It’s Just Different

As I was driving the Princess to cheer practice this morning, the first song that came on was “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”  If you’ve followed us for awhile, you’ll know that song hits me in the gut every single time. I spent most of September 2000 in the hospital – 16 days trying to stay pregnant with Big Man for as long as possible, and then 5 days recovering from childbirth and waiting to see how the doctors, and insurance, would handle my own life-threatening staph infection. No matter how many years pass, when September rolls around, so do the memories….the reliving of the fear and worry, the pain, and the guilt.

Big Man will be sixteen years old next month. That’s a rather significant milestone, isn’t it? When your micro-preemie survives, every milestone takes on an entirely different relevance. Learning to eat and breath at the same time, moving to an open crib, getting to wear clothing, losing each line, coming home, ditching this medicine, that medicine, this therapy, that therapy, gaining weight, rolling over, crawling, walking, holding a crayon, walking up and down steps, turning 1, then 2, 3, 4, 5…starting Kindergarten, playing t-ball, playing soccer. Every little tiny thing he does feels different. It’s somehow bigger because for days, weeks, months, you didn’t know if he would survive, much less ever come home or grow up to be a “normal” child.

The milestones have come fewer and further between. They still each have their own immense significance. Each step forward still fills me with awe, as much as it makes me miss the stage before, the stages before. I see his curled hands as he sleeps….in the same positions he held them as an infant and toddler. His facial features, while more mature and larger, are much the same as they’ve ever been, at least since most of the tape came off his face in the NICU and I could actually see his face. The tiny blond hairs on the back of his neck are still there as they were the first time I saw him. I still see that stupidly-tiny, 2 pound baby boy when I really look at him.

In a few short months, he will get his driver’s license. In a few short years, he will graduate high school and head off to college, to his future. Somewhere down the road, he will graduate college, start his career, maybe find *the* girl, maybe become a father, buy his first house. I will watch him reach each milestone, remembering the days I prayed and did all I could to stay pregnant with him, then wondered if we’d ever get the chance to see him grow up. His milestones are just different in my heart. And trust me, every September, I’ll re-walk the journey that brought him into this world. For a few days, I might ask you to just wake me when September ends, but then I’ll think about all the miraculous moments I’ve watched in his life, and I’ll smile with joy at the gift.

The Girls of Fall

Much is said, written, sung about the Boys of Fall……those boys who begin two-a-days a few weeks before school starts, who learn plays, wear their jerseys to school on Fridays, who build a camaraderie with their teammates, who play under the lights on  Friday nights, helping so many high schoolers make life-long memories.  I grew up in a one-high-school town. Friday nights were all about the football game, the football players, the dances after the games. Most home games, it felt like the entire town came out to watch the Varsity  Bulldogs play. Then I became a cheerleader my senior year, and I realized those Fridays were just as much about the cheerleaders as the football players. We were part of the drama, feeling as if our cheering somehow affected the course of the game.

When the Princess made the cheerleading team at the high school this spring, I thought, “Oh lordy – here we go.” And goodness knows, I have whined about getting her to 6am practices. But as the first day of school approached, uniforms were handed out, and the team began prepping for football season, I got so excited for her. She is now, like I was way back when, one of the girls of fall.

She wore her uniform to school today, bow and all, carrying her sparkly cheer duffle, her name embroidered on the front. I had to take her cheer box to her as the team boarded the bus. I just smiled….so happy for her and this adventure she’s on. I’m so excited she gets to experience high school this way.

Fridays in high school are about football players in their jerseys, and cheerleaders in their uniforms, the excitement building for the game ahead, even when your team isn’t amazing. It’s about bus rides to away games. It’s about losing your voice by third quarter. It’s about cheers, first downs, touchdowns, fans, fourth quarters.

Tonight, I’ll mentally pass the torch to my baby girl, and watch her take her place on her cheer box, under the lights. I’ll watch her cheer on her team, represent her high school. I’ll watch her become part of the spirit of her school, and create her own memories. I’ll watch her become one of the Girls of Fall.

Twas the night before the first day…

…..and all through the house, pretty much everyone was sleeping, except my littlest mouse. He was so excited for his first day of school. Excitement for an event is a double-edged sword with Little Man. On the one hand, it’s awesome to see him get excited about school. On the other hand, excitement for something coming usually also brings with it a crazy level of anxiety. It’s been years since he went to sleep easily the night before the first day. Last night was certainly no exception.

His bedtime is 8:15. Well, that’s when he goes upstairs to brush his teeth, wash his face, and – in theory – read for a little bit before lights-out at 8:45. By 9pm, he’d been back downstairs five times, his face full of anxiety and worry. The tears started about 9:30. By 10, he’d been back down a few more times. I went up at 10:15. When I peeked into his room, he was quietly laying under his weighted blanket, eyes open. I could almost feel his stress. I tucked him in, told him to breath, and said goodnight.

At 11:30, he was in my bed. Spouse wanted him to go back to his room, but I knew it was a pointless battle, and needed him to sleep. I do think he slept for a bit, but at 2am, he was awake, tossing and turning. He went back to his own room. Moments later, I heard him crying. Sighing heavily, I made my way to his room. I lay beside him, trying to calm him, trying to get him to focus on anything but his anxiety for this morning to come. We breathed, counting in and out. I left him quietly counting, and went back to my own bed. Twenty minutes later, he was back in my bad, grasping my hand with his, holding them both close to his heart. Around 3am, we both finally dropped off to sleep.

I let him sleep as long as I possibly could this morning. When I went to wake him, he was already awake, with a smile on his face, and excitement to begin his day. Me? I’m on cup 3 of the mighty coffee. I may be saying a few bad words and lifting a certain finger towards autism today.

Anxiety is a real thing. Anxiety over good events is a real thing. I watch him struggle with this multiple nights a year – the night before his birthday/birthday party, the night before the last day of school, the night before the first day of school, and Christmas Eve. I can count on insomnia and tears. I can count on at least one meltdown. I can count on his face looking towards me for help. It doesn’t seem to get better no matter how many times we go through it. It doesn’t seem to get better no matter how much I pray he will have calm and sleep.

Autism won last night. We’re trying to not let it win today.

One. More. Day.

Little Man starts school on Wednesday – yes, a full ten days after his siblings started. Let me tell ya, it’s been a LONG eight days. He thought it would be so cool to still have a week and a half left of summer. Yeah, not so much. By day two, he was crying by early afternoon, wanting his brother and sister home. It didn’t help I was busy with work and couldn’t cater to him all day. Blessedly, his besties have still been on summer as well. He figured out quickly it isn’t awesome being the only one home all day.

I’m ready for him to go back. Yes, I dread the fact they’re all three growing  up so quickly, and I miss the early days of preschool and school. But he needs structure back. I need those six-point-five hours a day to maintain my own sanity. I love summer – beach trips, vacations, time with family, the break from routine, the lack of homework battles, the later, relaxed nights. But I know I am a bit better mom when we all have some time away from each other during the day.

Little Man has been struggling the last week or so. Impending routine change will always do that, and I don’t know why I always forget that  until we’re well into the tears, meltdowns, and outbursts. All of the sudden, a lightbulb will go off in my mind, and I think, “Oh, yeah, routine change is coming, which means anxiety and stress for him.” As much as I knew I needed to warn his teachers towards the end of the school year, I needed my own warning towards the end of summer.

We have one more day. He will do okay the first few days, maybe the first two weeks. Then the wheels will fall off, until he’s fully adjusted back to the school routine. Every year I pray it will be different. Who knows….maybe this will be that year. But we have one more day to get through first. And trust me, tomorrow will totally suck.  Sleep will not come easily tomorrow night. There will be battles and tears most of the day. And once I drop him off Wednesday morning, he and I will both breath a short-lived sigh of relief.

Olympic Back Stories

I think one of my favorite parts of the Olympics is hearing/watching all the backstories they do on individual athletes. I love finding out what challenges they’ve overcome, how they started, how they came to this point – an elite athlete competing on a world stage. Every time I see one of the back-story segments, I can’t help but think what my kids’ back stories would look like….

My kids and their cousins face multiple challenges amongst the group. A few have already overcome so much….prematurity, hearing loss, autism, anxiety…..I watch them excel in school, in running, in golf, in acting, in being amazing, funny, brilliant human beings, and I’m moved. I write their Olympic back-stories in my mind all the time, and it can (okay, frequently does) make me cry.

Big Man was born over 3 months prematurely, spent over 90 days in the NICU, was diagnosed with asthma at 5  years old, and ADHD at 8 years old.  He could have, and probably should have, faced hearing or vision loss, heart surgery, developmental delays/disability, Cerebral Palsy, or a host of any other issues. Instead, he can hold his breath underwater for over a minute (so much for preemie lungs!), ran a half marathon at 15 years old in under two hours, and golfed on the Varsity golf team as a high school Freshman. Can you just hear that Olympic story?

Little Man was diagnosed ADHD and Autistic when he was 8 years old…pretty late, comparatively.  He continues to be mainstreamed in school, and his brilliant mind often scares me. He’s smarter than the rest in this household combined. He can code like a fiend. He has his own YouTube channel on which he regularly posts gaming videos. He seems to finally be coming into his own, more secure in his abilities, in his friendships. There may  not be an Olympic sport for coding, but if there were, he would win, so I write his story in my mind too.

One of my niece’s is hearing-impaired. She was late-diagnosed as well, but she hasn’t let that hold her back. She accommodated for herself before anyone knew to accommodate for her. She’s a wicked-fast runner, competing at a high level in cross country and track at her high school. College recruiters started contacting her a year ago. Yeah, I write her story every time she wins or places well in a race.

Another niece faces anxiety and depression. She’s also a beautiful, talented dancer, in  her second  year on her college dance team. On top of that, she writes, oh my does she write. I’ve had the great joy of reading multiple articles she’s written this summer. I’d like to think she gets that from me. Hah! When she’s a national news reporter, sportscaster, or journalist, someone will write a segment on her life. Back story…..I’m already writing it.

Then there’s my nephew B. He’s an actor. He also is a runner. He’s bloody brilliant as well, but six years ago he was an entirely different kid.  He writes too. His FB posts are witty, sarcastic, thought-provoking. He heart is huge, particularly for the underdog. Some day, when he is up for an Oscar, they’ll do a back story on him. They can thank me, because I’ve already written it in my mind for them.

Now, I didn’t call these five out to say the rest in our family aren’t amazing as well. My brother, sister, and I each helped produce great kids. They are all extremely talented in their own ways. And I have an Olympic backstory for each of them.

Still not ready

Even when you think you’re ready, you know a fur-member of your herd is getting old, you’re still not ready for him to slide down that long slope to the rainbow bridge. Not. At. All.

Bruce, our cocker spaniel, is almost eleven years old. In the last month, I’ve watched him go from a constant-barking, jumping on everything, kind of a pain in the butt dog to a dog who almost never barks, doesn’t sit in the front window seat anymore, doesn’t jump on the bed, whose rear legs go out from under him on a regular basis, seems to be losing his hearing and vision. His back legs shake when he lays down on his side. His face looks a little lopsided to me, and he has old-dog skin tags all over his body. He smells like old dog. He still eats, still drinks his normal amount of water, still wags his tail like that’s his sole purpose in life. But I know we’re on that long road home. And it’s breaking my heart.

He had a small seizure at 3:30 this morning. Spouse was awake and getting ready to leave for work when it happened. It was fast – maybe a minute long. Bruce maintained consciousness, and came out of it quickly, still wagging his tail, and wanting his morning treat. I’ve been watching him all morning, and he’s his normal self. But I know this is the first big chink in his armor. I’ll call the vet when the office opens this morning. We just want to make sure he isn’t in any pain, and make him comfortable for however long he has left. We won’t go all crazy with medications, just keep him happy. And as we’ve done with all our other pets nearing the end, we will wait until he lets us know he’s done.

We’ve had him for ten years. Big Man had just started kindergarten when Bruce became part of our herd. He’s been around for a big chunk of the kids’ lives. It almost feels like Bruce knows the household is going to change in a big way in a few years. I feel like he’s going to usher in the new way of things, bring a dividing line between this phase of life, and the next phase of life.

Keep us in your thoughts the next few days/weeks/months. The kids don’t really remember the last time we lost a  pet. And goodness knows, goodbyes suck.

Wrigley

One of my bucket-list items is to go to a game at every Major League ballpark. I haven’t made it too far in this endeavor – O.Co Coliseum (Oakland), AT&T in San Francisco, Chase Field in Phoenix, Petco here in San Diego, Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Chavez Ravine in LA, and Fenway have all been covered. I have some traveling to do, right?

A few weeks back, I made my seventh visit to Chicago. In all those visits, I’d never been to Wrigley, nor to US Cellular Field. When talk turned to a Cubs game, I was all in. And so, on my last full day in Chicago this time out, we jumped on the train and headed to Wrigley.

I’ve grown up going to baseball games. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a stadium. But there’s nothing like a ballpark in the middle of a town/city, nor is there anything like a ballpark that holds history such as Fenway or Wrigley. When we went to Fenway in 1999, I almost passed out with excitement as we walked up to the back side of the Green Monster. Fairly sure I had that same look when I had my first glimpse of Wrigley from the train, much less as we walked up to the famous Cubs marquee.

Cubs Marquee

Spouse describes Wrigley as “a dump”.  Yeah, there are much newer, much nicer ballparks around. But new doesn’t have the history of old. I can’t go to Petco and imagine Babe Ruth playing there. Wrigley is old. It has the old style to it. The bathrooms are small. There’s a different smell entirely. But let me just tell you, when we walked up the steps, out into the stands, and I saw the field for the first time, my  heart raced, and I took a deep breath, smelling the grass, the leather, the heat, the hot dogs, the beer.

In an old ballpark, the sounds of the game are intensified. Bat hitting ball, ball hitting glove, the crowd singing “Take me Out to the Ballgame”, the calls of “Ball!” and “Strike!”…..they just don’t sound the same as they do in a new park. There’s a measure of tradition that goes with the history in an old ballpark. My A’s have *only* been around since the 60’s. The Cubs have been around since the beginning of baseball. I looked around at EVERYONE wearing their Cubs gear. I stared at the field where countless legends have played. I saw the scoreboard I’d only ever seen on television before. I watched the fans in the seats on top of the buildings around the park. I ate a Chicago-style hotdog. I recalled watching the Cubs BEFORE they had lights at Wrigley.  I took it all in.

The Cubs didn’t win the game, but the loss wasn’t without excitement. There were two calls challenged. There was a lot of yelling. The entire stadium sang Take Me Out during the 7th Inning Stretch. I bought gifts for the kids and my Cubs-loving Spouse. The Cubs came up with too little, too late. But oh man, it went down as one of the best days of my life. This baseball fan lived a dream for a few hours in Chicago.

The famous scoreboardWelcome to Wrigley