you will find the greatest happiness and the ultimate heartbreak.

It’s unrealistic to think anyone could understand such an experience and such a place unless they lived it. NICU Awareness Month will likely only hit home to those who have known it. My friends who were moms of NICU babies, they supported us and loved us and showed us day in and day out. The NICU mom tribe is a tribe I never wanted to be a part of, but the comradery is inexplainable.

 I have a deeper sense of gratitude for healthy children. I am a better pediatric therapist now, as I now know the feeling of worrying about developmental milestones. I am a better friend now, as I now have an empathy I couldn’t have had before.

I hope NICU Awareness Month can result in actual awareness. I hope when we hear a friend’s child is in the hospital, we drop off a gift card or make a meal for their return home. I hope when a friend must drive home with an empty car seat, we let them know we can help drive them home or come over to talk. I hope we can donate more to help our communities have the equipment that is needed for NICU and pediatric floors across the country. There is so much to be aware of in a world I previously knew nothing about. To those who have dedicated their lives to helping the most delicate patients, NICU parents are forever grateful for you.

Now it’s Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to start school. I had two years to prepare for this day, telling myself this time would be easier than when your sister entered those kindergarten doors. I realized this past week that there was a great secret I never realized, it’s harder to send the second child. I thought for sure it would be easier. I had already done this once, so I know what to expect. That’s exactly why it’s so hard – I know what to expect. It’s harder this time because I know just how much I’m going to miss you each and every morning until I see you in the afternoon as we head to dance or soccer. It’s harder because I know your days will get busier and this is only the beginning of just how busy you’ll be.

There’s a toy kitchen that will now sit quietly in your room. For almost every day of your life, I have heard the toy kitchen fridge door open and shut. I have heard your shopping cart wheel up and down the hallway, hauling toy groceries and dolls and random things you decide to stuff in that cart. I have heard your footsteps run up and down that hallway thousands of times.

I thought for sure you would be my baby, the one who would have my undivided while your big sister was away at school. God wrote a different plan and you suddenly became a middle child. You’ve had to share this past year of your life and you didn’t complain once about it. You became a pro big sister over night because you learned from the best. You are a perfect match for your birth order. You march to your own beat because you don’t have the time or interest to wonder what others might think. Your outfits amaze me every day and you wear them with all the confidence a girl could have. I often think to myself that I hope to be like you when I grow up. How can someone so small be so brave and so independent. This independence will serve you well in life.  My heart isn’t ready for this change, but you were fist pumping on your way to buy school supplies. I watched you big sister grab your hand at open house and march you down to the kindergarten wing. You smiled a huge smile as she showed you where you hang your backpack and where you sharpen your pencil. You are ready, my sweet girl. You are so ready.

It’s time for me to accept that there’s a long list of things we didn’t yet finish. There’s no more days where time doesn’t matter until next May. I know exactly how hard it is to pack a summer into summer. There’s no more after preschool lunch dates at a place of your choosing. We didn’t have enough days at the pool, and we didn’t master those shoe laces.

Tomorrow morning you’re going to pick out your first day of school outfit and I’m going to try to hold it together at drop off until I get back in my car. You’ve waited for two years for this day, to finally be at school with your big sister, and I have tried not to think about it. The American Girl dolls will sit quietly in your room while you meet new friends. The costumes in the closet will actually stay hung up because you won’t have time to transform into Batman or a fireman multiple times a day.

I am sad for me but so excited for you. You saw the tears fall down my face yesterday when we pulled out of your babysitter’s driveway. You spent six years with her and now it’s time to pass the torch to someone else. You smiled a sympathetic smile at me, because somehow you just understand how hard this is for me. For two years, you’ve asked me to “pack a lunch pail” for you, even on the days we would be home. You’ve wanted nothing more than to go to school like your big sister and tomorrow is the day. We didn’t get it all done as I had hoped we would, but we packed a lot in. You asked me not to “embawass” you tomorrow by taking too many pictures and crying too hard. I promised you I would try not to.

I can’t wait to see what you have to offer the world and what the world has to offer you. Be kind and be brave and be a good friend to those that need it most. And know that I am going to miss you so very much.

I’m Not Ready, But You Are

I am not ready for this day just on the horizon, but you are. Tonight, I watched you open and close your new lunchbox over a dozen times. You call it a “lunch pail” and it makes me smile every time. You love your new Frozen backpack and often put it on to show me “it fits so perfectly.” While we were at Target, you excitedly showed other shoppers your new crayons and pencils. When I saw that Target’s summer section was replaced by school supplies, my eyes filled with tears. Other moms smiled at me and nodded hello as their 5th and 6th graders picked out binders. They knew, they remembered. I had five summers to prepare for this, but I still wasn’t ready.

For five summers, I knew this one would be our fastest yet. You were only minutes old when my mom looked at you and said to me, “Before you know it, she will be leaving for her first day of kindergarten.” I’ve thought about those words almost every day. Your grandma has been right about a million things, and those words are some of the truest she has ever said.

I watched you and your little sister fall asleep for a nap on Sunday. I curled up on your beanbag, my eyes filling with tears while I listened to you breathe. I realized this was our last weekend of these Sunday naps we shared for five years. “Oh! The Places You’ll Go!” stared back at me from your bookshelf. I know you’re going places, girl. I know. I’m going to be here cheering you on every step of the way.

There’s so much I have left to show you, to teach you. We need to work on mastering those shoe laces and the loose pony tail the way you like it. We need to work on jumping jacks. While my mind is full of things I’m worried that you might not be ready for, I realize it’s me that isn’t ready. I’m not ready for quiet days without you here. I’m not ready for the day you don’t ask for the race car shopping carts at the grocery store. I’m not ready for the first time you don’t want a hug and a kiss good-bye. I’m just not ready for how incredibly much I’m going to miss hanging out with you. I’m not ready, but you are.

I am so excited to share you with the world. This is the end of an era for me, but the beginning of a new one for you. Those days somehow turned into years and now it’s time to send you out in this world.

You’re one of the most incredible kids I’ve ever known. You are a constant happiness in a world that sometimes isn’t. You care so deeply about everyone else. For your 5th birthday, you asked me to buy food for people who might not have any. You think about everyone else before yourself. You are the greatest big sister to ever be on this earth. You are so exceptionally fun to hang out with. I’m not ready, but you are.

It seems that five is such a young age to release you to the world. Up until now, I’ve had a say in who you play with, who influences the things you say. I’ve helped select your meals and shaped the choices you’ve made. I’m a strong influence in how your likes became your likes. Now it’s up to you.

My heart is overcome by feelings I can’t explain. It is not lost on me how incredibly lucky I am that you get to embark on this childhood passage. We had a friend not come home from St. Jude. He should be starting school this fall, too. So while I am overwhelmed by how hard it will be for me to watch you wave from the playground, I am going to thank God for every second of this, of every moment I get to share with you.

My mind has not yet wrapped itself around how time can go so fast – I have a feeling it never will. I I love you, my sweet girl. You fascinate me every day. I’m not ready to watch that Frozen backpack march down the driveway on the first day, but you are.

Thanks for Raising an Awesome Little Human

My child met yours somewhere along the way. Maybe we met a few months into preschool or maybe when my oldest started first grade. Wherever it was, whenever it was, I thought you should know how much I appreciate you. I thought you should know that the child you are raising is pretty great, too.

Friendships at this age are the best. There are no politics or opinions passed down from others – there’s only favorite colors or a mutual love of princesses and superheroes. After our children’s first play date, I instantly saw what my daughter saw in your son. She saw a friend who was willing to take turns playing a game of her choosing. She saw a friend who held the door open for her and told her that she looked like a “rockstar” in her school picture. She saw a friend who used his manners and a friend who loves Hot Wheels as much as she does.

You have raised an exceptional little friend for my daughter. You have given her a friend she talks about on weekends and can’t wait to see on Monday morning. You have given her a friend whose birthday party she is as excited for as her own (and I can assure you, that is a lot of excitement). She was devastated when he wasn’t selected to be the classroom helper and prayed about it until it was his turn. Her heart loves his heart, and that makes me grateful for you.

When my kindergartner wanted to see your daughter on the weekend, I was more nervous than I ever had been in my life asking someone on a “date”. What if you said ‘no’? There would be two hearts broken in this household instead of one. I literally held my breath as I read your text. What a true relief it was to read that you’d love to get the girls together, a blind date arranged by 5-year-olds. We totally hit it off. I immediately could see how your sweet-natured daughter was a friend mine wanted to spend more time with than just in school.

Your daughter knows my daughter’s pets’ names and her favorite flavor Capri Sun. She knows what mine wants to be when she grows up and her next Halloween costume. She knows all of this and more because they love nothing more than just being together.

Thank you for raising such an awesome human. Thank you for being the parent who taught by example. Thank you for the lunch dates and the occasional text messages that suggest we get them together. Thank you for allowing my family into your family’s lives, I know how busy you are. Thank you for making their friendship a priority. Thank you for inviting us into your home on your precious weekends – I know exactly how valuable that weekend time is.

I hope they really are friends forever, so we can be, too. It’s hard to let your kids out into the world. It’s hard to worry about who will break her heart and why. But for today, I just see her happy. I see her spending this play date with a friend she adores, a friend very worthy of her adoration. It’s hard to let them choose their own friends, but I now see that mine have done a pretty great job of choosing some amazing friends to surround themselves with. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you and that I will forever be grateful for the awesome little human you have raised.

Sorry for your Loss

A friend from high school died this week. Everything we all hope to be, she already was. She left this world at 33, leaving behind so many who loved her fiercely.

I can’t count the number of funerals I have been to. I lost my dad at a young age. I have been to the funeral of my first prom date and to the funeral of a friend I had loved from the first day of kindergarten through graduation. I have watched friends carry the caskets of their babies. In my lifetime, I have experienced loss. We all have and we all will. The more loss I experience, the more I realize how difficult it can be to talk about grief.

I have never understood the phrase “So sorry for your loss.” Maybe it’s because I have experienced deep loss early in my life. Maybe it’s because I have dedicated the last 16 years of my life to studying expressive and receptive language. I love language and the power words can have on the world. Grief is hard to express, so incredibly hard. What if we found a way to express it in a way that others can understand? What if we found a way to say these words with depth and meaning?

I quit saying, “I’m sorry,” at funerals years ago. I know why people say it; they say it because at least it is something. It is acknowledging a loss, but ‘sorry’ is what I say to someone when I accidentally bump them with my shopping cart. I always felt that “Sorry for your loss,” would be fitting for a lost wallet, but not the love of your life or a parent you’ve never lived a day without.

When my dad died, I wanted someone to use words that made sense. I didn’t like the cliché sympathy card sayings. Actually, I couldn’t stand those sayings. Time wasn’t going to heal anything and while things might happen for a reason, I just wanted my dad back. My friends all had one and I didn’t understand why I was the one who didn’t.  I wanted someone to say, “I know what it’s like to miss him on this big milestone days, but to miss him even more every day in between.”  I wanted someone to say, “I know what it’s like to miss him when you drive by his office and his car isn’t there, but you still look just to make sure it’s not a bad dream. I know what it’s like to see a tie you know he would like, wishing you could buy it for him. I know what it’s like to watch your teammate’s dads walk into your volleyball game and you look up every time those doors open, even though your dad won’t be walking in.” The summer after high school, I sat next to my friend’s casket, alone in the funeral home before the visitation started. I wanted someone to acknowledge the way my heart hurt. I felt as if my heart had truly broken and “sorry for your loss” didn’t recognize that I would never hear his voice again. I wanted someone to say, “I know you are going to keep dialing his phone number for years to come, I’ve been there, too,” and “I know you’ll miss him all over again when there’s an inside joke or an event he was supposed to be at, and for a fleeting second you forget he isn’t here to share it.”

This week I will go to a funeral to say good-bye to one of the sweetest girls I ever knew. I was lucky to know her. I was lucky to call her a friend. I will tell her family that I loved her and that I will miss her. I will tell them that for years to come. I will make sure her husband knows that I will be cheering for their son at his future football games. I will make sure her best friends know I will be thinking of them when her birthday rolls around this fall and it’s the first year in 20 years that they haven’t spent it with her.

I wish that when people offered sympathy, the conversation would change. Rather than approaching someone to offer condolences, we would share a favorite memory and follow it with, “Moments like that are what I’m going to miss about him.” Maybe we could do more to check on grieving loved ones, not just in the days that follow, but in the months and years, too. The greatest thing we could do is not be afraid to mention their names. I love nothing more than hearing stories about my dad, whether I have heard them before or not. When you know there will never be a new memory, you never tire of the old ones. Maybe when we think of a grieving friend, we can actually take the time to let them know. When we say, “Sorry for your loss,” what we really mean to say is, “I’m sorry my life and schedule will resume when I leave this funeral, but your house will be dark and quiet when you return home. I’m sorry the household duties you once shared are now entirely up to you. I’m sorry that you’ll keep waiting for the sound of the garage door, wishing he would come walking through the door.” Maybe when we said, “I’m sorry,” we could find a way to really say it.

Grief is real and raw and deserves so much more than the empty cliché quotes. The memories we had left to make deserve to be said aloud.

It Takes a Village

I was in 7th grade when I lost my dad to cancer. As an only child, our home suddenly felt much quieter. It has been almost 20 years since that grey, February morning when we became a family of two.

My family are the people who were there for us during the 14-month cancer battle – and continued to be for 20 years, just like they said they would. My family are those whose actions I watched as I grew up.

My family is the couple who picked me up from school one cold January day when my dad was about to have his first brain surgery. Logistically, I had to stay behind as my parents went to Minnesota for this surgery. There were too many unknowns for me to make the trip with my parents. To this day, I cry when I think about seeing this couple walk into my school to pick me up. They told me we had a flight to catch. This moment was everything to a 12-year old girl who didn’t know if she would ever see her dad again. I still cry when I think about that drive to the airport and that quiet flight to Minneapolis. For twenty years, they have met up with me whether it be a quick trip home from college or a Sunday brunch. They were at all of those ‘big events’. They were there for those days in between, too. They never left our side. They sponsored my daughter’s junior golf program so she could learn one of her grandpa’s favorite hobbies.

My family is the woman who stayed with me during the numerous trips my parents took for surgeries and treatments. Taking in a middle school girl would not be an easy undertaking for anyone. She got me to those 6am basketball practices. She let me choose the radio station on those drives to school and somehow always knew when I just didn’t feel like talking.

My family is a couple I consider my ‘second parents’. He was one of my dad’s best friends. They have never missed one of my events, and in fact, drove my mom and me 762 miles to the National High School Rodeo Finals the summer I qualified. They have invited us to every holiday for as long as I can remember. They come to my daughters’ preschool programs. We call him “Papa Larry” just like his grandsons do. They moved us into my new house when the windchill was -4. Their son and daughter are the “sister and brother I never had”, except, I do have them. I’ve always had them. Sharing the same family name would not have made me love them more. 

My family is my best friend since sixth grade, who has been by my side through it all. She introduced me to the world of instant messenger in middle school. She made the best mixed CDs. From prom dress shopping to wedding dress shopping, we did it all together. We even joined motherhood just three months apart. The week after I filed for divorce, she gave me a stack of cards friends had sent to her from friends all of over the country. She reminded me I could – and I would, get through this, too. There is not a second of her friendship I have taken for granted. My family is her two little girls, who are the same age as my own, who are two of the most incredible little beings I know.

My family is my dear family friends, whose little girl was the first baby I held. She started high school this fall. Her mom was an inspiration for my profession. My high school and college years consisted of sitting around their kitchen table, whether it be to hear the latest or for life advice. Now I watch the way my little girls idolize Emily, and I am grateful for the love that has been shared through the generations.

My family are the friends who moved me out of my house in the pouring rain. They showed up with their trucks and horse trailers and started packing boxes. I was an unorganized mess, an emotional mess. They reminded me that things would get better. They were right.

My family are the college friends, those my daughters call “aunt so-and-so”. They are my sisters – and they are the most loyal friends you’ll find.

My family is the woman who has babysat my children for their entire lives. She was their stability when they needed it most. She taught them how to read. She shows them love and compassion in a way no one else can, because everything she does is done in kindness. She is everything to us.

My family is the boy who loved me when he was 17, and now again at age 31, he loves me even more. He builds us anything we ask for and doesn’t say ‘no’ when we find a new animal to take in to our petting zoo. He builds little houses for my pet pigs, the pet pigs I dreamed of having my entire life, the pet pigs he let me get. He is a coach, a mentor, a constant in our lives. They call him “our Casey”, because there is no categorical term for someone like him. He is not their dad, but they have opened their heart to him. How lucky these little girls are to be loved by so many people.

My family whose bloodlines I share, they are pretty incredible, too. Our time together is few and far between, but I thank God for them and those occasional weekends we get to share. My other family, the ones whose paths I cross every day, they could never know what they mean to me. They could never understand the ways in which their actions have impacted my life.

As a girl, I quickly realized it takes a village. Our joys and our sadness and the days in between are filled with love. As a mom, I understand it in an entirely new way, in the kind of way you can’t possibly understand until you are packing up a life to start again. I appreciate these people in the way That can’t be explained. These are the people who promise you that you can get from here to there, even when you can’t see it yet. They are my family.