Sunday, November 18, 2018

Part of Their World

I woke Saturday morning and, as has become my custom, I scrolled through Facebook before getting out of bed. That's when I learned that Eli, who recently turned 5 years old after having been diagnosed with anencephaly before birth, had passed away.  I knew he was sick, but still, this seemed to happen more suddenly than when Baby Vitoria, Baby Pearce, or Baby Angela passed away.  In the 7 years since Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly, our community has lost so many special children.  When our babies survive for years, the rest of the community tends to live vicariously through his or her parents.  At a meet n' greet held earlier in the year, parents who had lost their children years ago were able to hold Eli, and through him, hold their baby one more time.  It's hard to explain how much they mean to us - Because it's hard to even explain to most people what it is like to lose a child.  It is inexplicable, and unimaginable. 

I got up, and went about my day with a heavy heart.   

The girls had dance class.  A new girl was in their class, probably about Eden's age.  Her dad sat among the other parents, holding his two other children in his lap.  One of them was a girl, apparently about Delilah's age.  She clapped with delight and narrated the dancers' actions. She laughed at Delilah, who just sorta does her own thing for most of the class.  She moved her arms to show that she could do what the other dancers were doing.  So, I asked her father, "Why isn't she in dance?  She is probably old enough."  He answered, "Well, she's. . ." and he gestured, but I wasn't sure what he meant.  Her mother filled in the gaps, pointing at a small wheelchair.  The little girl doesn't have use of her legs.  Embarrassed and sad, I tried to keep my foot out of my mouth for the rest of class.  In my heart, I know her parents weren't offended or angry with me.  But I know they probably experienced a little sting in their hearts, mourning for the things there little girl would never get to do.  I know, because I have felt the sting in a very different set of circumstances.  

After class I took Eden for her first haircut at a little turn 'em and burn 'em SuperCuts type of salon.  Her hairdresser, Lily, graciously saved the hair she trimmed for Eden and put it in an envelope for me.  She smiled with a whimper when she saw my tears, probably thinking that I was crying because my little girls was growing up and an inch was being trimmed from her long, beautiful hair.  She couldn't have known that I was thinking about the lock of hair from Gabriel, tucked away in his memory box, cut as we prepared his body for transfer to the funeral home.  

We had a quick lunch at home, and I loaded the girls in the car for a quick trip to the park.  There were very few children on the playground, and the girls immediately rushed to the closest play structure, where another little girls was playing and being monitored by her teenage brother.  It took me a second to realize that the gray sweatpants she was wearing were no covering her legs, but two small stubs where her legs would be.  She was moving herself around using her stubs, one longer than the other, and her arms.  Still, she was able to haul herself onto the equipment and use the slides.  "She's pretty amazing, huh?" I said to her brother.  He smiled, and said thanks.  The interaction must have caused her to take notice of me, because she crawled over to my feet and smiled.  I learned that her name was also Lily.  Her brother was loving and doting, but also a teenager, and I could tell he was on some sort of conference call with a girl.  I asked if it was okay to play with her, and he said yes, so I watched her, Eden, and Delilah climb and play on the slide.  Lily asked me to catch her at the bottom of the slide, and she smiled with so much joy when I did.  She chased me, I chased her, she let me hold her to help her with one of the toys.  The park has a baby swing that has a regular swing attached, allowing mothers to face their baby and swing with them.  Lily's brother put Lily in the baby swing and swung with her for a bit, but when Delilah approached he allowed her to take his seat, and he pushed them both on the swing while he kept up his video call.  The tears welled in my eyes, watching Lily and Delilah sit face to face, swinging contentedly, and as always happens in moments like these, I could see the shadow of the 7 year old boy who should have been with us that day.  

The day was full strange coincidences.  Two Lillies.  Two little girls who couldn't walk, couldn't run with legs like most of us have.  

A birthday party was being hosted at the park that day, with a mermaid theme.  For personal reasons I have become more enamoured with the movie "The Little Mermaid" than I was even as a little girl, so my mind drifted easily to the song "Part of Your World." I wondered if either of the little girls I met that day wondered what it would be like to walk, to run like a "normal" person. I wondered if I had it in me to care for a special needs child for 5 years, like Eli's parents did.  I know that I will tell you firmly that I would take my child here with me, even with special needs, any day, but I also know that is quite easy to say when you are not living the struggle that those parents live, and your heart isn't breaking for the things your baby will never get to do.  

Recently I was asked to imagine seeing Gabriel again.  I always see him with a bandage on his open skull.  I always see him as he was here.  That's who he is, to me.  That's who I love.  But my faith teaches me that he is whole now, that Lily will be hole, that the girl in dance class will walk.  They will walk, they will run - God has made a place for them, and for us, that is beyond what we can imagine.  Despite our legs and our abilities and our good health that we enjoy here, we are not whole ourselves.  I long to be with Gabriel, with Eli, with the friends and family I've lost - A part of their world. 

Dedicated to Elijah Sly, Warrior.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Every Heartbeat Bears Your Name

I'll never forget that day, 8 years ago today.  I can close my eyes and see the orientation of the room, remember the direction my feet were facing.  I was just under 10 weeks pregnant with Gabriel, but since health care professionals count the two weeks leading up to conception as part of the gestational period, really, it had only been 8 weeks since he was conceived.

"It's still early, so I don't want you to worry if we don't hear anything."  I couldn't agree to that, having miscarried less than 6 months earlier, but I nodded. The Doppler wand had barely hit my abdomen when a smile stretched across her face.  "There it is."

The tears flowed freely from my eyes.

I didn't know then, how many tears I would shed over the course of the pregnancy, and during the short life of my baby boy.  I didn't know that he had already begun to grow deformed, that the hourglass had already been turned.  I prayed for God to send me this child, but I forgot to pray for a perfectly formed skull.

What I did know in that moment was that he was strong.  He was there, he was alive, he was my baby.  He was created in the image and likeness of God, a human being, ensouled from the moment of conception, and long a part of God's plan for this earth.

I'm sure it wasn't coincidence that in the few years before Gabriel's birth, God lit a fire inside of me for the unborn.  My voice grew brave and loud and I thought, I could never be silenced on the issue of abortion again as long as I was alive.  And that fire burned in me while the words "incompatible with life" were hurled at my heart, and while I lay in the labor and delivery unit for two days, and as I drove my son home under hospice's care, and while I held my smiling baby boy in my arms, while I cradled him in his sleep, and when I held him in his last hours through seizures.  When his tiny heart stopped beating, I feel like mine did too, but just for a moment.  It jumped started again, alive with passion for my son's legacy and a hunger to help the world to see the value of each human life.

I still feel that fire inside of me, but I'm tired.  I cry for the lives lost in abortion, and I cry for our fallen world.  I feel hopeless.  I'm worried most people won't see the heinousness of this injustice until it is too late, until we are standing before God trying to explain why we allowed this to happen.

"If you don't like abortion, don't have one."  Well, okay.  I won't.  But what am I doing to help the world to see that no one "has" to have an abortion?  That in addition to ending the life of that unborn child, with every abortion we do damage to our own souls.  We pit mothers against children, and we call it a right, when it is oh, so wrong.  We sell it to our women as a solution, instead of assuring them that there is no problem with bringing a new life into the world.

Someone asked me yesterday, in furtherance of her justification as to why it is okay that she is Catholic and vociferously pro-choice, how many unwanted children I care for.  That's what it's come down to:  If I can't fix the world, I shouldn't argue that it shouldn't be destroyed.  It's absolutely illogical.  And it's discouraging, and it weighs on me, and I start to think maybe I should just fold and be silent and let the world have its abortions and trust that God knows I know that it's not what He wants.  The thought of hearing, "You should have done more," eternity with my son out of reach, is unbearable.

We all know social media is no place to debate.  I guess sometimes, I just can't help myself.  I can't see lies and misinformation about the most critical injustice of our time, and let them be.

I don't get to kiss my son goodnight, I don't get to pack his lunch or wash his laundry or drive him to school.  I have some pictures and a lock of hair and a footprint to cling to, and a hope that his life will continue to change hearts. His heart doesn't beat here anymore, but with every beat of mine I carry him with me and I just pray that someday, for all that I've done wrong and still do wrong, I will get to stand before God and hear those words we should all long to hear: "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Thursday, September 27, 2018

He Said, She Said. I Listened.

If you are just tuning in to my inconsequential life, here's what you missed:  On May 7, 2001, when I was 19 years old, I was raped by two men while a third man sat and watched.  I knew the two who raped me, but had never met the third guy.  I believe the second guy to rape me was a ringleader, and that the event wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been there.  I waver between being really angry with that third guy, and understanding him because I was too scared to fight for myself so why should I expect more of him?

Today has been a hard day.  I felt a bit dramatic this morning, being so effected by the testimony of Christine Blassy Ford.  As the day went on I learned through social media that I wasn't the only one, that this was a trigger for a lot of women.  Coincidentally, I was scheduled for a counseling appointment at noon, before Brett Kavanaugh had testified.  She told me many of her clients had shared similar feelings in the last couple of weeks.

I'm having trouble because I want to believe them both, and maybe they are both to be believed.  Maybe she misidentified her attacker, or maybe he really doesn't remember and if that's the case, and if he's never done anything like that again, then I don't think he's a terrible person.  And I don't think I'm a terrible person for thinking that.

This is the problem, right now.  If I say I don't think he's terrible if that's what happened, I feel like a traitor.  Like I am supposed to want him to suffer forever for what might have happened 36 years ago, before he was even an adult, but I can't say that is what I would want.  I went to law school because I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney, I love criminal procedure, i love the checks and balances of due process, I love the presumption of innoncence, and I believe our flawed system to still be the best in the world.  In some ways, I think I will never be able to give him a fair shake because I was able to catch at least part of her testimony live, and on television, and his I have still only heard over the radio.

But here's where I get tangled up - If he's guilty, I can forgive him, but if he's guilty, I want to hear him say it.  I want him to admit to what he did, and I want him to promise that he has never done it again and never will.

He hasn't done that.

So either he is deceiving us all, or he is telling the truth, and she's lying, or she is incorrect in her recollection.  And especially if she is lying, then I will feel like a fool for saying, "There's many reasonable explanations as to why she did not tell."  She was scared.  She was ashamed.  She just wanted to move on.  It wasn't rape.  It's something she should get over.  It's not worth the fight.  I'll feel like a fool for saying "There's many reasons she waited until now."  He is about to be appointed to the highest court in the land.  It is unlikely his reach will ever grow beyond what it would be from that bench.  Better late than never.

I believe all of those things.

Most people don't know the identity of the men who raped me.  I only know the first name of the first guy, but I know him when I see him - And I've seen him.  I could tell you the first and last name of the second guy, the ringleader.  I've shared it with a few people, but I once made the mistake of sharing it with the wrong person.  The next thing I knew, he was sitting in my bar, ordering a screwdriver from me, chatting with me as though we were old friends.  So why did you serve him, you ask?  I;m either really weak or really strong, because I just couldn't, or wouldn't fight with him.  I guess that all depends on how you think I am supposed to act as a victim - or a survivor - of sexual assault.

Today I looked up his criminal history on the Kern County website.  Since he raped me he pled no contest to an unrelated violent crime, and he has had one domestic violence restraining order.  I feel guilty, because I wonder how things would be different, and for whom, if i had reported him.  I wonder if he had hurt someone before me.  I've recently read that women who don't report should be considered guilty of a crime too, but the law doesn't really work that way.  The law doesn't generally tell us what we have to do, it tells us what we cannot do.  We can't go around raping people

Did you read that?  You can't go around raping people.  It's not okay.  Its illegal.  It's illegal because it infringes on the rights of another.  You don't get to intentionally put your hands or your penis on or in someone who says no, or someone who is resisting you, or someone who hasn't expressed to you that she or he wants your physical contact.  Your right to your bodily autonomy ends where mine begins.

Speaking of, that's the whole concern for prolife advocates.  Your right to your body begins where another's fragile, voiceless, defenseless life begins.  I wanted Brett Kavanaugh to be our next Supreme Court Justice, because I believe he will rule consistently in favor of the rights of the unborn and that issue is critical to me.  I don't want him to be guilty, but if he's not, I am afraid of what that means for me.What if the day comes that i have to tell?

People standing at either extreme are going to say that is exactly what the other side wants.

I'm just seeking the truth, and I don't think we'll ever get it here, but what I think is that we have to be honest in our search for the truth.  Reasonable minds might reach different conclusions but I suspect the journey is what matters.

Throughout the day I had a lot of thoughts on what I would write tonight, but most of them couldnt make their way to my fingertips.  So in the next few days I plan to look for the two most honest pieces I have written about being raped.  One is called "Orange Dreams" and one is called "The Night I Died." I wrote them both in the two years following my rape.  I had moved away to San Diego - Knowing I was going to move soon was one of the reasons that I chose not to report and in some ways I escaped, but in other ways, lost in a big and unfamiliar city, I had the freedom to be honest.  I love those pieces because they show a pain that hasn't been demonstrated here.  Being raped changed my life.  It didn't just hurt me, but it hurt my family.  And I don;t just mean my parents and siblings then.  I will never know how my relationship with my husband and daughter today would be different if that had never happened.  I don't get to know that, because I was raped when I was 19 years old, and you don't know who those men are, or where they've gone, but they did it.  I had my chance to report them, and I didn't take it, and the consequence is that they have not been punished for what they did to me and I run the risk that i have to encounter them at any given moment.  I respect - I love - the process enough to protect their names, and I am not sure what it would take to make me give that up.  What I do know is that 17 years have passed, but what they did was as wrong today as it was yesterday.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Me & A Gun

If you haven't heard the song, take a few minutes.

It still makes me cry and maybe doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, unless you;ve been in a situation where you have had to check out, go somewhere else, just to get through it.

But that's not really what I want to talk about today.

About three months ago, I took a ladies' handgun course as part of the 10 day celebration of Gabriel's life.  The challenge for the day was to step outside of your comfort zone.  I had never fired a gun, only held one very few times, and to say the class and the opportunity to fire 8 different handguns took me outside of my comfort zone is an understatement.

I'm not asking you to think it's rational, but I hate guns.  I am not asking you to agree, but I know that if Sean didn't have a gun in his home, he wouldn't have died the day that he did.  And you can give me the perfunctory response, that people who are suicidal will find a way to kill themselves, but I will give you my perfunctory response, which is that suicide by gun is one of the most effective ways to kill yourself - More so than hanging, overdosing, slashing your wrists, or jumping from high places.  People who shoot themselves are dead before they even know they've pulled the trigger.  So yeah, maybe someday Sean would have killed himself anyway.  But if he didn't have that gun, he'd have to set up a noose, and that's a pain in the ass.  Or he would have to make up his mind and then go out and find an adequate number of drugs, and in the interim someone might say something to talk him down.  And slitting wrists just wasn't a very Sean thing to do.  Guns were a Sean thing, and a perfectly legitimate thing for him to have in his home.  How very poetic for him to be holding it when he died.

These were the things running through my mind as I sat in class on a Friday evening for approximately two hours of lecture and one hour on the range, including dry shooting 12 handguns followed by live shooting of 8 handguns.  More than once during our class, the instructor looked at me and asked me if I was okay.  Somehow, during a break, it was revealed that I identify as a "liberal" and I was asked what brought a liberal to a handgun course.  I told him that maybe people who identify one way don't have to fit his stereotype, and he seemed to accept that.  I was an excellent student in the classroom, taking diligent notes that I still have on a legal pad. 

When we got to dry shooting, I struggled.  There was a lot to remember and a lot to coordinate with my body and that kind of stuff doesn't come naturally to me.  The guns were heavy.  I had a hard time remembering to keep my finger off the trigger, which is still strange to me because it seemed to be instinct to slip my finger on to the trigger even though I have no experience with guns.  And they tell you to always assume a gun is loaded, which meant around me there were 11 other loaded guns and a bunch of women who had no experience in using them.  But, I managed.

Then it was time for live shooting.  We were able to select a stall with the gun we preferred for dry shooting.  It all happened really fast.  Through my ear protection I could hear the muffled sounds of the instructor telling us to square up, aim, and fire, and the next thing I knew, faster than I realized, I had pulled and there was a bullet hole well above the shoulder of my target, missing the human outline completely, and the tears were streaming down my cheeks.  A ring hovered in the air, probably not for very long at all, but long enough to take me back to that day that I pulled into the parking lot of Sean's apartment complex, ran to his studio apartment, peaked through the blinds, and began pounding the window and tearing it open.

"I have to get out of here."

"What?  Why? Are you okay?"

"I have to get out of here."

I was directed to a booth where I could observe the rest of the live shooting, if I wanted to, and I chose to do so.

Later, the instructor told me the gun I had fired was the most powerful of the eight we were shooting.  It was a Glock 23 in 40 caliber.  Maybe I should have started with something more manageable.

But that wasn't the problem.  The problem is, I hated holding the ability to take a life in my hands.  I have seen too many lives end to want that kind of responsibility.  I've brought life into the world three times, and that's what I prefer to do.  And I don't want to drink myself into a stupor and blow my own head off someday and when considering the possibility of A) Live shooter, B) Armed intruder, or C) Drunken Suicide, C seems the most likely to arise.

Maybe someday I will find myself in a situation, wishing I learned to fire a weapon and had a permit to carry one concealed.  I hope not, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.  Maybe I would be a different person today if I had a gun back when it was me dreaming of Barbados and the soft sweet biscuits of Carolina and the Senior Prom and whatever I had to think about to survive being raped.

What I do know is that who I am today, is not someone who wishes to carry a gun.

My mom asked me I would do something, knowing it would upset me.  Well, I didn't know it would upset me as much as it did.  I also think being afraid of something isn't a good reason to not do something - Even though there are a lot of things I don't do because I am afraid.

I don't get to say anymore, "I've never fired a gun," and that's changed me because that fact was such a significant part of who I was.  For the first few days after, I thought I had compromised myself by undertaking that experience but I don't feel that way anymore.  I chose to challenge myself and I what I've thought for years I now know with certainty:  I hate guns, and I don't want to shoot one again.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Blue Is My Color

Define irony: 1) Ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife; 2) I've got the booze, she's got the chronic, AND the Lakers beat the Supersonics; 3) Being "anti-choice," and not given a choice.

I would absolutely describe myself as anti-choice when the choice is whether or not to have an abortion, because I don't believe that should ever be a choice. 

The irony stems from the fact that for the last year and a half, it has been my choice to have another child.  Neither my choice, nor physical disability, have prohibited this from happening. Rather, it is someone else's choice that stands in my way. 


I long for another child. For seven years this blog has been a platform for my heart's fears and desires, and for seven years readers have followed me from the death of my child, to my dreams for another, to the realization of not one but two rainbow babies.  But I have now reached the biggest gap in any of my four pregnancies.  3 months between Baby Cude and Gabriel.  2 years and 3 months between Gabriel and Eden.  9 months between Eden and Delilah.  And Delilah is now 2 years and 8 months old.

My heart and my eyes cry daily for another child.  I do not NOT have another child for lack of longing or for disability, but as a product of choice.

The black fly in my chardonnay. 

Blue is my color.  It's in every step and every breath I take.  My soul seeks my missing children even while it meets the obligations before it.  I hate to say that I am looking for a tie breaker, but I will concede that I am conflicted.  My heart cries out to be with the children that are a part of me, yet so far away.  The longing is powerful.  Overwhelming sometimes. 

Yet here I am.  Blue.  Sad.  Incomplete. Heartbroken.  Giving kisses.  Giving hugs.  Loving.  Living. Brushing hair.  Brushing teeth.  Buckling shoes.  Changing diapers.  Buckling car seats.  Admiring crafts.  Reading books.  Singing songs. Feeling the weight of children lost, children never to be, but still walking. Feeling the weight of every step, but forcing myself to take it.  A free ride, but I've already paid.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ten Days that Changed the World - Seven Years of Sisterhood

This year to celebrate Gabriel's 10 days of life, I wanted to celebrate some of the wonderful women I have met on this journey since Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly 7 years ago. June 10, 2018 - Gabriel's Birthday!  It is only fitting that this day I honor my due date buddy Jenny Lees, whose son Palmer was born 10 days before Gabriel on June 1, 2011.  Palmer's heart valves were donate, saving the life of another child.  In Palmer's honor I will be donating blood the following Monday, June 11, 2018.  I invite you to join me in donating.  Local friends, I also invite you to celebrate Mass with me at Christ the King, at 9:30 AM.  Although I was too late to have him included in rememberances, my family and I will certainly be celebrating Mass for Gabriel.

June 11, 2018 - Gabriel's One Day.  This day I want to honor a group of young women who were in their teens/early 20s when their babies were diagnosed with anencephaly.  I still think of them as babies, though they are strong, young, amazing women and mothers:  Lacy Sanchez, Holley Billet, Keely Riffe and Katie Green. In honor of Kolton, KayLynn, Noella, and Lhiam, I will be donating some items to Dress for Success, an organization that assists low-income women in wardrobe needs to help them improve their job opportunities.  I invite you to do something similar for your local Dress for Success, women's shelter, or crisis pregnancy center.  I was motivated to choose these ladies on this day because my "baby" sister, now 20 years old, will be visiting Vanguard University, where she will begin classes in the fall, on this day.  How I look up to the inspirational young women in my life.

*We also have cupcakes every year on this day, to celebrate Gabriel "turning 1."  We never got to have a first birthday with him - One day will have to last us a lifetime.  I invite you to enjoy a cupcake too.

June 12, 2018 - I love baseball.  I have for years, and it's that thing that I thought I would share with my son someday.  This year, at 62 games into the season, my favorite team has performed spectacularly.  Mitch Haniger, who last year had the best rookie season in Mariners history, went on a home run streak early in the season.  In May, James Paxton threw a no-hitter.  In June, the Mariners are leading the AL West, and are third in the American League overall.  Despite their success, I haven't seen a game all season.  Early on I verbalized to many that I didn't have a lot of hope for the season, and as they started looking better and better I was afraid if I tuned in to watch them, my early skepticism would jinx this winning team.  But even while I said, "This isn't the year," somewhere in my heart I always believe this will be the year.  Eliana. The Lord hears our prayers.  Even when they are just a whisper of the heart.  This day will be day 2 of a critical series for the Mariners against the Angels.  So on this day I honor Melanie Larsen Sinouthasy and her daughter Eliana.  The Lord heard Melanie's prayers and let her family keep Eliana through Christmas.  The Lord heard my prayers and sent my Eden Eliana.  Say your prayers, cross your fingers, and hope with me for a Mariners win, or anything else that seems hopeless.  Feel free to send my your intentions publicly or privately, and I will keep you and your hopes in my prayers.

June 13, 2018 - School is out for summer but when you're a lawyer or a doctor, school never really ends, and all you ever do is "practice."  Though not teachers by trade, three special women that I have met through the anencephaly community, Missy Hilzdenger, Lucy George, and Bethany Conkel, have used their experiences to teach and educate others including the medical community about anencephaly, carrying twins to term when one is anencephalic, and neonatal donation.  People seem to be afraid to ask questions about anencephaly or our babies - What was the pregnancy like, did the baby move in utero, did the baby breath, urinate, eat, make noise?  Don't be afraid - We love to talk about our children.  I invite you to celebrate this day and Gracie, Christopher and Amalya by learning about anencephaly or by reading the story of one of the children on the website.  I'd love for you to share what you learn with me!

June 14, 2018 - Something I distinctly remember about this particular day in Gabriel's life is that we really thought we were going to lose him.  He seemed to be struggling, and we were thankful for the four days we had with him.  The knowledge that your child could pass at any minute is stressful, but reminds you how delicate life is, and that it's not in our hands.  For nearly 4 years, Sonia and Rony Morales lived with this knowledge as they loved and cared for their daughter Angela, who passed away in December.  They have inspired me with their dedication to God's Will.  Trusting God is what we are called to do, yet trusting what we cannot see is so hard to do.  God is all around us, loving us and guiding us.  George Strait sings "I know He's here but I don't look near as often as I should.  His fingerprints are everywhere.  I just look down and stop and stare, open my eyes and then I swear I saw God today." On this day, look for God's fingerprints around you.

June 15, 2018 - I've scheduled myself to do something very challenging this day: For the first time in my life, I will fire a gun.  I've enrolled in a ladies' handgun course and will spend 4 hours learning about and testing 12 different handguns.  This is HUGE for me - Because when I see a gun, hear a gun, think of a gun, I think of the gun lying next to Sean when I found his lifeless body after he had killed himself.  I think of the many desperate and hopeless times in my life, the times I've thought very seriously about ending it all and even now, the times that I know I won't end it all but also know that depression is something I will battle my whole life - A life that I still expect to be long and full.  This day I will honor Keri Harris Kitchen and her daughter Carys Rainn, a twin with anencephaly. Keri is a LMFT who has faced her own struggles even while helping others through theirs.  She's written and published a book, a huge milestone for her, which is why, in addition to her work in mental health, I have chosen to dedicate this day to Keri and Carys.  On this day, try to jump your own hurdle.

June 16, 2018 - The threads of our lives weave together in ways we didn't anticipate.  20 years ago when I was in high school with Melissa Pankey, whose name I knew only through mutual friends, I had no idea that I would become friends with Melissa Wiggins, my former classmate now married, when her daughter Imogen was diagnosed with anencephaly.  I have wanted to plant violets to honor Imogen Violet Wiggins for some time - And Bakersfield in June is no time and place for such an endeavor.  But this year I think I'm going to take a chance.

June 17, 2018 - Father's Day. On this day I will take a step back from honoring the very special mothers that I've met through my journey, and honor some very special fathers.  I will honor God our Father, and "I will praise the One who's chosen me to carry you," and the trust He had in me in selecting me to be Gabriel's mother.  I will celebrate my own dad, who loved my little boy SO MUCH and was prepared to retire to care for him, if the need arose.  And I will celebrate my husband, who took a chance on a single mother to a deceased child, who loved my broken heart, and who has given me two beautiful rainbows.

June 18, 2018 - This year marks the 18th birthday for Anouk and Makenna - The daughters of two very special women who have had tremendous impact on the anencephaly community.  For 18 years they have been aware of, and as a result, raising awareness for anencephaly.  Monkia Jaquier founded the site, which is one of the top links one is provided when they do a search for anencphaly on Google.  Because of her work, families facing this diagnosis have information to provide hope, rather than fear, when their worlds are shattered by this devastating news.  Amy Hale has founded Makenna's Memorials, through which she creates memorial pictures to honor anencephalic babies.  To celebrate 18 years following the short but meaningful lives of Anouk and Makenna, and their amazing mothers who have done so much to change our world, I invite you to find a way to change the world today.  We are small in the grand scheme of things, but the little things we do can be huge to someone else.

June 19, 2018 - Day 10 was reserved, but I wanted to celebrate a special mother of 10, Tabitha Say, whose daughter Elizabeth was born in May 2011, the year Gabriel was born.  Elizabeth was Tabitha's 6th child and first girl.  I admire Tabitha, who has a life I have dreamed of but don't think I could handle. She is a stay at home mother to 9 living children, and manages to treat them all as the unique human beings that they are.  She is witty and intelligent and hard working, an incredible wife and mother.  The work of stay at home mom's is immeasurable - It doesn't contribute to our GDP and doesn't get the credit it deserves, though I believe our culture has come a long way in its appreciation for the value of stay at home mothers and fathers.  Our culture certainly doesn't appreciate large families as we should.  On this day, think of a large family you know and consider the struggle and sacrificeof such a family in these times, and consider helping them in some way.

June 20, 2018 - After 10 days, God called my sweet boy home and shortly after that, he sent a special woman and her very special little boy into my life.  Kelly Alvstad's baby boy Andrew has become Gabriel's brother from another mother.  Born at 3:20 compared to Gabriel's 3:19, on January 10, 2012 compared to Gabriel's June 10, 2011, Andrew also lived 10 days, passing on January 20, 2012.  Through Kelly, I held my son again, and through Kelly, I let my son go again.  Every year we celebrate together and every year we grieve together.  I will release balloons again this year for Gabriel, as I do every year, and just as we have done for 7 years now, I know that somewhere in Montana, Kelly will share my joy and my pain.  As always, I invite you all to join me in releasing a balloon or lantern to celebrate with me the day Gabriel was called to sainthood.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bitches be Starting Shit

Quite inadvertently, I gained a reputation as a badasss.

On an unsuspecting Wednesday night I trickled into Amestoy's for the first time in well over a year.  The bar was busy, the walls rattling from the music of the DJ.  Surprisingly, to me at least, was that most of the patrons were Black.  I don't really care - It's just that I live in East Bakersfield, where most of the population is Hispanic and among them, I barely qualify as Hispanic too.

Most of the crowd was dancing so there were plenty of open places at the bar and as I took one, the bartender grabbed my hand and asked how I had been.  I just stared.

"You don't remember me."

I don't.

"We went to high school together?"

"Oh, yes," I feigned.

"And I know your brother."

"Of course.  Remind me of your name?"

"Tim.  Timmy.  Like your brother."

No bells resound.

"Yes, that's right.  Hi.  Corona, please."

The DJ is sounding off about this mother fucking this and this mother fucking that.  It's Candice's birthday, so let's all give it up for Candice.  I take a sip of my beer as the crowd hollers, then parts.  On the pool table I see a make shift altar, with a poster sized photo of a young, beautiful girl, and candles.  I realize that Candice is dead.  Shortly thereafter, i realize that the DJ is Candice's father.

"Let's go release these balloons for Candice."

The crowd gathers the mylar balloons and walks through the front door.  I observe, drink in hand, as they count down and then I see the streamers part from their hands, moving upwards, as the balloons are released.  I few uncontrolled tears trickle down my cheeks.

The attendants make their way back inside and a man starts shouting at me from across the bar.  The woman with him is trying to calm him, and I am not sure he is talking to me.  There's a man standing beside me, running interference.  I keep asking, "What? What?" and the man keeps shouting.  Finally, I can hear him. "Are you starting shit with me?" The man running interference says, "You should ignore him, he's drunk."  I calculate.  The woman with him seems pretty solid.  There are two other patrons, plus the man next to me, between us.  I;m not trying to start shit.  But if he is, he's got to get over some hurdles.  Ultimately, he defuses, and the night goes on.

Tim comes around the bar and sits next to me with his glass of water, and tells me about life since high school.  He says that he has heard about me having been a bartender at the Wright Place for a long time now.  His customers are last-calling themselves, dissapating as a bartender always hopes.

A drunk woman walks up. "Bitches are always starting shit with me. What am I supposed to do? Ignore them?"

"Yes, ignore them," Tim says, and her boyfriend assists her out of the bar.

"Bitches are always starting shit with me too," I joke. "I'm just kidding.  No one starts shit with me."

"Well, I'm a dude and I wouldn't start shit with you.  Seriously.  You give off that vibe."

I stare for a minute.  "Yeah. I guess not."

"No one wants to start shit with you."

I'm pretty happy with this revelation.  I rarely walk into any place doing anything but pretending to be something I am not.  I am not brave.  I am not tough. Last night I promised Delilah I would rock her for one song.  ONE song.  Three songs, plus one abridged, later, I tucked her in her crib.  A couple hours after that when a frightened Eden called to me from her monitor, I invited her into my bed, where she consumed my pillow and my blankets and generally made me irrelevant.  Nearly any time they beckon, I will be on call. Just a few minutes before, I was slinking into the grocery store ten minutes before close to make sure the girls had flavored milk for their breakfast. They do love flavored milk.

The bar has been almost completely evacuated.  It's just me, Tim, the DJ and one of his friend.  The two of them approach the bar.  I am ready to go, so I turn to the DJ and say, "I am really sorry about your daughter."

"Thank you."

"I lost my son when he was ten days old.  I know it's not the same, but -"

"But you know how it feels." He grabs me, and hugs me fiercely, tears in his eyes.

"She was really beautiful."

"She was.  She wouldn't let anyone see her or take her picture when she had the cancer.  She wanted everyone to see her like this."

"Well, she was beautiful."

He hugs me again, and I leave.  He will not likely remember me tomorrow, but I will remember him.  Perhaps more importantly, I will remember Candice, a beautiful girl that I never knew, who was stolen by cancer, but who is remembered with love and loyalty.

Happy would-be 31st birthday, Candice.