Empty.

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Your bed lies empty by the door. I don’t have the heart to move it. I try…oh, I try. But if I do, it means you’re really gone.

You can’t be really gone.

The silent air suffocates me. Air that once carried the pitter patter of warm puppy paws across the floor boards, the clanging of dog tags as you would stretch and shake a long night’s sleep off each morning, now sits cold and still.

It’s hard to breathe.

Your bowls have been washed and dried, sitting quietly, needlessly in the cabinet. Waiting. Use me. Need me. But now, they sit empty.

Your leash waits by the door. Let’s go on a walk, it begs. But our final walk has been walked. Oh, how I wish we could go. Your footsteps echo through the halls. Just one more walk, they cry.

Just one more walk.

Your bag of treats sits unopened in the cabinet. You deserve a treat. You were a good boy. Such a good boy.

It’s hard to breathe.

Slowly, surely, your things get put away, one by one. The hushed echo of clanging dog tags and pitter patter of puppy paws will slowly fade from memory. The traces of you will slowly disappear, evidence of your warm heart and cold nose out of sight.

But not your bed. Your bed lies empty by the door.

So

So

Empty.

Kolby crossed the rainbow bridge on August 31, 2018.

Date Night

As I clean the macaroni and cheese off the floor, my shorts, and my toddler for the 12th time in as many days, all I can think about is a date night. I dream of dressing up in my fanciest outfit, heading to the nicest restaurant in town with no screaming children in tow and spending one-on-one quality time with my husband. I picture us holding hands across the table, staring romantically into each other’s eyes, kindling our love, and talking about things other than my son’s latest poop size and my stepdaughter’s swim lessons. It’s probably the most common recurring fantasy I have since I joined the ranks of the best (mediocre?) in motherhood a mere two years ago.

Planning a date night has proven to be much more difficult than Cosmopolitan made me believe as a naive teenager, mentally planning and preparing for my future with the man of my dreams. Work schedules, kid schedules, childcare issues and sheer exhaustion have rendered date nights a thing of the past. But still, I dream.

Is this what parenthood is?

When do we get time off?

Typically, we go a few months casually mentioning date nights yet never planning them. My off time is spent taking care of the kids while my husband works, and our nights consist of helping with homework assignments and giving baby baths. My desire and need for time off grows by the day but I try to contain it, knowing that the logistics of planning a date night and acquiring childcare is a near impossibility. I envy the coworkers who get to have meals with my husband at work, child-free and undivided. At some point in the whirling chaos of our lives, several months, toddler tantrums, fights with the eight-year-old over technology time and spaghetti dinners later, we both realize it’s a necessity.

“Let’s have a date night Friday,” Josh will say, and I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. We’ll contact family and friends and find anyone available to babysit our chaos and subsequently beg them to relieve us, even if just for a few hours.

When Date Night finally comes, I’ll search my closet frantically for date appropriate attire. I’ll realize nothing fits anymore since having my son (18 months ago) and vow to clean out my closet and stop dreaming that I will one day wear a size 6 again. I’ll resort to dressing up in my fanciest mom jeans and least ravioli-stained top, and we’ll head out to the nicest budget-friendly restaurant we can think of with no screaming children in tow. I’ll spend one-on-one, quality time with my husband. We’ll hold hands across the table, romantically stare into each other’s eyes, and realize that it doesn’t matter what we talk about, because we are in it together, no matter where we are. We’ll pay the check, and get home just before nine so that we can still kiss the kids goodnight and tuck them in. We’ll lay down and finish the Netflix movie we started the night before, while drifting off to sleep.

A perfect date night.

And the cycle begins again.

Hug Me, Mommy

Hug me, mommy,

Please just hold me tight each time I cry.

I know you’re tired and I’m sorry.

Maybe one more lullaby?

 

Guide me, daddy.

Show me how to know the right from wrong.

No one’s taught me yet,

I haven’t been here very long.

 

Lead me, mommy.

Please, I just want you to hold my hand.

I know I’m very little,

But I’m trying to understand.

 

Show me, daddy.

I want to grow up big and strong like you.

But I won’t know how to act,

If you don’t show me what to do.

 

Teach me, mommy.

Please just have some patience as I learn.

I don’t know very much quite yet,

I just now got my turn.

 

Love me, daddy.

I know I’m small but I’ve got a mighty heart.

And though you may not see it yet,

I’ve loved you from the start.

 

Help me, mommy.

I need you to help me learn and play and grow,

I know that it may take a while,

But there’s so much I want to know.

 

Protect me, daddy.

Keep me safe. I trust your arms the most.

And when I’m feeling scared at night,

Please hold me to you close.

 

Please remember that I’m little,

I have a long, long way to go.

And it won’t be long before

I won’t be little anymore.

 

 

Mom Guilt

Am I doing enough?

This question races through my mind daily, from sun up to sun down.

Am I doing enough for my preemie son? Am I doing enough for my stepdaughter? Am I doing enough for my husband?

Am I doing enough for myself?

After my husband and I got married, we decided that I would take a part time position at work in order to be home more with the kids and avoid so many days of childcare needs. I would work one to two days each week, primarily on weekends, and would therefore be available to pick up my stepdaughter from school, take my son to each and every therapy and doctor appointment, and keep up with the grocery shopping and the day to day needs of the house. I had visions of a freshly cleaned home each day, neatly folded laundry, and me, the perfect little housewife, learning (mastering, even) a recipe or two to feed the family for dinner after taking a walk in the park and maybe stopping for ice cream on the way home.

The joke is on me, I guess. And perhaps my husband, too.

As my son gets older and more mobile, his firecracker personality shines brighter and brighter. Simply keeping him alive is a full time job. My husband sometimes comes home to a house messier than it was the day before, me still wearing my pajamas and immediately defending (unprovoked) all the reasons why nothing has gotten done.

As if he doesn’t know that our son is fully capable of tearing down an entire shelf of DVDs, shattering a floor lamp and spilling juice across the rug in record time if we dare look away to even pour ourselves a drink (not that it’s ever happened…)

Still, I feel guilty. Am I doing enough?

Some days, I can’t handle another Minecraft story from my stepdaughter, or another breakdown of the latest DanTDM YouTube video, or another minute of watching Mario bounce across the Nintendo Switch screen. Sometimes, I zone out into a world of blog posts and Facebook while she continues on, wanting me to understand and love Minecraft and British blue-haired video gamers as much as she does. Those few zoned out minutes help me re-center and refocus, helping me hopefully be able to give myself more fully to my kids and my husband at a later time, even if it’s just by minutes. Then we enjoy dinner together and talk about her day at school.

But still, I feel guilty. Am I doing enough?

Sometimes, my husband gets home from a long work day, tired and worn out. I ask how his day was, and he usually asks what I did that day. Sometimes, the only answer I can give him is, “We watched Bubble Guppies and I paid a medical bill.”

And I feel guilty. Am I doing enough?

Nap time usually comes with its own private dose of daily mom-guilt. It’s the one hour a day where I can (could?) clean the house, catch up on laundry, take a shower, eat lunch, and breathe. But some days, all I can bring myself to do when Aaron naps is lie down and watch Netflix and take a nap of my own.

And I feel guilty. Am I doing enough?

I want to be everything my family needs me to be. I want to be the best mom to Aaron that I can be, the best stepmom that Adelia could ever imagine, and the best wife Josh could ever want. But some days, the most I can do is get up, keep the kids alive, tuck them in that night and tell them I love them, and do it all again the next day. Some days, we don’t even leave the house. And that’s okay. Motherhood isn’t always perfect. It’s not always organic snacks, homemade crafts, fun Pinterest activities and cloth diapers. Some days, it’s simply being there for your family. It’s talking about your day. Snuggling on the couch. Watching funny YouTube videos. And nicknaming the laundry pile “The Mountain.”

Eventually, The Mountain will be washed and neatly folded. Eventually, the toys will be picked up, books will be put away, and there won’t be a sink full of dishes. Eventually, my husband will come home to a perfectly cleaned house and a home cooked dinner, and we will sit down together at the dinner table. The toddler won’t scream and fight about sitting in his high chair, and handfuls of food won’t end up on the floor, only to be quickly licked up by the dog. But that day is not today.

And that’s okay.

As my son snuggles up close to me during his bedtime bottle, contented and peaceful, and my stepdaughter hugs me goodnight and tells me she loves me, I realize my mom guilt is unfounded. The family movie nights, the random unplanned trips to Pelican Snoball, the trips to the grocery store together, the time spent talking about our days, it’s all enough. The days when I’m tired and can only exert enough energy to just be there, it is enough. What my family needs is ME.

I am doing enough.

So This is One and a Half

When Aaron was born via emergency c-section at 28 weeks, each hour, each moment, each second that he survived and thrived in the NICU was a miracle. Every day, we held his tiny fingers and gazed at his tiny toes behind the heavy plastic walls of the isolette. We counted the days until he could come home and join the family, while simultaneously being scared to death about taking care of his tiny, fragile body without the ever-present monitors beeping through the night and the dim computer lights casting a glow over the tiny room that was his home for his seven week NICU stay. When he finally did come home, Josh and I rotated shifts through the nights, making sure he was still breathing, still moving, or simply fighting our own sleep to tend to the tiny cries from a five pound body as he suffered through gastric reflux and colic and a bout of bronchiolitis within the first few months of his homecoming. The nights were long and tiring. We argued and we cried and we had more love in our hearts for our tiny fighter than we even knew what to do with.

At some point we blinked, and our tiny little NICU graduate is now an energetic almost 18-month old. Full of energy, full of spunk, more tiring than ever but more loved than he could ever know.

One and a half is rambunctious.

One and a half is mommy and daddy trying to reach into a tiny mouth full of razor sharp baby teeth to make sure whatever he’s munching on is safe for human consumption, or at the very least incapable of choking him.

One and a half is laughing at toots.

One and a half is making sure the dog gets extra portions each night as mountains of spaghetti noodles and carrots go flying by the handful over the edge of the high chair.

One and a half is strong-willed.

One and a half is thinking sissy is the funniest person in the world, especially while she’s playing Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch.

One and a half is curious in the most wonderful way.

One and a half is learning to find his voice in a loud and sometimes overwhelming world.

One and a half is loving daddy more on Tuesday, but crying for mommy on Wednesday.

One and a half is funny.

One and a half is making sure anything within an arm’s reach finds its way to floor level, including shoes, remote controls, DVDs, and diapers.

One and a half is sharing toys, only to want them back immediately.

One and a half is splashing and kicking in the tub with a look of fascination in his eyes as he smiles up at mommy.

One and a half is sippy cups during the day but one last bottle at night while falling asleep in mommy’s arms in great-grandma’s old rocking chair.

Two will be fun. Four may be better.

But I know one thing…I’m going to miss one and a half.

The M Word

Miscarriage.  Say it too loudly and it burns the tongue, it singes the throat. It reverberates in the back of your ears as you wonder who might be offended, hurt, scared, or even angry if you call it by its name. If you say it out loud.

She lost the baby.

The baby didn’t make it.

It wasn’t a viable pregnancy.

Statistically, as many as 20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.  One in five people who are knowingly pregnant lose their baby, yet nobody is talking about it.

On June 22, Josh and I eagerly awaited the results of the ultrasound. We watched the screen with bated breath, hoping and praying we’d see that tiny flicker, the little bean we had come to know so well through Aaron’s many ultrasounds. It was all new, shocking, surprising, nerve-wracking. . . but exciting. We discussed names and wondered how Aaron would react to a new baby in the house. We talked about how Adelia would squeal with joy when she found out she’d be a big sister all over again. We were nervous and giddy with excitement, but left the office that day with more questions than answers.

The ultrasound tech suspected we weren’t as far along as we thought. She couldn’t see anything aside from a gestational sac, but told us that it looked as healthy as a gestational sac could look. There was no baby yet, no heartbeat. There wasn’t a flicker. My stomach dropped and I turned to Josh. The tech could sense my fear and told me that it could be normal – there may be nothing to worry about. But that the nurse practitioner would be in to speak with us shortly.

“At this point, it could go either way,” the nurse practitioner told us. “I wish I had better news to tell you.”

Either way. The only piece of mind we left with was that it could go either way. We might have a baby. We might not. Either way.

Is this what one out of five pregnant women go through?

Why aren’t we talking about this?

The next morning, I woke up with optimism. “How about Abel?” I asked Josh. We had to keep the A-team running strong. Maybe Ari. Or Archer. I got the kids ready to head to the Knox County library to meet their granny and aunt. Adelia had her library card and stack of books to return in hand as we walked through the door. As the books dropped one by one into the slot return, I felt something. I knew something was wrong. I quickly rushed into the bathroom with both kids in tow to confirm my fears. With a shaky voice, I called Josh and he rushed to me from work. I sat in his car crying in the library parking lot while my mother-in-law and Josh’s aunt took the kids through the library. The on-call physician told me to follow up with my doctor Monday, but that at this point, there was nothing that could be done regardless. She told me that it may still turn out okay, but to prepare for the worst. My heart sank. I sat in the car in silence for a minute with Josh, and he put his hand on my leg. “Maybe it will still be okay,” I said. But he knew.

It took three weeks of lab draws before my HCG levels were back to zero. Three weeks of making sure I was just a little less pregnant than I was the week before. Three weeks to know that I was officially back to “normal” and that there was no longer an either way.

I didn’t know how to mourn, or if I even had a right to. I cried, and yet I felt relief at knowing the rollercoaster was over. I felt guilty for feeling sad, like I shouldn’t be allowed to because it wasn’t as bad as it was for other people. I laid in bed and felt like I couldn’t move. I went out for an avalanche sized snow cone with my pint-sized sidekick. I felt different. But the same. It was just the four of us again, although it really always had been.

But still, it was different.

I opened up to several people about our situation. I had told too many people about the pregnancy before that magical 12-week mark that makes everything okay. The day that you’re allowed to share your excitement. I didn’t wait. And suddenly I felt embarrassed, like I was back-pedaling through the nightmare all over again, like it never really happened.

Like I was never really pregnant.

But you know what I realized? Instead of hearing, “I’m so sorry that happened to you,” I heard “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been through it too.” “I understand your pain, I’ve felt it before.”

“I’ve had a miscarriage before, too.”

And it helped. I didn’t feel like people had pity on me or that they were just saying things they thought would make me feel better. I felt like people understood, because they had been there. They knew.

20% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. Maybe we should be talking about this.

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Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.

—A.A. Milne