1. My mom is in town right now, and we spend nearly every day out and about until it’s time for my husband to get home from work, when we hurry back to my house and try to figure out what to do for dinner. You may wonder what sort of things we find to occupy our time ALL. DAY. LONG. for weeks on end. Well, we spent a whole week and went to about thirty (okay, four) different stores looking for The Perfect Christmas DressTM for Caitlin’s photo shoot on Wednesday. We also make sure to visit our favorite baby consignment shop at least once a week, and hit up the area thrift stores with surprising frequency.
Also, my mother has this deep and abiding fear that Target will get in some new merchandise one day that will sell out the next day, or that they’ll mark down That One Thing She Can’t Live WithoutTM by 70% and someone else will snatch it off the clearance endcap, so we have to scour every inch of our local Target (and sometimes the other stores in the city and those in neighboring towns) two to three times a week.
The nasty results of this shopping frenzy are that Caitlin is having a really hard time with her naps and bedtimes (add in teething and the equation adds up to NO ONE HAD FUN LAST NIGHT), I keep putting off my chores at home, and I am WAAAAAAAAAAAY behind on my TV watching. I’m, like, 4 weeks behind on Once Upon a Time, 3 weeks behind on Bones, and I WAS two weeks behind on Grey’s Anatomy until I intentionally stayed home yesterday “so the baby could rest.” (Can you believe what happened with Callie and Arizona on that last episode? Oh my goodness!!!!!!)
2. I should mention that my mother subscribes to my blog, so I am probably in BIIIIIG trouble right now.
3. In case you are on pins and needles wondering how our quest for The Perfect Christmas DressTM went, wonder no more! As evidenced by this EXTREMELY ADORABLE PHOTO, all our searching was not in vain:
She’s totes gorgeous, right? And the dress was only $18 at Burlington. HOLLA!
4. Speaking of Burlington, have you seen their “style says it for you” commercials? Oh my GOODNESS, I LOVE them! Especially this one:
5. This commercial made me wonder what my style says for me. And then I got a little sad because it probably says something to the effect of, “I’ve sorta given up on dressing myself since I gained so much weight, but in spite of being in my mid-thirties I still want to appear young and edgy so I wear screenprinted T-shirts with slogans that try a little too hard.”
6. And occasionally, when I wear the same pair of yoga pants for the third day in a row, in spite of the fact that they are covered with unidentified food substances and cat hair, my style says, “Yeah, I’m a mom who’s way behind on laundry. DON’T JUDGE ME.”
7. We’re having company over Thanksgiving, for the first time in years, AND we’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner with our neighbors (who are also VERY GOOD FRIENDS, not “just” neighbors!) (I have to add that because they read my blog as well and one of them, whoshallremainnamelessReneeahem, has an issue with being called a “neighbor” rather than a “friend.”) (I am SO gonna be in trouble for adding that in, too!) so I have a LOT to do over the next less-than-a-week before the holiday. Gotta decide on my recipes for sides and desserts, cook and chop and prep what I can ahead of time, get caught up on laundry and housework (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I crack myself up) AND move furniture around so we have room for people to sleep and celebrate. I could have and SHOULD have had some of these things done weeks ago, but we’ve already covered The Search for The Perfect Christmas DressTM.
Anyway, I’ve got stuff to do, so I’ll see y’all later. Go check out Jen’s blog for more quick takes!
As I mentioned a few posts ago, this month marks one year since my husband and I lost our son Garrett. I was really dreading November 14, 15, and 16 – the day that Garrett was injured, the day he was declared brain dead, and the day we said good-bye as he went into surgery to have his organs harvested for donation. I was thinking that I might write a post or a series of posts about those days, to express my feelings, to tell the whole story, once and for all, since so many of our friends and family only know what happened in bits and pieces. I was looking forward to getting it all out, but I was also dreading the descent I’d have to make into those painful memories. I knew it would be very dark down there.
But when I woke up on November 15, I decided that I really didn’t want to go into that deep, dark place. Not yet. I decided that I wanted to celebrate Garrett’s life, because there were so many incredible moments in his two years and almost-five-months on this planet. So all day long I posted silly and sentimental memories on Facebook. And all day long I had a smile on my face.
Of course it helped that my mom and I spent the day shopping.
It helped that we had sweet little Caitlin with us – I mean, come on, how can you not smile when you’re hanging out with someone so delightful?
Delightful, I tell you!
But I’m sure that making that decision to look up kept me from falling down. And I’m sure that I made that decision because of all the prayers that were surrounding me and my family. I mean, all last week and over the weekend, I was getting emails and texts from people letting me know that we weren’t forgotten, that we were being extra loved and extra cared for in our hour of need, and my goodness, I am so grateful for that. I know that it was prayer that kept me alive in those first few scary, blindingly numb days and weeks after Garrett passed. The emptiness I felt was so raw and so terrifying that I wasn’t sure I’d survive. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But I did.
And a year later… well, it still hurts. There are times when I am struck again by the incredible injustice it is that our sweet, special boy’s life was ended so cruelly, so early. Times when I call into that emptiness I felt at the outset, and hear it echo just as hollowly.
The hole that Garrett’s death left in my heart will never shrink. It’s huge. And it hurts.
But here’s the thing…
You know how people say that your heart grows when you have more children, so that your love isn’t divided between them, but multiplied? You have more people in your life to love, so you just grow more love?
Well, I think I have realized that as I live and love, my heart grows. And though my grief is big and sometimes kinda scary, and though it’s not going to get any smaller – let’s be honest, losing your baby will always hurt – it looks like it’s getting smaller and less-scarier when the goodness in life just keeps getting bigger and more-awesomer.
A year ago, I was really scared of that big gaping hole of grief. I was afraid if I got too close to it, I’d fall right in and never be able to climb out. But I know now that it will not swallow me. Now I know now that as big as my grief is, my life and my love and my heart and my family is bigger.
I love you, buddy! You always have, and you always will, make mommy smile.
Because life may be hard, but it’s also good. Very good.
1. An eight-month-old baby who is just as uninterested in locomotion as her brother was.
Garrett never crawled and he didn’t walk until he was nearly two years old. There wasn’t anything “wrong” with him; his pediatrician and physical therapist agreed that though he had low muscle tone, the main issue was that he was perfectly content to sit in one place and play.
I thought FOR SURE our second child would be different. They always are, right? But no. Caitlin appears to be following in Garrett’s footsteps. Or lack thereof. Bah-dum-bum-CHING.
2. One of the best parts of fall and winter.
Sam Adams seasonal beers. OH YES. This one is my current favorite.
Every morning, as I’m making my third gigantic mug of yummy roasty beany goodness, I think, “Man, I’m glad I’m not Mormon. Or currently pregnant.” True story.
4. This is why I hide all my “nice” (read: cost more than $3) shoes.
Because my animals are buttheads. I know, you’re thinking, “This is what’s good about your life?” Well, yeah. I’ve gotten to the point where my animals’ shenanigans (mostly) just make me laugh. Because what else can you do when you have SEVEN PETS? If you get annoyed every time your dogs eat a pair of flip flops, or the baby’s pacifier, or the legs of your kitchen chairs, you’re just going to be a big ball of cranky. May as well laugh. And take pictures so you can shame them on Instagram.
5. Gratuitous cat picture.
See? When they’re not being shredding the living room furniture, they’re so darn cute.
6. Hurt so good.
Every time I go to Williamsburg (which isn’t that often, even though it’s only about an hour from my house… I am such a hermit), I have to hit The Peanut Shop, and I HAVE to get some of these habanero nuts. They leave behind a painful afterburn but they taste SO DEEEEEEELICIOUS that I continue to torture myself. In small increments.
7. Happy Gotcha Month, Mayday!
I’m not sure exactly when she arrived in our back yard, but it was sometime before Thanksgiving 2010. It took her a long time to warm up to us, but now she is nice and toasty. On our couch. And eating food off the kitchen counter. I’m so glad she’s part of our family.
That’s it! For many more quick takes, go see Jen.
And have a great weekend!
It’s the first Tuesday of November, election day. Last year on this day Garrett’s babysitter had parent-teacher conferences at her children’s school, so she asked if I could please bring Garrett over a little later in the day. I said sure, because it meant I could go into work a little later, get some things done around the house, and take Garrett with me to vote.
It was a cold day – not just cool and brisk, but biting and windy. It must have been a little warmer the day before, or maybe I was fooled by the sunshine, because neither Garrett nor I had a coat or hat when we stood in line outside the polling place and I wondered if people would think I was a bad mother because I had dressed my child so poorly. A dad ahead of me had a eight-or-nine-year-old boy with him who was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, which made me feel less ashamed and neglectful. The grandma-types behind me in line made over Garrett’s blond hair and blue eyes and long long long eyelashes, and how well-behaved he was, smiling at them over my shoulder. I smiled a little smugly about it – after all, he WAS a beautiful boy and he WAS so well-behaved. I mean, tell me something I DON’T know, right?
I let Garrett watch Despicable Me on my phone while we slowly shuffled towards the building. Once inside he started driving his race cars on the walls and I used my phone to look up the candidates I was unfamiliar with so I could make a semi-informed decision once it was my turn to vote. Once or twice he ventured a little too far away for my comfort or fussed because he wanted to be held or watch more of his movie, and it took just a stern look and serious tone to correct him. When I was done casting my ballot, I got a sticker and asked if Garrett could have one, too. The volunteer said it wasn’t allowed, which annoyed me, but whatever, I didn’t need my sticker anyway so I put it on Garrett’s nose. He pulled it off and stuck it all over his clothes, folded it in half and unfolded it, and it got all fuzzy and dirty and unsticky, like they do. Later that day I complained to my boss about it and found out that other moms of young children had gotten handfuls of stickers and it confirmed my suspicions that our sticker-hander-outer was just on a power trip.
We returned home and I packed Garrett’s bag and told him it was time to go to Miss Brenda’s house. And he started to cry and say no no no. This is the most painful part of remembering his last few weeks with us – realizing that something was very wrong, that he was trying to communicate it to us, but we just didn’t get it. Every day he cried when I got ready to leave for work, but never once, never ever did it occur to me that he was scared of her, of the woman who took him into her arms every day and dried his nose with a tissue, who spoke in sweet tones and assured me he was always fine just a few minutes after I left, who never raised her voice or her hands in anger – at least not while I was around.
On that day, I handed my boy over to her, and went to work, like any other day, just as I would the following week, for the last time.
I don’t want to vote today. I don’t want to stand in line with Caitlin and hear grandmas talk about her blonde hair and blue eyes and long, long eyelashes. I don’t want to feel the biting breeze or squint in the sunshine as we shuffle toward the building. I don’t want to do my civic duty and get a sticker.
I don’t want to remember anything anymore.
So here we are in November, here I am, within just two weeks of the first anniversary of my son’s death. I am grateful, so incredibly grateful, that his killer’s trial was completed before the anniversary, and especially before the holidays, because I really hoped to have that chapter of this ordeal closed. But I recognize that infinite chapters lay ahead of us, some of which may been even more difficult than the days immediately following Garrett’s passing or the tension of the legal proceedings.
When I testified at the babysitter’s sentencing, I shared something that my husband Jon has said over and over the past year: that someday our son’s abuser will “wake up” from her nightmare, but that our nightmare will never end. Someday she will be released from prison and see her children again, but our child is gone from this world forever. Until I close my eyes on this life I will be separated from him. I won’t be able to hold him or hear his voice, I won’t see him grow and learn, I won’t be with him through the many milestones that parents look forward to: kindergarten, graduation, wedding, first car, first job, first child.
The awareness of our loss has been obvious to me for the past 12 months, but the visceral FEELING of our loss seems to be brand new in the past week or so as we close in on the anniversary of the day that changed everything. I hesitate to talk about how it FEELS because I don’t want to scare people or creep them out. I’m also afraid to not acknowledge these FEELINGS because I don’t want people to think I’ve forgotten my son.
The thing is, when I am happy, I really am happy. I’m not putting on a brave face, pretending that everything is okay. Every day I am so glad to have my husband and daughter, to be part of a wonderful extended family and have such a great network of friends. I’m grateful for my home and humble possessions and my cats and dogs. I have a wonderful life.
And yet – I’m not alive. I’m dead. I’ve ceased to exist. I feel empty and burned and scarred and erased. I feel like all of my innocence and trust and joy are completely wiped out. I feel like I died when Garrett did. And every single time I think, again, of how we will never, ever see our sweet boy, I feel like I am dying all over again.
I don’t understand how these two feelings can coexist. Sometimes, right in the middle of enjoying my everyday, I feel like a sinkhole has opened up underneath me and I’m about to pitch in. Or rather, like I am watching myself – my other self – falling. It’s as if Caitlin’s mommy, the person living this joyful life right now, is completely separate from Garrett’s mommy, the person who was obliterated by her son’s death. I had a moment a few days ago when I caught a glimpse of Garrett’s picture and thought to myself – this is crazy and I hope no one will judge me for it – “Oh, that’s right. I had a son once.”
Isn’t that crazy? I know it is. I almost have to think of myself as a brand new different person who never had THAT life – that happy BEFORE life, before I found out for myself how awful this world can truly be – because if I don’t, then I’m falling in that sinkhole. I’m gone. I’m done. And I can’t be gone, I can’t be done, because I have a daughter to love and care for, I have a husband and parents and siblings and friends. I can’t disappear, I have to consciously LIVE, and I have to find joy in this life.
There is no other option.
As I was rocking Caitlin to sleep last night – a time of day when it’s hard not to remember Garrett, and deeply feel all those hurts and regrets – I realized (again, kinda) that now I really “get” Naomi from the story of Ruth in the Bible. (Which I wrote about here.) When Naomi’s sons and husband die and she goes home all alone except for her daughter-in-law (who refuses to leave Naomi’s side, probably because she recognizes that Naomi’s going off the deep end and needs someone to take care of her), she tells all her old friends that Naomi no longer exists, that they should call her Mara now, because God has made her bitter. I was like, “Oh my goodness, I GET THAT. I’m a different person. That woman who was Garrett’s mom, who thought nothing could hurt her family, you know, REALLY hurt them, because she was clever and cheerful and kind of spiritual and mostly a good person – that person is dead. She is looooooooong gone.”
The thing is, I’m not sure who’s left. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to be filled with hatred and fear. I don’t want to be the mother that won’t let her child out of sight or reach because she’s so afraid. I don’t want to be the person who never forgives or loves again. I don’t want to turn my back on God or my family.
Eventually Naomi found joy again and stopped being so bitter. She was able to take delight in Ruth’s life. I’m sure she never forgot the people she had lost – how could she? – but she did smile and laugh and love again.
I know I am a new person, but I am not sure yet who that person is. I only hope that she is better than I used to be, and that someday, somehow, she can be a blessing to others. I hope and pray every day that this pain, this totally unnecessary, cruel and senseless crime, will be redeemed.
So last October my grandmother did what a friend of mine refers to as a “fire drill.” It seemed like she was getting ready to take off for the great beyond and my mom wanted me to come and visit before Grandma kicked it. I mean, grandma’s in her 80s and lived a long full life and her health isn’t all that great and she has dementia blah blah blah so even though it was sad it wasn’t SAD. So I got okayed for some time off from work and I packed Garrett up and we went down to Florida and clocked some time with my last remaining grandparent. And it turned out that my sister was in town for a couple days and since my brothers already live in the Sunshine State it was like a mini family reunion and Garrett got to play with all his cousins on my side of the family and it was truly awesome.
Garrett and his cousins playing in my brother’s sunroom.
And then we came home and Grandma took a turn for the better but then Garrett died a month later and I think, wow, it’s amazing how God works. If we hadn’t thought Grandma was at death’s door who knows when we’d had made time for that visit – and who knows if Garrett would have seen his Florida family before he passed?
(Of course I also can’t help but think how freaking WRONG is it that Garrett died before his great-grandma? It’s just… NOT the natural order of things.)
Me and Caitlin and my nieces. They are three little mommies who just LOVED having a baby to dote on.
Caitlin and I were in Florida over the weekend for her first trip to Nana’s house and her first time meeting her girl cousins. And I wasn’t nearly as off-the-chain-depressed about that trip as I thought I’d be but I was pretty consistently sad. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I was there, when Garrett was just starting to bloom as a kid, not a baby or toddler but a KID. The way he remembered his cousins’ names and adored playing with them. The way he finally grasped that we were far away from home and how he sat up in bed early one morning and said, “I want to see daddy. I miss him.” At the time I was pregnant with Caitlin and just starting to feel her little body wriggling around and oh my goodness I was happy. Sometimes when I think about how happy I was before Garrett died, how oblivious I was to the danger he was in, it just hurts so bad. I get angry. Sometimes those happy memories seem ruined by the specter of all-we-didn’t-know, like photographs left out in the rain and sun to crackle and spoil.
I want to joyfully look back on that last time that Garrett’s cousins saw him healthy and whole. I want to marvel at how awesome it is that we ended up all of us together for those few short days so our family could fill our hearts with love and laughter before life became exceptionally cruel. But sometimes I just feel bitter – like, God was good enough to give us those memories, but he didn’t spare Garrett’s life. Why?
As Caitlin and I walked through the Tampa airport a few days ago, I passed the fast food restaurant where Garrett and I had lunch before we flew home last year, and it was like someone popped my balloon. I didn’t go thhhhhhbbbbbttting all over the place, but I did kind of slowly deflate, because it made me sad to remember BEFORE, to think, wow, I was happy, I was really happy and look at me now. I’m not overwhelmed with pain the way that I was right after Garrett passed – I think the consistency of the pain has dulled it a bit, but it still hurts.
The pain sleeps next to me at night, it wakes up when I do to pee, it climbs back into bed with me, it sits next to me in the car whenever I’m driving to the grocery store, and though it doesn’t speak it’s got an annoying whistly way of breathing that reminds me, CONSTANTLY, that it’s THERE. It’s THERE and it’s NOT going away.
Even as the grief and bitterness follow me around, though, there is this sweetness that I cannot shake. Seeing that table where Garrett and I sat just a few months ago made me smile, because I remember how cute he was, how small and yet how grown. He was obsessed with trash cans and how he wanted to walk each and every napkin, individually, over to the garbage and dispose of it. I can’t help but smile as I remember how intrigued he was with the payphones, how he wanted to pretend to call the “bah-nahs” (his name for the Despicable Me minions, long story). I treasure how excited he was about seeing Daddy again, how outgoing he was, how he ran up to a random guy at baggage claim to tell him that “Daddy’s stuck!” (In traffic on his way to pick us up. So cute.)
The sadness is my constant companion, but you know I will never kick it out, because doing that would mean completely closing myself off to Garrett’s memory. I couldn’t feel sad if I didn’t so intensely love and miss my little guy. As an acquaintance who has also lost a child told me, “We hurt so much because we loved so much.” Not loved, though, but LOVE – present tense. I still love my boy every day, and I still believe that he is delightful and energetic and friendly and funny, he’s just not right here with us right now. We cannot reach him by car or plane or train but I hold on to a (possibly foolish and naive) hope that I’ll see him again.
1. My life has been changed radically. We don’t have any carpet in our house, only laminate and tile floors, and letmetellyou, trying to keep up with the dirt and dust and hair that two people and seven (used to be eight) animals generate using only a broom and dustpan is CRAZY. And STUPID. But I hated lugging a big old vacuum out all the time.
Enter this little sweeper. Well, not that exact model, but one like it. Lightweight and powerful, it is seriously perfect for a vacuum-a-phobe like me. I love it! I love my clean floors! I am a total housewife nerd because I’m thrilled with a freaking floor sweeper! I may be a loser, but dammit, I have clean floors!!!1!
2. I went on an adventure last weekend! On a whim Saturday morning I threw some clothes into a bag, strapped Caitlin into her carseat, and drove up to DC to stay the night with a friend. Then I returned on Sunday. I am still kind of amazed that I did it; I figure one of the perks of not having a “real” schedule is that I can do spontaneous stuff like that now. I was very proud of myself for muddling through the seven-hour drive up (DC is only 200 miles away from Virginia Beach, so on a good day the trip should only take about 4 hours, but traffic was a nightmare on Saturday) and successfully navigating DC traffic. For some reason, even though I’ve done roadtrips on my own before, this one felt more eventful, probably because I hadn’t planned it days or weeks in advance. I don’t know, I guess I just feel like a badass for not overthinking it or psyching myself out, which I tend to do when I’m outside my comfort zone. And I had a lot of fun in the process.
3. While I was frolicking up and down interstate 95, my husband was back at home supervising a HUGE home improvement project. You see, about a year ago we had some issues with our washing machine’s drainage, and with my encouragement, Jon rented a motorized sewer snake to clean out the pipe. Well, what he didn’t know (and apparently neither did the folks at Home Depot) was that the snake he rented was WAY too big for the drain he was attempting to clean out and it got stuck. So we couldn’t drain our washing machine through the plumbing – we had to hang the hose out of the back door and let it drain in our yard. For a year. Yeah, we’re the cool kids on our block. Well, we finally got around to getting the clogged pipe torn out of our concrete foundation and replaced – mostly because we found an awesome plumber who gave us a great price. So now this is what my kitchen floor looks like:
Needless to say, we’re now in need of a good tile guy. But that’s okay. Because I am giddy (GIDDY I TELL YOU) about the fact that we no longer have a washing machine hanging half out of our garage and a thick steel cable hanging out of our foundation. I fairly leapt with joy when I came home on Sunday night.
4. We have a new dog! Of course I am kidding… I think that our friends would stage an intervention if we acquired another pet. Actually, the wouldn’t have to, because my husband would never allow it. He doesn’t even like for me to look at pictures of rescued animals that need furever homes. Anyway, a friend of ours needed a dogsitter for the week and so far it’s been going really well. After some initial growls and snaps, Roxie and our dogs decided they could tolerate each other. I suppose if she was here for longer than a week they’d decide to actually LIKE each other, but again, we are at pet-critical-mass in the King household. Plus my friend would probably miss her puppy very much.
She is a soft snuggly little doll, let me tell you.
5. Let’s talk about poetry, which is my surprising new love. It’s been a long time since I really enjoyed poetry, and I’m not sure why. Inspired by Sarah Bessey, I decided to borrow a book of poems by Mary Oliver from the library, and I am so glad I did. I also borrowed this book, which was truly lush. Suddenly, poetry is what feeds my soul, and apparently my soul is hungry because over and over again I find words that just reduce me to a puddle of oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-breathe-that-was-so-lovely. It’s cool. And kind of weird and intimidating. Because – well – because poetry’s just not mainstream, you know? Like I figured a person had to be smart to “get” it, smarter than I am at least, and then I found out that sometimes you don’t have to “get” something to love it. Sometimes you just let it be.
6. My new obsession, which my husband and neighbor have been teasing me about because I’m kind of a big old nerd, is watching TED talks. There are quite a few available on Netflix, and I’ve downloaded the TED app on my phone. My favorite one right now – the one I’ve watched like three times already – is this one by Jane McGonigal:
Seriously, if you haven’t seen it before, take 20 minutes to watch it. It’s incredibly encouraging. If you don’t have 20 minutes right now, or you’re at work (shhhhh!) and can’t watch it without everyone knowing you’re a slacker, or you’re on a computer that doesn’t have sound or whatever your excuse is, then make a note to watch it later. Because it is JUST. THAT. INCREDIBLE.
7. I’m gonna see Heart next weekend! I found a great deal on tickets and rounded up a group of friends that wanted to go, too. I haven’t been to a concert in a million years and I’ve really liked Heart ever since they appeared on The L Word a few years ago, and after seeing their performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony a couple of weeks ago, I knew I HAD to see them in person. I. CAN’T. WAIT.
All right, y’all, that’s all I have today. Be sure to go see Jen for more quick takes.