“Losing” Mini Me

I’ve been away from the blog for quite a while. I have had plenty of subjects that are worthy of a post, but some I am not comfortable sharing yet, and others were just not striking any deep resonance within me to write about. In a way this is good because it means nothing especially terrible has happened. Plenty of great memories have been made in the last six months, including a husband and wife trip to Spain and Italy, and a family trip to Philly, Stone Harbor, NJ, and NYC. At some point I’m sure I will post about these wanderlust travels. Today, I want to talk about our youngest son. My taller-than-me male duplicate. My mini me. 

Brennan turned 18 in June. He graduated from high school in May with his International Baccalaureate degree and a departmental award in History. He is such a bright kid. His book smarts far exceed mine. He loves to learn, and really enjoys physics and history. I am one proud mama. We must have done a few things right along the way because he has grown into a wonderful young man. We have been preparing him for this moment his whole life. I knew it was coming, but time goes too fast. On August 23rd, We moved him into his college dorm. I had to say goodbye to my little boy. My mini me. 

We have been fortunate because our eldest, Ethan, has been commuting to college while living at home. We still get to see him every day. We know where he is most of the time, and we know he is safe when he comes home at night. I knew It’d be hard when the first one left, I’m sure it will be hard when the second and third do, but you never really know how it will feel until they are gone. I tell myself we are lucky. This is a good event. a GREAT event. We succeeded, HE succeeded, but I miss my boy regardless. I miss my mini me. 

It is getting better day by day. I even go a few days without texting him now. I try to give him space. Space to grow, to learn, to thrive. The nights are the hardest. I think it’s because even if he were gone all day before, he always came home at night. I don’t know where he is, what he is doing, or if he made it back to his dorm at night anymore. I have to rely on what we have taught him, the decisions he makes, and God’s protection. Stay safe, my mini me. 

I love you, Brennan. This house will never be the same, but this world will be better because of you, and I’m proud to be a part of it. You be you, my gift from God. My mini me.

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“How Fast Are You Going?”

Yesterday my parents and I were on our way home from the hospital after my mom’s major back surgery two weeks ago, and a subsequent rehab stint.  She was sitting in the front passenger seat, and due to restrictions from the surgeon, could not lean over to see the speedometer. My mom likes to have control of every situation. She is a worrier. As we were heading down the expressway towards their home she patted my leg and asked me, for the second time in 5 minutes, “How fast are you going?”  I was not speeding and there was no clear reason why she was asking, but she is my mother, and I have known her all my life.

After spending two weeks sitting in hospital rooms for long hours, making special meals due to her restricted diet and incessant worrying, and more time with my strong-willed mother than I am used to, I was reaching my limit.  In the end, that comment in the car was a reminder for me. I have seen how stress affects her and promised myself years ago that I would not do that to myself. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff. Appreciate what you have. Look for the positive side of everything. Find  beauty in the world.

My parents are only in their seventies, but at some point in the last few years I realized that my time with them is limited. Many of my friends have already lost their parents, so last night when I tucked them into bed, and I mean that literally, I felt pretty lucky. My dad was already laying down, and I finished helping my mom into the bed, covered her up, and turned off the lights. Oh, and I offered to read them a bedtime story, sadly they declined. For me, it was a moment I won’t forget. Coming full circle.  Role reversal at its finest.

In the wee hours of the night she called from the bedroom in a small voice….”help!” I stumbled out of bed to assist her in the journey to the bathroom, reminiscent of the kids’ younger years,  but for her I am a spotter of sorts. As I walked behind her to make sure her legs didn’t go out on her and held  on to a safety belt wrapped around her chest, she pushed her walker across the carpet while comparing the pile to a field of corn. Her arms were weak and it was tough work. We had to take breaks along the 30 foot trip for her to catch her breath, yet she was also impatient to get to the destination. In her rush, she was a terrible driver. Banging the walker into everything, she failed in her mission to allow my dad to sleep and she giggled all the way. She’s pretty cute in the middle of the night, making me laugh, and unknowingly saving herself just like a child does. When she starts giving me step-by-step instructions for a menial task today, I will remember those late night antics.

I will not let the little things get to me.  Instead, I will pick the moments  I never want to forget. These  are the memories I will treasure when they are gone.

Will you do the same?  “How fast are you going?”

 

 

In an Instant……..

And in an instant the next blog post has changed. A broken bowl spins on the floor, the high-pitched din it makes slowly fading, until it is gone. An angry child sees the consequences of carelessness that comes from anger. From not concentrating on the task at hand. This reminds me of all the other things in life, that change in an instant.

Last year, we were preparing for a championship sports weekend with one of our kids. Proud parents. All, or most, seemed right in our world. Yet in an instant, we are in a hospital emergency room. There will be no championships for us. The rest of the spring, summer, year, will be a trial in strength. It will change our priorities. It will remind us of what matters.

In August, just after returning to their winter home, my father has a stroke. He has been the healthier one. In an instant, he is not. My mother is scheduled for neck surgery, so I leave my husband and kids to care for my parents for five weeks. That’s what we do. We honor thy mother and father.

Years ago, May of 1998 to be exact, I was a mother with a two-year old son, but in an instant, I was a mother with Crohn’s Disease, and a two-year old son. That instant, that diagnosis, of course was just that. It is just a moment I remember well. Too well.  And that day in August 2002, the instant that I got my life back. When that foul, damaged, organ was removed from my body. When I started learning how amazing life really is.

The night my husband asked me what I thought about moving to China, was the instant I realized that I was braver than I ever gave myself credit for. The instant I realized that I was meant to be a world traveler. I wanted the adventure. I wanted to live in the moment. It was the moment I realized that too many people die without doing the things they would have really liked to, hampered by fear of the unknown.

The instant that I discovered that living and traveling abroad, has changed me at my very core. That I will never be the same person I was when we left, but more. That I will constantly dream of other places in the world. Where we can go, when we can go, or go back. And the realization that the possibility of that, can disappear in an instant. Nothing is guaranteed.

My oldest turned 18 a little over a year ago, and I suddenly realize that he is “officially” an adult. We all know that this is relative. There is plenty more learning and maturing that will happen. But in an instant, I no longer have control of many aspects of his life. His medical records and decisions. His school records and grades. I can’t call in for him when he is sick.  I have to hope that we have raised him well enough to do the right thing, or that he will ask us for advice.

Those moments, because they happen now and then, when you hear of a tragedy. When  you remember that your mother, father, siblings, husband, children, and friends, are not going to be here forever. That they, or you, could be gone tomorrow.  When the phone rings at an unusual hour, and your heart jumps into your throat. That your family could be broken, in an instant.

These “instants” happen throughout our life. Some are wonderful. Marriage, baby, adoption. Travel, new job, new house. Some are pretty good. Raise, good grade, great game. Some are disheartening. Sickness, job loss, broken pipe. Some are devastating. All of these instances put together, make us who we are. They remind us of the important things, and help us put events into perspective. They are a reality check. Because you just never know what could happen…..in an instant.

 

 

 

 

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Reposting for no other reason than this is one of my favorite pictures, and I can use it with the new format.

If you haven’t realized it yet, I have named each of the recent posts about the children after hymns. They are all songs that bring me joy, just as my children do. They are God’s gift to me. Blessing from Heaven.

Our youngest child, Mei Mei, is known to most as Carleigh. When she was younger I called her our little spark plug. A firecracker. She was energetic, passionate, curious, stubborn, and fearless. She was as I have said before, taught by her older brother, so there is no other way she could be.

When we lived in China, she would get on the giant school bus, which was actually a touring bus, like she was in charge. Talking the minute her four-year old body climbed the steep steps, and not stopping until they arrived at their destination. She was a social butterfly. When she was home, she was stuck to me like glue. My tiny Asian sidekick, endlessly filling me in on what was going through her mind. She was never one to play with toys much, never cared for dolls, and only used her play kitchen and pots to store the chalkboard paint she peeled off her wall, or wet pull-ups she wore at night. If she hid those pull-ups and put on a dry one, she would be closer to the reward she would receive after a pre-determined number of dry days. Bringing up another of her traits. Sneaky and mischievous.

The sneaky part reminds me very much of myself as a child. If she wanted it, she would find a way to get it. I can’t tell you how many fruit snack wrappers I would find hidden in her room. We would buy them, and she would binge. This was troublesome mostly because a box of fruit snacks cost about $10 in Shanghai. Needless to say, we stopped buying them. On the mischievous side, one day, before we moved to China, she was supposed to be napping in her room. She was very quiet, so I assumed she was. Unfortunately, when I opened her door, she had taken a black magic marker and “outlined” every single thing she could in her room. Dresser drawer handles, parts of the door, toys, a carousel rocking horse and all of its details. One of many, many shocking but lovingly humorous memories of her younger years.

Carleigh loves everything fluffy and soft. Fluffy pillows and blankets, soft sweatshirts and fleeces. Blankets are the biggest obsession though. It’s hard for her to pass one up. The fluffier and softer, the better. Each one getting pushed down the line a little when a new one arrives, but all getting used and loved. Pillow pets and stuffed animals were her favorite toys, along with the blankets, when she was little.

She is still all, or most, of those things and more. She is passionate in both anger and joy, but sometimes she holds things in and let’s them simmer until they boil over. This tends to come out on Bill and I, Brennan, or on herself. I rarely get a snuggle, but she likes to lay with me while watching TV sometimes. Today, was one of those days. Cherished time with my baby girl. She loves watching anime with her biggest brother, Ethan. She is solidly a tweener, so she also enjoys hanging out by herself in her room reading or listening to music. She is trying to figure out who she is as a person, and doesn’t feel especially comfortable in her own skin right now. She is getting there though. Discovering who she is. Who she wants to be.

I hope she always knows that no matter what she does or who she chooses to be, she will always be my baby girl. Forever in my heart, all things bright and beautiful.

You Are Mine

It’s time to talk about my oldest son, Ethan. He will be 19 years old in less than a week. Where does the time go?!

Ethan was a fairly quiet and content baby. He would sit and play without getting into trouble for hours. As a toddler, he loved trains, books, and his blanket buddy, Lamby. He would play with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains, watch train shows, read books, or read books TO his Thomas trains. He was an early talker, and we could tell from a young age that he was very bright.

He has always been a very observant child. He soaks everything in, even when you think he’s not paying attention. As a child, teenager, and now an adult. He is aware of his eccentricities. Even as a young child he knew he was smart, and would test us. One of his favorite things to do would be to ask us a question. After we answered, he would respond with “well, actually……,” He will tell you himself, that he is socially awkward. He met his best friend in kindergarten, and they have been buddies ever since. That, along with his family, is enough for him.

He went to daycare for the first three years of his life, as I was still in the working world. He played with other kids, but was not extremely social. He had one boy in particular that he loved to play with. He preferred not to be in the spotlight. If there was circle time and he was called on to say something or do something at some point, he would disappear into his shell.

In grade school, we realized that he really was advanced, especially in math and science. He had more difficulty with creative writing activities, art and gym. You see, Ethan always saw things in black and white. Either it was right, or not. He was a perfectionist. He worried that his teacher wouldn’t be interested in what he wrote, drew, painted, etc. I could never convince him that it didn’t matter. It was about understanding the concept or lesson, not whether they found it interesting. In gym, he didn’t want attention directed at him, and like me, he was not athletically inclined.

In second grade, Ethan’s teacher expressed concern about his refusal to write in his journal. She suggested that we take him for counseling, to see if there was a reason behind it. My husband had said for some time that we should have him tested. He had some quirky behaviors, and Bill was worried that he was autistic. I always said that if he was, he was high functioning, and I didn’t want him labeled, but now it seemed like it was time to have him checked. He met with a therapist several times, and she felt he was fine, so we moved on, and continued to try to ease his fears of what others thought. He went to another before we moved abroad, and again, they said he was doing fine. No diagnosis.

From third grade on, Ethan had trouble getting homework done. Not because he didn’t understand it, but because he didn’t want to do it. It was a never-ending battle. He needed to be constantly reminded. He did wonderfully on tests, but if he had a homework assignment he didn’t agree with, or feel comfortable with, he wouldn’t do it. It was so hard to deal with, knowing the level of intelligence he possessed.

When we lived in Shanghai, a counselor noticed some of his quirky behaviors, knew of his homework difficulties, and asked to have him tested. The school psychologist conducted the testing, and again, it was determined that he was not autistic. Again, we moved on in life, and soon, back to the U.S. He finished high school, at the top IB school in the nation, and finished with a good GPA, considering all of his earlier difficulties.

In his junior year of high school, he started seeing a therapist again. We were hoping to help him deal with approaching adulthood. When he opened up to me, he was very aware of his issues, and exactly when they started to effect his schooling…way back in third grade. He wanted help too. After a year of counseling, his therapist told him she thought he had ADHD. Specifically ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder.) We had never thought this was possible, as he certainly could concentrate on something when he wanted to. And no one else had suggested this. His therapist told him that it was not an average case, and therefore, harder to identify. Shortly afterwards, he started medication. We would notice an immediate change.

Ethan will always be quirky. It’s how God made him. He would not be who he is without it. He has started his college career and is doing great. He is working toward medical school, or sometimes a career as a history professor, but most days, medical school. He has a job at a car dealership as a porter. He is doing what he needs to do, when he needs to do it….mostly. After all, he’s still my Ethan.

Be Not Afraid

Today, I want to talk about our second son, Brennan, who is now 15. It is hard for me to know how my active Crohn’s disease years, played in on our sons development. They were so young, but also at that age where they were learning the most, and developing at the fastest rate that they ever would. Due to how sick I was, Brennan got more snuggles than anything else, and I often wonder if that is why he’s my most empathetic child.

When Brennan was a toddler he was a happy kid, full of deep belly laughs. He never stopped moving, he was always busy enjoying life. He seemed to think he was unstoppable: Invincible. When he was a little older, and learned that the world wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns,  he started saying a personalized bedtime prayer. He made it up on his own and faithfully said it every night, at least once, but more on less confident days.  My favorite part of the prayer was when he asked God to protect his family from natural disasters or getting thugged. We are a quietly religious family, and never really pushed bedtime prayers,  he did it all on his own. To this day he still says a prayer when he feels it is needed, although I do believe he has revised it a bit.

At the age of five, when Mei Mei came home, he was absolutely ecstatic. He’s always loved babies, so having a baby sister was the ultimate gift for him. At least at the age of five, because let’s  be honest, siblings don’t always get along. When she came home he taught her to crawl then walk. It was a very fast transition, as Chinese babies tend to be a little behind at first, but catch up quickly. He also taught her baby sign language. They played together all the time. They had a very close bond for years. When I see that peek out every now and then, despite the tension of one at the beginning of puberty, and one at the end, my heart melts.

At 15, he still gives plenty of hugs and says I love you everyday. He is the first to question if someone is okay, or ask if you need help. He talks to me about the good, the bad, and the ugly in his life, without prompting. What parent doesn’t cherish that time with their son or daughter?! He is also me, as a teenager, in boy form, new and improved. He reminds me of myself so much it hurts sometimes, but it also makes me proud. He’s a responsible student, and never has to be reminded of school work, is very funny, and never feels the need to come back at people with a nasty retort if they choose to be cruel to him. His confidence at this age far outweighs what mine was.

He has a love of life that I wish I had at his age, but I wish he didn’t worry about his future as much as he does. He has pondered over what he is going to do with his life, and how good his grades are, since 6th grade. I wish he had waited a few more years for those concerns. You don’t get those worry-free childhood years back. I know this is a result of our four years living abroad when he was between the ages of 8 and 12 (these years will be discussed in future posts), as those worldly experiences definitely influenced our children. I also wouldn’t change those years for anything. They helped form who Brennan is today.

Today was Brennan’s day. I am blessed with three children. They are my heart and soul. I cannot say enough, how proud I am of them.