Monday, August 22, 2016

The Grind



Maybe, if I lay very still. . .

But it's too late.  Eden has already heard Marcos downstairs, and she's taken this as her signal that it's time to start the day.  I know she's on her way, so I roll over and glance at the clock on my phone - 5:45 - before she appears at my bedside. I turn to look at her and see my pile of hair and remember that last night was hair washing night, which means this morning is hair straightening morning.  I've got to stop planning my Monday mornings this way.

"Good morning baby bear."

"Momma.  Let's go downstairs."  She replaces her soggy lovey with the bear head back in her mouth and stands there, clutching her blanket.  Neither are supposed to leave her room, but since she realized she can get herself out of bed and down the hall in the morning, all bets are off.

"Why don't you lay in momma's bed for a minute with Mr. Bear."

"No.  I want to go downstairs."  I stagger towards the bathroom, toying with the possibility of just tying my hair into a sloppy ponytail.  After all, it's Monday, there's a lot going on in the office today, but none of it involves my appearance in a court proceeding.  Maybe I can even skip make-up today.  But when I turn on the light and I'm greeted by the frizzy tangle of hair I realize not straightening it today is not an option.  No one else will care, really, but every time I walk into the bathroom and see my reflection, that feeling of defeat and self-loathing will overcome me again.  I've finally reached a point where people seem to ask if I am pregnant again only once a week, compared to daily.  I'm starting to look like a person again, instead of a zombie.  No sense in ruining that streak.

I manage to straighten one of the five sections of hair that I've methodically developed over the years before Eden's chatter wakes up Delilah, and we can hear her on the monitor.

"Delilah's awake!  Let's go check on her!"

"No, Eden, let's give her a minute. . ." but she's already dashed off down the hall and over the monitor I can hear Delilah's door creak open and Eden say to her, "It's okay Delilah."  I sigh at my reflection and turn off the straightening iron before collecting Delilah from her bed and heading downstairs.

When we get to the kitchen I see that Marcos has already started warming Delilah's bottle.  I change her diaper and set her on the floor to play with Eden while I start Eden's breakfast.  With Marcos' assistance I manage to get Eden set up at the table to eat her oatmeal while I settle down with Delilah for a bottle.  Marcos kisses our goodbyes, and he's out the door and for a few minutes I enjoy Eden's happy response to the cubes of cheese I've put on her breakfast plate this morning, and Delilah's head on my chest as she drinks her bottle.  I know that she is on the cusp of ditching at least one of her four daily bottles, and I am worried it will be one of only two that I get to offer her on a daily basis.  Soon, Eden is telling me that she's finished and she wants to get out of her chair.  I ask her to wait while I finish feeding Delilah, but she won't and before I can stop her she's rattling the chair to free herself and in the instant before she's slid from the chair to the ground I imagine her tumbling backwards and striking her head against the wall just right, like some Million Dollar Baby moment, paralyzing her for life.  But she lands safely and scampers off to play.  Delilah has finished her bottle, and is struggling to get from my arms to the floor.  Our brief harmony is over, and so I say to Eden, "Come on, Eden Bear.  Let's go upstairs and get ready for our day."

"No Momma.  I'm just going to stay down here.  I'm going to watch Dora the Explorer."

"No, no Dora this morning.  You know we don't watch cartoons in the morning, we watch the news.  Come upstairs."

"No Momma."  Delilah is hanging from my arms, laughing at our interaction.  I run her upstairs to my room and set her down, careful to lock the baby gate behind me as I head back down for Eden.  I find Eden in the baby bouncer, her new favorite place to be.  She's so tall that really, once she's in the harness, there's not much for her to do but kneel.  I pull her from the chair and set her down, asking her to come upstairs, but instead she runs into the living room and throws herself onto the floor.  "I'm just going to lay on Ice Bat."

"Eden, it's time to go upstairs."

"No Momma."

"Eden, come upstairs.  Delilah is having a pizza party.  We're going to have a pizza party without you."  This catches her attention, and she runs towards the stairs and climbs anxiously, joining Delilah on my bedroom floor to play with her plastic plates, spoons, and pizza.

I had promised myself when we moved that my room would be my retreat.  I wouldn't allow toys to overtake it, but there, on my neatly made bed I dropped three stuffed animals for the girls to play with while I got dressed.  On my floor, just vacuumed last night, plastic utensils and a toy laptop and a set of animal flashcards and some board books are already strewn, just in the time it took me to go down the hall to get the girls' clothes for the day.  I alternate between straightening the rest of my hair, changing diapers, dressing the girls, dressing myself, and trying to cover the monstrous, stress-induced zit that has erupted between my unkempt eyebrows, all while singing along to the Sesame Street radio station on Pandora and shouting at Eden over and over and over again not to jump on the bed, ironically, while "5 Little Monkeys" plays over the radio.

We make it back downstairs by 7:20.  Eden has refused to wear shorts.  Eden has refused to wear shoes.  But Eden allowed me to brush her hair this morning and I consider this a small victory, earning her the right to go pantsless today.

"Momma, I want Nature Cat."  I look at the clock.  7:22.  I cave.

"One episode of Nature Cat, okay Baby Bear."

I'm now that mom.  No, not the mom that lets her kid watch TV in the morning.  I'm sure there's lots of moms, great moms, that do that.

I'm the mom that can't spend two hours with her children without having to run to the television for help.  I'm the mom who dreads the sound of her children rousing early, before she is ready.  The mom that counts down the minutes before it is time to leave for work, for an escape, only to spend the next 9 hours counting down the minutes until she gets to see her girls again, and then in turn to spend the evening counting down the minutes before it is time to start bedtime routine.  My dogs, my beloved dogs, stare at us longingly from the windows - Sometimes I go days without even touching them so entrenched am I in just getting through the day with my children.

I am the mom who finds on the weekends, her children are strangers to her.  I don't know what to do with them when we are together for a whole day.  Who are they?  What should we play?  What do we talk about?  Is it naptime yet?  How do other women do this, day after day, with a smile on their face?  I feel like such an asshole.  I look to the front door wistfully, wondering if we all wouldn't be better served if I just walked out and never came back.

With a guilty conscience, I snap myself back into the moment and finish packing lunches for the day, and loading my car with the diaper bag, my purse, my own lunch, and a pack of Delilah's diapers that my dad will need for her care this week.  Eden refuses one of my requests and as a consequence, I turn off Nature Cat before the episode is complete.  I take Delilah to the car and plead with Eden to follow me.  She won't, but instead climbs back into the bouncer, so I run back inside, lift her out, and carry her to the car, no pants, no shoes, but grateful for the attached garage so that I don't have to feel so very bad about having left Delilah for a few seconds.  Life was easier when she was in the carrier and I could just drag them both out together, but, ob la di ob la da, right?

"Momma, I want Delilah's Song," Eden requests from the back seat.

"Not today,"  I respond and begin clicking through the radio stations as we drive.  I'm searching for some song to make my morning.  I know that with today's technology I can just click over to my USB drive and play something from there, or stream a song that I know and love.  But I want to the song to be brought to me, some sign from the universe that everything will be okay.  I drop the girls off at Papa's house where the patience for them is greater, the hands on deck more plentiful, and besides, Delilah is almost ready for a nap, giving a slight reprieve to their caretaker.  I get back in my car, still searching the radio, through the local stations, through Sirius radio, looking for something to soften the blow of the morning.  Hundreds of radio stations are available to me at my fingertips, but nothing suffices.  I land on an old default karaoke song, Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart," but today I just don't feel like shouting about someone's lying, cheating, cold deadbeating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean, mistreating, loving heart.  I settle instead for the "Loco-Motion," the Grand Funk Railroad version, though I would have preferred Little Eva or Kylie Minogue.

These are the first moments to myself that I have had since I woke up, yet I've felt so alone the whole time.  I'm lonely - In the evenings as I march through the monotony of the work week, on the weekends as I try to find ways to interact with my girls while we are all cooped up inside to avoid the 100+ degree heat and smokey air hovering from a local wildfire.  I know that life changes when you have kids, and I know that I longed for these girls, ached for them.  Imagine my surprise when they didn't provide all of the answers, but instead caused me to have to look even deeper into my soul on a quest for - What?  I don't know anymore.  I'm drowning. I feel the waves threatening me, so real that while stopped at a red light I tilt my head up towards the imaginary surface so that I can breathe.  Green light.  Go.

I am at my office early.  I was the first to arrive on this dreadful day - The day our new case management system is launched firm-wide, causing guaranteed disarray in each of our 15 offices throughout the state.  Clients will call, annoyed at our inability to smoothly access and work this system, still demanding that we meet their needs in this world of glorified customer service called worker's compensation defense.  My billing, finally falling into place after four years of acclimating to an environment wherein I must account for every minute of the work day, is bound to suffer in this change - even the best attorneys will suffer this.  I know that I should get a head start on the day and aim to get my hours in, but instead I open my web browser, turn to this page, and write.  And write, and write, and write.  And write, and write, and write some more.

And then, it's back to the grind.



Friday, August 12, 2016

Alex Rodriguez: This is the Way the World Ends - Not With a Bang But a Whimper

  V

    Here we go round the prickly pear
    Prickly pear prickly pear
    Here we go round the prickly pear
    At five o'clock in the morning.

    
    Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                   Life is very long
    
    Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    
    For Thine is
    Life is
    For Thine is the
    
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.


-Excerpt from "The Hollow Men"
T.S. Elliott



Tonight, this mid-August night with 48 games left to go in the 162 game season and with what I anticipate will be little fanfare, Alex Rodriguez will play in his last game with the New York Yankees, for a team experiencing a lackluster season and currently riding in 4th place in the AL East.  Unlike when Derek Jeter retired one year ago, there will be no parade of celebrities from all avenues of entertainment tipping their hats in respect.  After 22 years with the MLB, Alex Rodriguez retire with 696 career home runs to his name, making him 4th in the history of Major League Baseball.  With so much focus on his batting, the public might easily forget that he was once a stellar short stop, taking what in baseball would constitute a demotion when he was traded to play third base to Derek Jeter's short stop upon his transfer to the Yankees.  But tonight, Alex Rodriguez will be riding the bench, waiting for his chance to bat - Request for him to play third base in this inconsequential game against the Tampa Bay Rays has been denied. 

Once upon a time, though, Alex Rodriguez held all of the potential in the world.  He was the child of Dominican immigrants who moved to the Dominican Republic for a brief period when Alex was a child, before returning to the United States where he grew up in Florida.  Though he was recruited by colleges to play both baseball and football in 1993, he elected to sign with the Seattle Mariners when he was a first-round amateur draft pick.  By 1995, he was finishing the season in the major leagues. 

A few years later during my senior year of high school I caught my first glimpse of the young, green eyed ball-player, and it was love.  I had to know who he was and when I found out, I had start watching the game that I had abandoned when I was 14 years old and lost two teeth after being struck in the face by a softball.   I began following the MLB, a passion shared with my brother Timothy, and although for different reasons, together we became Mariners fans.  They were primed for glory at that point, boasting a roster including Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez.  Of course, baseball fans know how that ended as the team started piecing off in the coming years, resulting in the 2001 Mariners still holding the record as the team with the most regular season wins, only to lose their shot at the World Series in the first round of the playoffs.   



It was following the 2000 season and going into the 2001 season that Alex Rodriguez became a free agent and was signed by the Texas Rangers with what was, at the time, the largest contact in sports history.  By that time, I had fallen in love again, this time with the Seattle Mariners, and I elected to give them my loyalties and say good-bye to Alex.

But like all great loves, I frequently wondered how he was doing.  He wasn't hard to keep track of - After three years with the Rangers he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he has remained, and remained in the spotlight for a number of unsavory reason, most memorable to me: A speculated affair with Madonna while both he and she were married.  What the world will most remember, of course, is the scandal created by suspicions followed by hard evidence of the use of performance enhancing drugs.  The shadow of this controversy, which began to take root in 2007, never really left his side.  Nearly ten years later, his use, the suspicions, and his bold-faced, vociferous denial of the accusations are how he will likely be remembered.  

Sometimes, things just don't work out the way we think they will.  Just as Alex Rodriguez likely thought he would be playing in tonight's game to the adoring cheers of his fans, I thought I would be watching this game with my five-year old son by my side.  Somehow, nothing calls my attention to Gabriel's absence like a baseball game - I guess because up until January 31, 2011 I was planning his own career in the Major Leagues, before I switched to planning his funeral.  Perhaps because, although I believe I am slowly but surely instilling in my daughters a love for this subtle yet spectacular game, I know that they will not get to play in the MLB.  Perhaps the dream - statistically unlikely to come true in the first place - will be renewed if and when I have another son, or maybe it died with Gabriel.  But when I hear the crack of the bat or the smack of a third strike rocketed into a mitt, I also hear the silence of a little boy who is not cheering beside me. 

Tonight, I will watch the man who was once my favorite player, donning a uniform that now brings so many mixed emotions for me, as he says goodbye to a game that we both love.  Derek Jeter was quoted just today as saying "I've spent 22 years playing against, playing with and watching Alex from afar, and there are two things that stand out to me the most:  The conversations we had when we were young - hoping for the opportunity to play at the Major League level and then somehow finding a way to stick around - and the championship we won together in 2009.  That was a season everyone on that team can cherish.What people don't realize is how much time, effort and work that Alex put in on a daily basis.  He lives and breathes baseball.  I know it will be difficult for him to not be on the field, but I am sure he will continue to give back to the game."  



He lives and breathes baseball, even with the darkest of clouds hanging over his head.  Tonight I will watch this game with my girls and I expect I will feel what I always feel:  Not only the ache of missing the little boy that I always dreamed of, but what has also become a familiar feeling, as though my chest has been cracked open and I am watching my heart sing and dance in the two little girls that I'd also always dreamed of, even if they aren't exactly what I expected.  At bedtime, apropos for this special night, we'll read one of my favorite bedtime stories to share with Eden and Delilah, "Good Night Yankees."  

"Good night to each player, you played a great game.  We're rooting for you to make the hall of fame.  Good night to all the young Yankees fans, too.  All falling asleep, dreaming of their Major League debut."  

Goodnight, Alex Rodriguez. Thank you for the memories.   








Saturday, July 30, 2016

Willie White

I didn't process what had happened for a few seconds.  I had turned away for just a few seconds, and when I looked back, Willie was looking at me, his long, slender fingers still wrapped around the dice cup, with six aces sitting in front of him.  He was smiling like it was just another day.

"One flop?  You did that in one flop?"  It was a stupid question.  Of course he did; I had only turned away for a matter of seconds, only heard the dice cup slam on the bartop once.  True to his word, he split his winnings with me right down the middle.  If there was one thing to be said about Willie White, it is that he had integrity.

But there's much more to say about Willie.  Since I returned from law school to work at The Wright Place, Willie is the closest thing to a grandfather that I've had.  Our closeness was a quiet one - He was a private man with a backwards way of showing his affection.

"You know that song 'Hard Hearted Hannah'?"

"Yeah."

"You know that line about Hannah pouring water on a drowning man?"

"Yeah."

"They wrote that song about you, didn't they?"

"I'm guessing this is your last beer, Willie.  Am I right?  Because you're at about 85.5 right now."

Willie teased all of the bartenders, used the same lines on all of us, I'm sure.

"How you doin' today sweetheart?" he'd ask.

"I'm good."

"I didn't ask how you look, I asked how you're doing."

But I don't think there was any question that our relationship was special.  During my first week of my first maternity leave when I was out for Gabriel, he tried to start in on Natalie one night while she was covering my shift.

"Look Willie, I'm not going to be your Andrea while she's out."

After three maternity leaves at The Wright Place, I'm pretty sure he missed me for every single one of them.

"Are you and Andrea mad at each other?" someone asked Willie one night.

"No.  Why?"

"Well, you guys are being nice to each other."  Our banter was well known, but most people didn't know the personal moments between us.

"That must have been really special," he told me one night as I shared what it was like to bring Gabriel home on hospice care, when we thought he would die before we ever left the hospital.  Willie had cared for his late wife in her dying days, before she passed from cancer years before.  We also had an unspoken bond - That of parents that have lost children.  Though Willie was in his 70s when his adult daughter passed away, and at 29 years old I had buried my 10 day old son, Willie and I both walked around every day with a part of hearts, a part of our core, missing.  But we both loved life.

On the one hand, when Willie was diagnosed with cancer himself a couple of months ago, I was stunned - Willie had retired when he was 50, but never did slow down.  He was up early every morning and walked three miles every day.  He met with friends for coffee at McDonalds and somehow found a way to fill the days with activity.  He saw a doctor on a regular basis, and he ate well, and weighed the same thing he'd weighed his entire adult life.  But, he was in his 70s and more importantly, I've learned that sickness and death are a part of life, and no one is immune to either.

In the days after he was first admitted to the hospital, his death was reported to be imminent, and I thought I would never get to see him again.  When he survived the weekend, I went to the hospital to see him on a Monday morning before work.  This 6'5" tower of a man filled the hospital bed with his length, but his already-lean frame had become thin, and frail.  He invited me to sit in a chair next to his bed and when I did, he reached across his blankets and took my hand.  His long fingers looked even longer, barely more than bones.  We talked casually about who had visited and which members of his family were in town, and then a nurse came in to take him for an x-ray.

"He'll be right back, if you want to wait."

"I-I-I don't know if I can. . ." I hated to leave for the pile of meaningless work on my desk, but duty called.

"She has to get to work.  She's a lawyer." I could hear the pride in his weak voice.  I knew it could be the last time I would ever get to see him.

"I'll come back soon, Willie.  You take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay, see you soon."

"Willie.  I love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

I darted back to the elevator, trying to outrun my tears.

I did get to see Willie one more time.  But although he survived another 6 weeks or so after that, I kept finding excuses not to go.  I knew I would regret not visiting again, but increasingly I heard that he was struggling with lucidity and I wasn't sure I could handle if he didn't recognize me.  Another friend went to see him and told me how bad it was.  "The only time he smiled was when I mentioned you."

Without question, our relationship was special, because Willie was special.  I suspect just about anyone that knew Willie well enjoyed a special relationship of their own with him.

I don't usually find myself at a loss for words, but just as I didn't know how to say goodbye to Willie, I don't know how to end this blog entry dedicated to his memory.  I will miss Willie terribly.  I look forward to seeing him again someday, to hearing him say one more time, "Cut me some slack, Jack!."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just A Bridge Away



In our backyard in Bakersfield the morning sun was already baking our lawn, but in Oregon the sky was overcast and the air was wet but cool when we pulled into a parking lot at Sirrosis Park in The Dalles.  I was drawn right away to the playground, a sophisticated complex of tunnels and bridges and stairways. As we unloaded the girls from their car seats Marcos' mom approached us and we all walked to the playground together, the sight only getting better the closer we got.  Eden sprinted ahead to begin climbing to the tops of the various slides while Marcos' mom took a seat on a bench.

"Would you mind holding Delilah?  So I can go play with Eden?"  "Grandma Nichols" happily obliged, reaching for the sweet smiling baby that charmed her Oregon family, and I dashed off to one of the structure's towers.  Eden was already engrossed in the slide and laughing with every attempt while her daddy waited for her at the bottom, so I worked my way through the maze.  I unsuccessfully tried the suspended balance beam, scaled two side by side tires, tried my hand at a set of monkey bars and parallel bars, and attempted  a stack of tires meant to serve as a ladder.

At some point I overhead my mother-in-law say to Marcos, "She said she was going to play with Eden, but it looks like she's the one doing all the playing!"  It was true.  Though I intermittently watched Eden as she played with her cousins or even by herself, or took a few moments to observe Delilah in the swings, I was lost in my own adventure.  Here and there I caught shadows of the 5 year old little boy that should have been with us, doing all of the things Eden just isn't old enough or coordinated enough or tall enough to do yet, sneaking up on his sister one minute, then holding her feet to assist her on the monkey bars the next.  Gabriel's memory, or more accurately, his hypothetical, is always there, a part of every experience.  That's my normal.

Around us the trees stretched high and park-goers weaved between them with their dogs, but not a trace of litter could be found to indicate that anyone had ever been to the park before we got there.  Other families arrived, their children racing up and down and across the child-sized fort.  Eden would stop to laugh or smile or shout orders at them, then pick right back up with whatever activity she happened to be performing.

While in Oregon we toured The Bonneville and Dalles dams, went on a cruise on the river, saw Multnomah falls, watched the trains dart by on their extensive railroads, and waded in the Columbia River - Just a few of the sights that Oregon has to offer.  But of all that we squeezed into that trip, in my memory our visit at Sirrosis Park will remain the most vivid.  There, I felt like we had a moment of Heaven, everyone there, happy, playing as they like, but together.  My heart felt full. I couldn't see my son, but at times, I even had to search for Eden and Delilah.  No matter where I turned, no matter where I went, there I felt like every one of them - Gabriel, Eden, Delilah, Marcos and even Baby Cude - were just a bridge away.  There I felt surrounded by everything I could ever want.  I felt whole.








Monday, June 20, 2016

Am I Blue?

The blueberry bush sits dry and likely, dead, but still a part of my home amid the greenery in my front yard.  It seems like watering it when needed is such a simple task that there is no real good reason why it shouldn't get done.  But there are no simple tasks these days, and many things don't get done.  Every once in a while I am horrified to discover a dirty diaper under a pile of laundry, unsure as to how long the diaper has been hidden there.  I feel like I must be the biggest slob in the world, which doesn't make sense, because I also feel that I am constantly on the go.

Nothing gets the attention it should these days.  Not my kids, not my husband, not my dogs, not my house - certainly not my work.  Direct file referrals are pouring in for me these days, and I'm on the brink of two appellate decisions that I am fairly confident will be favorable.  Maybe they will be.  Maybe they won't be.  But either way, I am moving files - exactly what clients want.

Actually, clients want a lot of things.  They want to be your priority.  They want everything done right now.  Everything is a rush.  Everything should have been done already.  Nothing can wait until tomorrow.  Everything is extreme.  EVERYTHING.

There was a time in my life when I was motivated by this kind of pressure.  How many A papers have I written in the 12 hours preceding their deadline?  The appeals mentioned above were written and submitted within a crunched statutory time limit.  I can pat myself on the back, for I have shown a tremendous capacity to take pressure, grief, anger, and pain and turn it into steam to propel me through life.

But I feel like I've run out of steam.  I don't know why.  I guess we all have our breaking point and I suppose my breaking point is a lot farther and a lot less destructive than others' might be, but it's still devastating.

It is then that the weight of the loss of my son crushes me.  I live with his absence daily, the ache is constant and painful.  Now, as I tread water to stay afloat I feel the hole inside of my heart being crushed by the heaviness of having lost my son.  Five years ago today I held my son in my arms through his seizures and labored breathing until his heart beat one last time, and he died.  I felt his tiny body stiffen with death in my arms, and I kissed him one last time before giving him over to a very kind and solemn undertaker so that he could burn my little boy to ashes.  I took those ashes and placed them in a little, tomb-like cavity and marked his place in this world with a little plaque, and a few times a year I visit that final resting space but every single day I long to feel him again.

Am I blue?  How can I know anymore?  How can I distinguish between the depression that I have experienced all of my life, and the grief of the traumatic experiences that I've been through, and the postpartum depression compounded by back-to-back pregnancies, and the stress of every day life?  When are my responses selfish, and when are they self-loathing, and when are they natural, and when are they wallowing?  I don't know anymore.

Above all I am thankful that Gabriel was trusted to me to love and care for.  I know that this was no accident, I know that I was blessed - Blessed with the gift of a child, blessed to be charged with the care of a terminally ill unborn baby, blessed that I got to spend ten days with him when most people walking in my shoes will never get that opportunity.  I am blue, but I am blessed.  I don't have time to water plants, but even in life's rush I carry Gabriel with me every day.  His life and his loss are a part of me. Even as the branches of the blueberry brush dry and harden and threaten to break every day, I keep and guard them.  Life isn't easy, hearts don't break evenly, and all I can do is hold on for the ride.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Days that Change the World



Two accomplishments that I get to take credit for, though I can really only thank God for, are the opportunities to be a mother to Gabriel, Eden, and Delilah, and a big sister to Monica, Timothy, and Victoria.

I remember so clearly Victoria's first day of daycare. It coincided with my first day of my senior year of high school, and I cried when having to leave her with her new sitter, after having spent the entire summer looking after her myself.  Victoria was the first person to teach me, truly, about selfless love.  I only ever wanted to give her the world.

So, it's no surprise that this, the morning of her high school graduation, I have been teary and nostalgic for the days when she was just a little girl.  I have been recalling her first day of kindergarten, the day she transferred to Colonel Nichols halfway through her first grade year, her First Communion, and her graduation from junior high, which hardly feels like a year ago.  I remember her in my own milestone moments - The day I found Sean dead, when I came home still in shock and still regretful that I had missed Victoria's classroom Valentine's Day party, that little 7 year old girl wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and said, "I miss Sean."  I remember the day my cat Lily had kittens, on Victoria's third birthday, and upon seeing the first kitten for the first time Victoria saying "Lily has a mouse!"  I remember standing by her side as she held Delilah, her first goddaughter, to be baptized.  I remember her standing by my side on my wedding day.  I remember standing behind her, beaming with pride, as she delivered her closing arguments during this year's mock trial competition, for which I had the privilege of coaching her.  This day came all too quickly, but the years leading up to this day have been packed with memories.  What a gift, to have been this girl's big sister.

I suppose Victoria's graduation, as all graduations are for me now, is especially touching when I consider that in the blink of an eye, my girls will be graduating too.  And the sweet becomes bitter when I think about my only son, who will never graduate from high school - Something I knew several weeks before he was born.  Before he was born, the doctors told me Gabriel wouldn't live long, and though I hoped with trepidation, I never dreamed that my little boy would be the one to defy the odds and live ten days.  Those ten days have changed the world.

With a bittersweet, teary but happy joyful longing, I invite you to celebrate Gabriel's 5th Birthday by participating in this year's 10 Days to Change the World:

Day 1:  Friday, June 10 - For the first time since his birth, Gabriel's birthday will fall on a Friday, which was also the day he was born.  At 3:19 p.m. my sweet boy showed his face to this world.  I invite you to take a moment at 3:19 on June 10, 2016, to remember his birthday.  Share pictures of your clock and where you are on Facebook.

Day 2:  Saturday June 11 - The annual cupcake day.  When Gabriel made it to 24 hours, our family celebrated with cupcakes - While Gabriel and I slept.  This year, enjoy a cupcake to celebrate with us the day that Gabriel became one of the only 25% of anencephalic babies to live past 24 hours.

Day 3 - Sunday June 12 - Wristband Day!  This year I have awareness wristbands, the proceeds for which will be used to fund the next Magic Mullet Run fundraiser for Duke University's anencephaly study.  Contact me ASAP to get your wristbands for $3 each.  Children's size available.

Day 4 - Monday June 13 - Finally getting comfortable enough with my delicate little bundle, we took Gabriel's footprint on this day.  This year, find a way to leave your footprint in your community, your tattoo on your town.  

Day 5 - Tuesday June 14 - This year would be Gabriel's 5th birthday, and he would be starting kindergarten.  Last year we celebrated what would have been his pre-school years by asking people to donate to their local pre-schools or Head Start programs.  This year, I invite you to do the same.  As most schools will be out for summer break, consider presenting a teacher you know with a gift card for supplies for her classroom in the fall.

Day 6 - Wednesday June 15 - On this day we FINALLY introduced Gideon to Gabriel.  Give your own furbaby a hug on this day, and do something special for him/her/them.

Day 7 - Thursday June 16 - Bowling night!  My friends and I bowl on Thursday nights, and we have a great time.  Life is short, and busy, and bowling nights are our weekly opportunity to gather and nourish the friendships that have carried us each through some challenging times.  Take this day to spend some time with your friends, do something fun - Try bowling!

Day 8 - Friday June 17 - This year Marcos and I will be heading to the beach for this weekend.  Friday we'll be riding to Oxnard so I can appear at a hearing in the morning, then we'll be heading up the coast where later in the evening, we will meet some of our friends for a beach weekend.  Before they arrive, Marcos and I will have a chance to spend some time together, have lunch, walk on the beach.  Take this day to spend some one-on-one time with someone you love.

Day 9 - Saturday June 18 - Community clean up!  We will be on the coast, and looking for a local park or beach to clean.  I invite you to find a place in your community in need of a bit of clean up, and volunteer your time to help.

Day 10 - Sunday June 19 - Father's Day.  A bittersweet day the year that Gabriel was born - He was still with us, against all odds, but we did not know how much time we might still have.  And we didn't know that our time would be up the following day.  Honor your father today.  And honor your children.  Not a single day is promised to us, and every day is a gift.

Angelversary - Monday June 20 - As has become custom, I will be releasing balloons on this day.  Time and location to be announced if you wish to participate with me - If not, please try to release a balloon or lantern in memory of Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude, whose brief life of 10 days is still changing the world.

I look forward, as I do every year, to sharing these days with my family and friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Who Needs Tomorrow?

The opening chords wring my heart every time, haunting me with a combination of regret and relief.  Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" never ceases to stop me in my tracks.  In the first few years after Sean's death, I could barely listen to the song without crying.  The words fill me at once with sorrow for the brevity of our time together and more importantly the untimeliness of his death, and satisfaction that my memories of our last few days together remain so very vivid.  A part of me knew it was all coming to an end - I just didn't know it would end as it did.

Many nights, after all the patrons had left and I had locked the doors, I would play the song on the jukebox at Charly's, now the Wright Place, and saturate myself in the lyrics and the memories.  I always feel Sean's presence most strongly through music, and in that music, when I am alone in the bar.

I didn't know that the last time I closed The Wright Place would be the last time I closed The Wright Place.  If I had known, I would have played that song one last time.

My one night shift a week had become an increasing strain on our marriage.  We are living deep in the trenches of early parenthood.  Our girls, just 17 months apart, are only 2 years old and 7 months old.  We couldn't ask for better children - They are healthy, bright, as well-behaved as we could reasonably ask.  But they are a lot of work.  And we've decided that for now, that is work we must do together, night after night, to strengthen our family.  There are still so many turns that life could take, roads that life may lead us down, and life promises us nothing except that it will keep on going, ready or not.

Still, it was with an aching heart that I resigned my Tuesday night shift at The Wright Place.  The shift has been mine for almost 7 years now, since I returned from law school.  Tuesday nights were waiting for me after three maternity leaves.  I've collected the March Madness brackets by the close of the bar on Tuesday night before the tournament begins for four years.  I trained Leanne on a Tuesday night.  I've been doing the liquor inventory on Tuesday nights for years.  One Tuesday night, several years ago, I broke the weeknight sales record.  The bartender rotation has gone round and round but for the last nearly 7 years, Tuesday nights have been generally consistent.  For nearly 7 years, they have been mine.

Some things never change, until they do.  The decision was sudden and shocking to my bosses; it shocked the shit out of me.  And it is not without sadness that I've not reported to The Wright Place for the last three weeks.  I didn't even get to say good-bye.

Bob Seger begs, "Why don't you stay?"  After all, who needs tomorrow?  Tomorrow is not a guarantee, and I know that well.  I never got to say good-bye to Sean either.  I needed tomorrow, but that tomorrow never came. But as clearly as I heard the words "Let's make it last; let's find a way," I could also hear "I long for love, like everyone else does. I know I'll keep searching even after today."  My burning desire for love couldn't be extinguished even by the sobering sight of Sean's lifeless body.

The world kept on spinning, as the world does, and the sun continued to rise, as the sun will, and at the end of the day somewhere things are ending, and somewhere else they are just beginning.  And we just have to keep moving.

Maybe I'll be back someday. Maybe I'll continue to host my annual Anti-Valentine's Day Party, an event that started in dark remembrance of the day Sean died, but which has evolved into one of the most successful events of the year.  I don't know what tomorrow brings, and I don't even know that I'll have a tomorrow.  I know that I have today, right now, this moment.  I'm doing all that I know how to do to live today, right now, in this moment.